The Localism Bill, What's it all about?
4th October 2011
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The Localism Bill, What’s it all about?

Following creation of the Coalition Government, it became clear very early on that both parties wanted to devolve power from Central Government to local communities. Under the guidance of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Eric Pickles, major steps have already been taken to devolve powers away from Central Government, particularly with regard to planning, putting the onus back onto local authorities.

Part of this process concerns the Localism Bill, which seeks to empower whole communities,  to and I quote “provide opportunities for people to organise at a more local level than councils and to present their thoughts in the form of “neighbourhood plans””. As a lay man, I can quickly see potential obstacles to creating a successful planning system and thus avoid those clearly unintended consequences which come with the creation of a group of vocal activists looking to promote a minority view. 

The other extreme of course is to say that planning and management of the planning system is best practised by an odd number of people, and three is too many. Clearly that to would be very undemocratic, and clearly not acceptable to the community as a whole. It also would not achieve the best results in planning terms, because surely the planning system must reflect the views of the majority. As I write the debate still continues, and attempts have been made to include businesses in this process so that they work alongside residents to help produce neighbourhood plans for the local area, and thoughts of NIMBY’ism (Not in my back yard) have been pushed to one side.

It is an absolute certainty that there will be an inherent conflict between promoting growth at all costs and implementing an agenda that devolves power away from the state. It begs the question for each area coming under review as to what is the best use for a particular piece of land. In valuation terms, residential land offers the highest return for developers, but society cannot just build houses.  It is a sad fact of life that you do need business activity to create wealth in order to be able to afford the housing. 

Over the last three decades, manufacturing business has been allowed to decline by the politicians as increasing reliance has been placed on the service industry to become the main economic driver for creating wealth in this country.  It is my view that the banking crisis, or economic credit crunch has revealed the flaws in this theory, and that the Government of the day has re-address this balance for wealth creation between the Service Industries, or invisibles as economists know them by, and hard core manufacturing, where we actually produce widgets and sell them at a profit, whether it be for internal consumption, or export.

Central Government is very keen to see the construction industry thrive, because if there is an active housing market, the private sector will pump large volumes of money into the sector, which in turn feeds down to the supply and logistics industry. Last December it was announced that the Government would produce a National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Already in place in Scotland, the framework is expected to replace the current regime of planning policy statements (PPSs) and guidance notes. These are documents which give guidance to Local Planning Authorities when determining planning applications, although some in practice think that they are too centralist and cumbersome, it makes the planning process more legalistic than practical, particularly if you have an application turned down, and decide to make an appeal. 

Earlier this summer the draft NPPF was released for scrutinisation, together with a leaked draft in early July. The document reduces more than 1000 pages of planning policy into a single 52 page document. The key points listed were:-

A) A presumption in favour of sustainable development, where the default position is ‘yes’ where there is not an up to date development plan (unless the development comprises the principals of sustainability set out in the framework),
B)  Local authorities to identify a five year supply of deliverable housing sites,
C) C) All inappropriate development harmful to the greenbelt remains prohibited,
D) The implementation of neighbourhood planning is supported,
E) Support for the implementation of the duty to co-operate, which will come forward through the localism bill,
F) A town centre – first approach to new retail and leisure development.

This focus on growth and making development will be welcomed by most people,  however the effectiveness of this policy framework  will undoubtedly depend upon it’s interpretation in practice by the local planning authority.  If they want to hinder development they will be able to skew their guidance to developers in a restrictive way. Overall reducing the volume of planning guidance must be a good thing in the long run, and it should make the planning system more approachable by those looking to undertake development which in turn will instil investor confidence. However, within the planning profession questions still remain as to whether these policy objectives can be delivered at the local level, the key driver of localism. Any new system must be equitable to all parts of society, there has to be a balance within society so that representation made by a minority is given a fair weighting when compared to the representations of the majority, and yet a noisy minority with alternative extreme objectives are restricted so that a balance is maintained within the planning system.  It is an  interesting and difficult debate to have.

One thing is for certain, many of us will watch developments closely because management of our built environment is a key essential to our long term enjoyment of our built environment, and you must remember we only borrow our countryside for the duration of our lives. We are duty bound to leave it in a better state than when we inherited it, so that our heirs, today’s children have something to work with and continue the process for their children.

 This Blog was Written by Tony Rowland, The Property Doctor, of Timothy Lea and Griffiths Estate Agents Evesham.

About the Author

Alan J

Member since: 10th July 2012

Whilst running The Best of Evesham I am also locally focussed on doing what I can for the local community in profiling what is going on.A prolific user of Social Media-We offer Social Media Management...

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