Click image for a link to the PDF of a presentation given to the ALCA North Somerset Group. In the PDF all documents are hyperlinked to their source.
This article first appeared in the Chew Valley Gazette, November 2011
Localism: Further Opportunities and Threats
The Localism Bill, once distilled from its 207 clauses, 24 schedules and over 400 pages, has at its core, the principle that there is a need to shift power from central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils.
The planning and regeneration element of the bill has recently been in the headlines during the consultation period on the new National Planning Policy Framework. This highlighted the vexed issue of what constitutes sustainable development and in particular how the affects our rural communities. The arguments made by both sides have been strong and powerful with The National Trust mobilising its membership on one side and the counter argument being put by the Country Land & Business Association (CLA).
Both sides have expressed passionate views on the merits or otherwise of the proposed legislation but what is crucial to rural communities is that our villages don’t unintentionally become unsustainable dormitory settlements. In Matthew Taylors 2008 review, The Living Working Countryside, he argues that rural communities cannot stand still. Change is inevitable whether development takes place or not. The choices we make today will shape tomorrow’s character of the market towns, villages and hamlets that make up our countryside.
Parishes and their residents now have an opportunity through the Localism Bills ‘shift in power’ to take control of the changes in their communities life. A starting point for this would be a Neighbourhood Plan (a parish or community led plan with a land use element) and a number of pilots are already being carried out across the country to see how this works, our nearest being Long Ashton and Backwell. These plans when completed will have a statutory role in the Local Authorities planning system and due regard must be paid to them when considering development proposals.
And these plans are not just about ‘protecting’ the status quo, they can themselves make proposal for change and developments whether that be community facilities, affordable housing, business units, infrastructure or other ideas.
By proposing these new uses and either developing with partners or themselves through a Community Development Trust, the communities will be able to reap a financial benefit though the new Community Infrastructure Levy or the New Homes Bonus in addition to creating thriving sustainable communities.
The role and powers of the first tier of local government, the Parish Council, are becoming clearer and more important as the Localism Bill passes through its various stages in Westminster. This is a critical time for rural communities and their representatives, opportunities are there to be taken, but there are threats in the form of cuts to services or from opportunistic developers.
Communities need to organise and plan; plan to make their own villages sustainable and viable using the opportunities coming with this ‘shift in power’.
For more information on the Localism Bill or for how your community can use these opportunities contact the West of England Rural Network or visit www.wern.org.uk/localism
This article first appeared in the Chew Valley Gazette, October 2011
Localism: Threats & Opportunities
The Localism Bill currently passing through Parliament and due to come into force early next year may seem like a distant and complex piece of legislation, but the impact on all local communities will be immense.
Behind all the ‘Right to….’ in the bill there lies a basic principle; communities will have new powers to shape their locality. This may mean making decisions about services and their delivery or planning and development at a local level. Active communities will be able to take advantage of these powers and opportunities and thrive, strengthening their locality.
But this isn’t about business as usual. Under the auspices of the Localism Bill, government, local authorities and other public service providers are all ‘reviewing’ what they provide. This review will almost inevitably lead to cuts although rebranded by another name, for example; reduced bus services, decrease in mobile library visits, changes in social care patterns, grass verges being left longer before cutting and reductions in road maintenance.
Through the Localism Bill communities have the power to deliver these services and importantly to raise funds to do so. This could be through Parish or Town Councils precepting for accountable, direct and very visibly local delivery; through funds coming from developments (Section 106, Community Infrastructure Levy or New Homes Bonus) or from directly contracting with statutory bodies.
By way of explanation the term community used here could mean a Parish Council, it could mean a group of Parish Councils working together, it could mean a geographical community focused around say a school or Doctors surgery, it could mean a group set up to provide social housing or another not for profit community venture. Whatever form it takes though, it must be accountable to the community it serves and it must have the governance in place to ensure that it is able to deliver its commitments for the benefit of that community.
The threat though is there will be a wide variation in service across communities in the future. It is important, whatever shape your community takes, to start actively and positively preparing for this change in local delivery and to start asking questions.
If a new development is proposed then is your community an early and active participant in Section 106 or Community Infrastructure Levy negotiations? Does your community know what services are provided to them and what they currently cost to deliver before they get withdrawn? Could your community be delivering services better or more efficiently at a local level? Is there a service that the community needs but is currently not being provided?
A tested way of working to answer some of these questions is through a process called Participatory Budgeting which directly involves local people in making decisions on the spending and priorities for a defined public budget.