In a much delayed public referendum on 6th May 2021, the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Plan was overwhelmingly approved by the entire local electorate, with 86% voting in favour.
Its policies must now be adopted by Tower Hamlets Council as their official planning policies for the Isle of Dogs, with the same weight as they give to their own Local Plan policies. Indeed, as the only planning policies actually voted for by the people they affect, Neighbourhood Plan policies have much greater public authority.
The Localism Act 2011 gave local communities the power to set up Neighbourhood Forums to write planning policies for their area. Neighbourhood Plan policies address locally-specific issues not covered by the public authorities in their more strategic Local Plans.
After moving to the Isle of Dogs in 2012, I discovered that Tower Hamlets Borough Council had been nodding through many huge residential buildings in this area adjacent to the Canary Wharf business district and bounded by water – often housing over 1,000 people each - without also planning and investing in sufficient social and physical infrastructure to support them.
This was in part driven by changes in the Government's national planning policy intended to boost new housing, which allowed developers to assume such infrastructure would - in exchange for relatively modest payments to the Council - be provided by public bodies, utilities and others as and when required for whatever they built. This was regardless of whether such infrastructure would - or even could - be provided, and with no obligation on the Council to spend even the developers' contributions on the necessary local infrastructure.
Clearly such a general policy needed to be tempered here, where the many densely packed high-rise developments would rapidly grow the local population from c. 40,000 in 2014 to over 100,000, necessitating a local infrastructure investment costed by the local authorities at £1 billion.
So in 2014, working with local councillors and other residents, I set up the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Planning Forum to impose local policies on the Council that - amongst other things - would require large residential developments in our area to be supported by adequate infrastructure before being approved.
Those policies - the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Plan - will now become formal Council planning policy following the overwhelming vote in favour of them by the entire Isle of Dogs voting community in an official referendum held on 6th May 2021. (Like all other public votes, the referendum had been substantially delayed due to Covid 19 lockdown restrictions, albeit the policies in the Plan had already been allocated "significant weight" by the Government in the meantime.)