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Roman Road Bow Neighbourhood Forum fights for council recognition 

Do you want more control over the future of our area? Roman Road Bow Neighbourhood Forum is looking to expand its membership to become officially recognised by Tower Hamlets Council. 

Roman Road Bow Neighbourhood Forum is seeking to broaden its membership before submitting an application to be re-designated by Tower Hamlets Council.

The forum is a community-led body in the Bow East and West wards, representing the voices of local residents about the future development of their area.

The group was responsible for engaging with the local community and developing the Roman Road Bow Neighbourhood Plan. The plan sits alongside the Local Plan for the whole borough and gives local residents, for the first time in history, a say in shaping planning policies that impact their lives.

Though formally recognised by the council in 2017, the forum’s statutory lifespan came to an end in 2022. After applying to be re-designated, the council rejected the forum’s application on the grounds of a lack of diversity in its membership.

It is challenging to sustain community involvement over a period of years, and if the current application for designation is refused, this will probably lead to the end of the forum.

MIKE MITCHELL, ROMAN ROAD BOW NEIGHBOURHOOD FORUM

In a cabinet meeting in June 2023, the mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman said the forum didn’t reflect the ‘large Asian and Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets’ and told them ‘if you continue in this way you won’t get support from this administration’.

There is no legal requirement for a certain proportion of people in neighbourhood forums to be from any particular racial background.

To apply for council designation, forums must have a minimum of 21 individuals, each of whom lives, works in, or is an elective representative of the area, according to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

The mayor has admitted to his own shortfalls when it comes to the lack of diversity in his party, Aspire, which is made up of 24 male councillors, all of Bangladeshi heritage. Let’s hope he gives the forum another chance to prove itself.

Since last summer, the forum has made an effort to broaden its committee and membership to better reflect the diversity of the Neighbourhood Plan area. It continues to reach out to the Asian community in Bow, including Muslim, Sikh and and Hindu faith organisations. In the 2011 census, 17.1% of Bow East and 21% of Bow West were Bangladeshi.

After hosting several public meetings at the Bow Idea Store in 2023, the forum has seen its membership rise to over 500 residents. Now, as it gears up to reapply for official council designation — crucial for its survival — the forum is urging more members of the public to join its ranks.

The forum was established in 2016 to draft a Neighbourhood Plan geared towards developing ‘a cohesive community built around a flourishing high street’ in Bow.

The plan outlines policies to support a thriving local economy, improve safe walking and cycling routes, enhance public realm spaces, conserve local heritage sites and develop resilient community infrastructure.

In the October 2022 referendum, where 1,743 individuals participated, 70% voted in favour of the plan. However, voter turnout was notably low, with only 12% of the eligible 2,500 Bow residents casting their votes.

After the council formally adopted the plan in November 2022, all applications for planning permission in Bow have been considered alongside its outlined principles. Yet the subsequent question mark over the ratification of the forum (the group that leads the plan) has put this under threat.

If the upcoming application for re-designation fails, the forum’s future in shaping and scrutinising development in Bow is uncertain. Mike Mitchell, a local resident and member of the Roman Road Neighbourhood Forum said:

‘It is challenging to sustain community involvement over a period of years, and if the current application for designation is refused, this will probably lead to the end of the forum.

‘It will also signal that the current administration’s manifesto promise to “empower communities” does not include supporting Neighbourhood Forums willing to work constructively with it, whilst sometimes being prepared to challenge.’

The forum plans to submit a new application for the council by the end of March, so support from the local community is vital. All you have to do to sign-up is complete a short form – a process that takes a few minutes.

Mitchell said: ‘We strongly encourage people to support the forum from across the neighbourhood plan area and our diverse communities to ensure the local community has a voice over future developments in Bow.

‘Current issues include the redevelopment of Caxton Hall on Four Seasons Green, the future of the former Growing Concerns garden centre site in Wick Lane and the future of Clare House, the tower block evacuated in 2021.

‘Anyone over 16 who lives, runs a business, represents a community group or is an elected member for the area can join the forum.’

So what are you waiting for? Whether you’re a firm believer in local democracy or you’re just passionate about your local area, take a few moments today to make your voice heard.

For more local news about your area, find out why Roman Road’s legendary fashion store Zee & Co has shut its doors for good

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