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Dreaming of neighbourhood

‘Daring to dream’ is the fifth and final Transition ingredient, and far from being as whimsical as the title suggests, it actually refers to imagining what Transition would look like if it were implemented nationally, enabled by government and council policy and invested in properly. It is also a look at how Transition initiatives can learn from one another and deepen through our national and global network.

Highgate pondsTransition Dartmouth Park has been going for eighteen months and when our core group held an away day last weekend, it was a chance for us to go back to the ingredients, reflect on where we were within the bigger picture, and discuss our progress and what we hope to achieve this year.

We have certainly benefitted from networking with other Transition groups. Although most people in our core group have not used the Transition Network formally - through Transition Training, or the conference or even use the website regularly, the knowledge and presence of other Transition initiatives in North London, where we are based has helped to inspire us. We all know other Transitioners close by, hear about their projects and can ask for advice. Seeing the stages other groups have gone through, the points where they have encountered difficulty, the work that has been successful, has created a base of informal knowledge for us to build on in our journey. I think this along with the formal resources – the website and trainings – helps Transition groups to be more resilient than if we were standalone local environmental groups, as much of what we encounter, others have been through and written or spoken about.

Discussion at our core group away day established that we all felt pretty clearly that we were at ‘deepening’ stage – practical manifestations, building momentum, communicating and looking at how we sustain ourselves on this journey, whilst continuing to be excited about what lies ahead.

But something happening in our neighbourhood and which our Transition initiative are involved in, does reflect the final ingredient – the recent formation of a Dartmouth Park Neighbourhood Forum. The UK government’s Localism Bill enabled the creation of Neighbourhood Forums, and gave new powers to the pre-existing Parish Councils. Neighbourhood Forums can create a ‘neighbourhood plan’ which will allow us to establish general policies for the kind of development and use of land we want to see, and can enable development we do want to see without the need for planning permission.

When Transition Dartmouth Park began, we discussed how we could facilitate the engagement and visioning of our community, in preparation for eventually making an energy descent action plan. However, the Neighbourhood Forum process feels similar (although more formal), and after some discussion we felt it may be more useful to be part of this emerging process, rather than working in parallel and quite possibly replicating it.

Silver birchSo I have joined the new committee of the Dartmouth Park Neighbourhood Forum on behalf of Transition Dartmouth Park, in the hope that it will be a chance to enable Transition-style development in our area – more space for food growing, better public transport and cycle lanes, a requirement for new buildings to use sustainable materials and be energy efficient. So far our forum has done an impressive amount of outreach, and may even offer a way for our community to come together and resist the council sell-off of our community assets to private developers who care only about how many highly-priced flats they can cram into the area, without regard for green or public space or the welfare of people who live here.

However, there are some barriers to what I hope we can achieve: our plan must conform to any local strategy that has been put in place for the area. These are set by councils, so although we can dream, it may become a battle if our neighbourhood plan conflicts with what the council have already planned.

But we are hopeful; the process of coming together as a community, visioning, consulting and planning what we dream of in our area, in theory at least mirrors the process of what Transition Initiatives are intended to do. We can use it to discuss energy descent, where our food comes from, how and where we build, and the local economy. And we can do this through a process that has been created by our national government and is being enabled by councils. It also gives our community a legal process and a legitimate forum to input into some on-going struggles – such as the fight to stop flats being built on a piece of privately-owned green land which would impact on the area, and would certainly be better turned into allotments.

So our core group plan to continue to discuss how we can input into our Neighbourhood Forum, and also how to support and not replicate their work. But we would love to hear from any other Transition Initiatives that are involved in Neighbourhood forums or Parish Councils that are further along in the process than we are, and whether it has been useful in enabling the implementation of ‘Transition policies’ locally.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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