If it becomes law, the Localism Bill will have impact on us all. We are watching this issue carefully, aided by our membership of the National Organisation of Residents' Associations, NORA.
THE NATIONAL ORGANISATION OF RESIDENTS ASSOCIATIONS
Response to the Localism Bill
NORA welcomes the government’s wish to delegate many central government powers to local government and the community in its drive to change the way society manages development. NORA’s response to the Localism Bill has been delayed because the lack of Consultation Papers meant that the Bill itself, a long and complex document, needed time-consuming study.
Our concerns revolve around the proposals for improving the democratic involvement in the planning process. The outline is broadly acceptable, but the lack of details makes it difficult to see how it will work in practice. Accordingly this report highlights the problems as seen by NORA members, who represent over a million residents in England and Wales.
The areas of concern comprise the composition of neighbourhoods, the method of establishing neighbourhood plans, the process of resolving conflicts in policies, the implementation of planning consents by bodies other than local planning departments, the problem of retrospective planning consents, the identification of community assets and basically the funding of all the changes to the planning regime.
Concerns over the changes to the monitoring of councillor behaviour, the election of mayors and the Community Infrastructure Levy are peripheral to these worries.
In particular NORA has just one proposal, highlighted in red, for consideration under the heading of “neighbourhood areas”.
NORA hopes that these comments will be seen as critical but constructive, and will help the committee to improve the Localism Bill, so that it is understood and able to be implemented by local councils and the local community.
February 2011 Alan B Shrank – NORA chairman
NORA accepts the several proposals as positive and helpful in promoting local democracy and empowering local authorities and removing the restrictions on councillors. One concern remains in the chapter on Standards.
It is curious that each local authority designs its own Code of Conduct, is held responsible for ensuring members abide by it, is empowered to investigate and determine whether breaches have occurred and, when a breach is confirmed, it decides the penalty. It would appear injudicious for the same body to be responsible for all these functions. It would not expose a corrupt organisation with corrupt members.
The registration of interests, a matter for regulation by the Secretary of State, appears to be the only subject in which serious conduct is suspected liable for criminal prosecution.
The arrangements for referenda are clearly defined but the source of the funding for a referendum is not defined.
The community right to buy community assets presents serious problems for most communities. Community assets would appear to be of two kinds, those owned or leased by local or central government or public bodies and those privately owned.
Many of the assets of the first kind have either been funded by taxation or gifted by benefactors. If those managing these assets decide to close them, it would appear to be unreasonable to expect the community to pay twice for them in order to manage them themselves.
If the assets are of the second kind, then clearly the community will need much time to decide whether or not there is the capital available for purchase and the revenue to run them.
Some assets such as open spaces – parks and playing fields – may be practical propositions, but libraries, museums and swimming pools cannot conceivably be purchased by a lay community, and they are unlikely to have the specialised skills to manage them.
PlanningNeighbourhood planning would appear to be limited to parish councils and to groups seeking to declare an area that is not parished (Schedule 9 (61G)). Where areas are fully parished this limits involvement of the community solely to elected councillors. Parishes are usually defined in one or more electoral wards, but there is no mention of town councils comprising several electoral wards. NORA considers that neighbourhood areas should be eligible for recognition by local planning authorities when town councils comprise more than one electoral ward.
Accordingly NORA seeks an addition to sub-clause (b) in Schedule 9 (61G) as follows;
Schedule 9 Meaning of “neighbourhood area”
61G The specified area -
(b) in the case of an application by an organisation or body, it must not be one that consists of or includes the whole or any part of the area of a parish council, but may be one that consists of or includes the whole or any part of the area of a town council that comprises more than one electoral ward,
The ‘community right to build order’ described in Schedule 11 refers solely to a ‘community organisation’, which presumably includes residents' groups with funds for development. It does not appear to apply to individuals.
These restrictions would appear to delegate the power of decision to parish and town councils in areas and only to ‘community organisations’ in areas that are not parished. It is a little difficult to appreciate how this is a significant step towards empowering local communities.
Pre-application ConsultationThis is welcomed, but Clause 102 (61W) does not restrict pre-application to large developments. This does not seem likely. If it were restricted to large developments – estates of 200 houses, commercial development of more than 10,000 sq.m. – it would not encompass sensitive developments in urban areas of less than this size. It would be helpful to make it an option for LPAs to consider the need for pre-application consultations for such sensitive developments.
EnforcementThe ability (Clause 103) for a local planning authority (LPA), which has issued a ‘planning enforcement notice’, to refuse to accept a retrospective application is to be welcomed.
Clause 106, increasing the powers of LPAs to deal with graffiti and unauthorised advertisements, is similarly welcomed.
February 2011 Alan B Shrank – NORA chairman