Monday, 13 December 2010 18:27

Government unveils Localism Bill

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Government unveils Localism Bill

THE government has published long-awaited plans to give more power to local councils and communities.

After weeks of anticipation, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles laid the Bill before Parliament on Monday (13 December).

The full document can be seen here.

Mr Pickles said the Localism Bill heralded a groundbreaking shift in power, overturning decades of central government control.

It would end the top-down control of communities, giving local people the freedom to run their lives and neighbourhoods in their own way.

"It is the centrepiece of what this government is trying to do to fundamentally shake up the balance of power in this country," said Mr Pickles.

"For too long, everything has been controlled from the centre - and look where it's got us," he added.

"Central government has kept local government on a tight leash, strangling the life out of councils in the belief that bureaucrats know best."

The Bill includes a package of measures that will:

  • Establish new rights for communities
  • Reform the planning system
  • Give communities control over housing

Mr Pickles said the Bill would give councils the legal reassurance and confidence to innovate, drive down costs and deliver more efficient services.

"By getting out of the way and letting councils and communities run their own affairs we can restore civic pride, democratic accountability and economic growth - and build a stronger, fairer Britain.

"It's the end of the era of big government: laying the foundations for the Big Society."

On community rights, people will be to hold their local authorities to account. Councils will be expected to publish all expenditure over £500 online.

Communities will have a bigger say over their area through a new right to take over local services.

They will be able to bid to buy local assets such as libraries, pubs and shops.

Residents will also have the right to veto excessive council tax rises through a referendum.

On planning, the Bill will replace the Infrastructure Planning Commission with a democratically accountable system for major infrastructure.

Regional planning will be swept away, and communities will be given the power to grant planning permission if a local majority are in favour.

On housing, the Bill will return decision-making powers on housing to local councils and communities through a new Community Right to Build.

This will give communities the freedom to come together to build new homes & amenities in their towns & villages.

Home Information Packs will be formally scrapped.

Councils will be put in charge of social housing and encouraged to reduce waiting lists by using their social housing stock to maximum effect.

The Royal Town Planning Institute said it was difficult to comment on the complete Bill, which was only published after 6pm.

But rural leaders immediately questioned whether changes unveiled in the Bill were the right ones to allow rural economies and businesses to thrive.

Helen Woolley, East Midlands director for the Country Land and Business Association, said she welcomed the government’s desire to change a planning system that wasn't fit for purpose.

But she added: "The changes must be the right ones to provide for sustainable economic development in rural areas.

"The government must ensure a workable system which allows for a fairer, transparent, cost-effective and balanced approach to planning decisions."

Proposed reforms must support and provide for the economic, social and environmental pillars essential to sustainable rural development.

Mrs Woolley added she was concerned about certain aspects of “localism” as set out in the new Bill.

"Radical proposals for neighbourhood planning seem to assume that economic growth and housing delivery will just happen if communities are given the opportunity to make decisions for themselves.

"However, there is an inherent tension between the concept of ‘localism’ and ‘providing investor certainty’ which may lead to communities making decisions on what they want or don’t want, without taking into account what they actually need in the long-term to remain sustainable.”

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