The Localism Bill became the Localism Act on 15 November after it was given royal assent by the Queen in the House of Lords. The Act hands more powers to local government and communities in the UK.
We at Redwood have been monitoring and commenting on the progress of the Localism Bill over the last 6 months.
Local councils will have more power to effect local issues and spending
The Act introduces a new general power of competence, giving councils unprecedented freedom to work together to improve services and drive down costs. Councils are now free to do anything provided they do not break other laws. This could pave the way for sharing planning officers between councils and having shared strategic policies. Dialogue with multiple councils could become more important.
Power has been transferred to major cities to develop their areas, improve local services, and boost their local economies. City Mayors could have more say over strategic policy.
The rules on predetermination have now been clarified and allow councillors to express their opinions on issues of local importance without the fear of legal challenge. This means that developers will be able to discuss proposals openly with members of the planning committee.
Councils can, if they wish, return to the committee system of governance with centrally set rules interfering in how councils set up their own affairs being scrapped. Councils adopting the committee system will effectively choose to open decision making to non-controlling parties.
Councils will have greater control over business rates and how money is used. This means that they will have the power to offer business rate discounts, which could help attract firms, investment and jobs. Local authorities will now be able to benefit directly from new commercial development as they can keep all of the revenue generated through business rates.
Homelessness legislation is being reformed to enable councils to provide good quality private rented homes where appropriate and free up social homes for people on the waiting list.
The housing revenue account is being abolished allowing councils to keep the rent they collect from council homes and use it locally to maintain social homes.
Local communities are handed more power to decide what happens in their area
Communities will have more power over local assets and development. The Act introduces:
• A new Right to Bid, which will give residents the opportunity to take over treasured local assets like shops and pubs and keep them part of local life.
• Neighbourhood Plans, created by residents, giving local people a real voice to say where they think new houses, businesses and shops should go as well as what they should look like. Local people will be able to vote on the plan in a referendum and if it is approved by a majority of those who vote, then the local authority will bring it into force. Although some quarters have expressed fears that ‘Nimbies’ will use these powers to block development, this could also create opportunities for developers to work with local communities and assist them in drafting plans that promote development.
• The Community Right to Build enabling communities to bring forward proposals for development they want such as homes, shops, playgrounds or meeting halls.
A national home swap scheme is being introduced which will provide details of other social tenants who are looking to move, enabling people to swap their social home. This will make it easier for people to move to be closer to family or to relocate to find work.
Social tenants are being provided with stronger tools to hold their landlords to account. Landlords will be expected to support tenant panels or similar bodies which enable tenants to carefully examine the services being offered. The Tenant Services Authority is also being abolished.
The Act makes it mandatory for developers to consult local communities before submitting applications for larger residential or commercial schemes. It will no longer be sufficient to hold closed discussions with local authorities and developers will be expected to engage with local residents. This means that developers won’t be able to fly controversial schemes under the radar and will have to campaign for their proposals.