The Localism Act
The Localism Act received Royal Assent on Tuesday 15 November 2011 and with the associated regulations, will implement the current coalition government’s plan to shift power away from central government and into the hands of individuals, communities and local councils.
The Act includes significant changes to planning legislation and policy formulation.
New local planning powers for communities and parish councils are proposed in the Act. There are potential opportunities and a heightened importance of the wider community in planning decisions that could be useful.
A plain English guide to the Localism Act is available click here – as the Act has altered during its parliamentary progress this guide is slightly out of date, but still useful.
The new Act has introduced a new right for communities to draw up a ‘neighbourhood development plan’, which should provide a genuine opportunity to influence the future of local places.
Neighbourhood planning is undertaken by the local parish or town council, or a neighbourhood forum, and there are provisions to set up a new forum if it is needed. Plans can be very simple, or go into considerable detail. Issues to be dealt with include traffic management, regeneration, green spaces and biodiversity, and commercial and residential development.
If a neighbourhood development plans is in line with national planning policy, with the strategic vision for the wider area set by the local authority, and with other legal requirements, then local people will be able to vote on it in a referendum. If the plan is approved by a majority, then the local authority will have to bring it into force, and it will have the same statutory weight as the local authority’s adopted planning policy.
B&NES council has prepared a Neighbourhood Planning Protocol, a document to advice residents, community groups and businesses how to get involved in local planning issues.
Other new rights and powers for communities
The Localism Act proposes that significant new rights are passed directly to communities and individuals, its aims to make it easier to get things done and achieve ambitions for local areas.
This gives local authorities more direct responsibility for decisions about housing numbers therefore local people may be able to better influence levels of development (including infrastructure development). Regional spatial strategies for B&NES contained ambitious housing targets for the region.
The Community Infrastructure Levy is a charge on new development. The money raised must go to support new infrastructure – such as roads and schools. It will supersede Section 106 payments in those authorities where they have adopted a CIL, but not entirely replace them, as some proposed solutions to development proposals will still need a legal agreement being framed.
The Localism Act proposes changes to the levy to make it more flexible and crucially require that some of the money raised goes directly to the neighbourhoods where development takes place.
For details of the CIL in B&NES click here
The Act gives groups the right to express an interest in taking over the running of a local service. The local authority must consider and respond to this challenge. This will make it easier for local groups with good ideas to put them forward and drive improvement in local services.
Under the Act, local authorities will be required to maintain a list of assets of community value as Communities will have the opportunity to nominate for possible inclusion the assets that are most important to them. When listed assets come up for sale or change of ownership, community groups will have time to develop a bid and raise the money to buy the asset when it comes on the open market. This will help local communities keep much-loved sites in public use and part of local life.
This may provide opportunities to ensure community facilities and services are maintained which will allow residents to stay in the area and reduce the need to travel.
Powers provided by the Localism Act also allow local communities to grant planning permission for development proposals by referendum, making it easier and quicker for development to go ahead.
Neighbourhood development orders will give groups of local people the ability to bring forward small developments or extend permitted development rights for householders or businesses. The benefits of the development, for example, profits made from letting the homes, could stay within the community, if funded locally.
To further strengthen the role of local communities in planning, the Act introduces a new requirement for developers to consult local communities before submitting applications for very large developments. This will give local people a chance to comment when there is still genuine scope to make changes to proposals.
This opportunity would help to ensure that communities have a chance to put forward their views on large scale development, this could include the sustainability of the development and whether it is including low carbon measure and meeting targets.
The Council is advocating the Placemaking Plan as the principle vehicle for neighbourhood planning activities. The Plan is at a very early stage, with a Launch Document planned for 2013. The Trust will engage in the development of the Plan at all stages.
The Placemaking Plan will: