The new UK Localism Bill was launched by the Department of Communities and Local Government today.
The primary aim of the Localism Bill is to devolve power to local councils, neighbourhoods and elected mayors.
The reforms include a new right of local people to challenge their local councils – to take over services, a new right to bid to buy local assets such as libraries, pubs and shops and a new right to veto excessive council tax rises through a referendum. Bin tax laws are to be repealed.
At the same time however, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced council budget reductions of around 10% telling authorities to share services or outsource.
“The Localism Bill will herald a ground-breaking shift in power to councils and communities overturning decades of central government control and starting a new era of people power.
It is the centrepiece of what this Government is trying to do to fundamentally shake up the balance of power in this country. For too long, everything has been controlled from the centre – and look where it’s got us. Central government has kept local government on a tight leash, strangling the life out of councils in the belief that bureaucrats know best.
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.”
As expected the Bill will replace the Infrastructure Planning Commission with a department reporting to the relevant Secretary of State. Regional planning is to be “swept away” and in its place neighbourhood plans are, according to the department “to become the new building blocks of the planning system where communities have the power to grant planning permission if a local majority are in favour“.
Trade association Renewable UK’s Director of Communications Charles Anglin said:
“There is no doubt that this Bill, once it becomes law, will dramatically alter the rules for developing renewable energy projects, and the industry will have to follow suit. We could be looking at a radically different planning process, with councillors allowed or even encouraged to campaign ahead of the decision, and the result in some cases being made by referendum. We will need to consult with communities ahead of logging an application and make sure that the economic and community benefits are clear.”
RenewableUK is according to Anglin waiting for clarity on the plans to involve neighbourhoods in the decision making, and details on how planning at neighbourhood level will integrate with council planning procedures. It has also stated that allowing councillors to campaign on planning issues must be balanced with the need to get a fair hearing. On proposals such as the abolition of regional spatial strategies the Association has stated that it is looking forward to engaging with Government to make sure that the localism agenda helps in reaching the UK’s renewable energy targets.
The Government has also published Decentralisation and the Localism Bill: an essential guide. Its sets out the six key actions central government will need to take alongside the changes in law proposed in the Bill.