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Residents vote ‘Yes’ in the Roman Road Bow Neighbourhood Referendum

Bow residents vote yes to a neighbourhood plan which gives them influence over planning applications and decisions in the local area for the first time in the area’s history.

Bow residents have voted in favour of adopting a plan that gives them the power to shape planning decisions and economic development in the Roman Road Bow area.

On Thursday, almost 2,500 residents (which equates to just over 12% of those entitled to vote in the Bow neighbourhood area) took to the polling stations to vote in the Roman Road Bow Neighbourhood Plan’s referendum, with 70% or 1743 residents voting Yes to adopt the plan, and the remaining 736 residents voting No.

The body responsible for overseeing the drafting and development of the Neighbourhood Plan is ​​Roman Road Bow Neighbourhood Forum. Forum committee member Mike Mitchell said that he is ‘really thankful’ to all those who voted and those who helped in the voting process.

He said that with the passing of the Neighbourhood Plan ‘the Council will now have to consider the policies of the Neighbourhood Plan when they receive planning applications, and so it means the local community does have a voice in planning procedures.’ 

Alongside residents having a voice in planning decisions, Mitchell cited the benefits the Neighbourhood Plan will have to local businesses: ‘We’ve become aware of how Roman Road and many of its small businesses and traders don’t feel like they have a voice in what’s happening but the Forum can really support local businesses and market traders in having a say.’

Hitherto, the approval of planning applications was decided solely by the Tower Hamlets’ Local Planning Authority but now it has a legal duty to refer to the Neighbourhood Plan before making decisions on planning and development in the Bow area. 

Mitchell added: ‘If the vote had been no, local people would have lost that opportunity to influence the future of Bow.’ 

People have taken to social media today to voice their support for the Plan’s passing, while others have raised their objections.

Andrew Wood, former Independent Councillor for Canary Wharf ward and advocate for neighbourhood plans, said there’s been an ‘information gap’ that has developed about neighbourhood plans and, as a result, because of that gap, ‘a lot of misinformation or doom-mongering’ has developed, which he adds is ‘unwarranted.’ 

Wood also added that, while the 70% Yes vote for the Roman Road Bow Neighbourhood Plan was ‘solid’, it was below the average for a referendum on a neighbourhood plan in the country which stands at around 88%. In Wood’s ward, a similar plan for the Isle of Dogs was approved by residents in May. There, 86% voted Yes. 

He believes that the lower approval rate in Bow is because of the lack of clarity on what a Neighbourhood Plan does, and so the No vote was based on other factors, including concerns over gentrification and the implementation of Liveable Streets. 

‘People believe the Neighbourhood Plan is some kind of Trojan horse to try and introduce more Liveable Streets.’ Wood added: ‘People somehow think a neighbourhood plan has powers over roads. They don’t, the two are completely separate areas of legislation.’ 

Wood voiced his frustration at local Labour Councillors’ and the Council’s lack of communication to allay residents’ concerns and help them understand what a neighbourhood plan can and cannot do, and to reassure them that the Council still remains responsible for planning applications in the area. 

Mitchell said he understands why some residents find the Neighbourhood Plan confusing because ‘planning is remote for most people, and far removed from day-to-day life’. But, he added ‘the Forum has worked hard at trying to engage with a diverse group of people through a variety of means over the recent year.’

Now that residents have voted in favour of the Neighbourhood Plan, Mitchell said that ‘the next stage is for the Cabinet to confirm the results so that then the Plan becomes part of the development plan for the borough.’ 

Mitchell added: ‘The role of the Forum going forward will be to monitor the Neighbourhood Plan, and make sure that the Council does respect what’s in the Plan and make decisions according to the content.’

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