Last week, the Localism Bill was passed into law. I was glad to support its passage. Through 13 years of New Labour, we witnessed continual moves towards centralised planning and micro-managing of our everyday lives. This new law will see central government interference cut and give power back to citizens, community groups and local councils.
To accompany the Act, the Government have helpfully updated the ‘plain English guide’ that was produced to accompany the Bill. You can read it here.
For councils this will mean:
- Clarification of the rules on predetermination in order to free up councillors to express their opinions on issues of local importance without the fear of legal challenge;
- Abolition of Labour’s discredited Standards Board regime;
- Greater control over business rates. Councils will have the power to offer local business rate discounts, which could help attract firms, investment and jobs;
- Cancellation of Labour’s unfair ‘ports tax’, which threatened to cripple key businesses, it simplifies the process for claiming small business rate relief to help small shops and small firms; and
- New planning enforcement rules, giving councils the ability to take action against people who deliberately conceal unauthorised development.
For local communities it will grant:
- The Right to Bid to run local services;
- The Right to Challenge by putting forward ideas to help their community;
- The Right to Veto excess council tax rises;
- The opportunity to draw up Neighbourhood plans;
However, there are caveats. I am an advocate of local referenda so I was disappointed to see that the Lords removed the flagship ‘local referendum’ provision from the Bill. That would have allowed voters to launch local referenda on local issues. Referenda do remain for council tax, right-to-build and neighborhood planning, but I know this will be a disappointment to some people in Wycombe.
Neighbourhood plans must, understandably, work inside some limits. If major infrastructure is decided upon at a national level, such as this benighted high-speed rail line, or if a strategic local plan calls for a certain number of homes to be built, then the Localism Act has safeguards to ensure neighbourhood plans do not override these wider ranging policies. Again, this will be a disappointment.
Nevertheless, I hope that the Localism Act will live up to its initial goal of radically decentralising power and fostering an environment where communities will have a greater say in their local area. We will see…