So is it power to the people?

IAN BARNARD, a commercial property solicitor at Ashton Graham, analyses the potential impact on communities of the Localism Bill

THE Localism Bill has had its second reading in the House of Lords and the legislation is now being examined in detail.

However, the recent debate in the Lords has raised a number of issues as to whether the original ideas of the Bill will work in practice.

The Bill promotes a “brave new world in which councils are free to lead their communities and citizens”, giving greater powers to councils and communities to let them shape (or not) how their neighbourhoods develop. But what does this mean for you as an individual?

Among the many proposed areas of change there are several possibilities, from determining the local planning strategy and individual planning applications, to local residents and voluntary groups running local services and determining key “community” assets and how they can be protected.

The Bill radically alters the current system and allows neighbourhoods to draw up plans for their local area, replacing local authority development plans. Parish councils or neighbourhood communities will decide what they need in their area. Residents might want a new cycle route to make the journey to school safer for their children or to suggest the site for a new community centre or affordable housing for young people.

Similarly, local residents and voluntary groups can express their interest in running a local service and the local authority will have to consider and respond to this request.

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The Bill envisages community groups buying pubs, shops and other local buildings. Local authorities will maintain a list of public or private assets that have been suggested by residents as being of potential value to the community. Locals will be given more time to raise money to buy these assets as and when they become available. This will enable communities to save sites that are important to their particular neighbourhood and prevent buildings from being acquired by developers or used for purposes that do not benefit the area.

However, there are dangers in granting communities such extensive powers and a number of campaign groups have highlighted issues including the potential to allow a few individuals to block homes and development in rural areas, or outsourcing local services to large corporations if local groups do not have the money or experience in providing such services. Development would be allowed, but in someone else’s back yard.

Power will go to the people but, given the uncertainty, anyone interested in having a say in their local community should contact their parish council and local authority as soon as possible and liaise with their legal advisors.

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. You should not act or rely upon this information.