At-a-glance: Localism Bill
- 13 December 2010
- From the section UK Politics
The government has published its wide-ranging Localism Bill which it says shifts power from central government to communities - here are some of the measures highlighted by the Department for Communities and Local Government:
RUNNING LOCAL SERVICES
The bill will establish what the government calls a "community right to challenge" to help different groups run local services if they want to. Voluntary groups, social enterprises, parish councils and others will be able to express an interest in taking over council-run services - the local authority will have to consider it. It could prompt a bidding exercise in which the group could then compete. Services could include running children's centres, social care services or improving transport links, the government says.
BUYING LOCAL ASSETS
The bill aims to make it easier for pubs, shops and libraries put up for sale to be bought by a community group. Locals will be able to place certain buildings on a "most wanted" list and if they are put up for sale, they would have to be given time to develop a bid and raise the money.
COUNCIL TAX VETOS
Councils, police and fire authorities which propose an increase in council tax beyond the ceiling set by government would automatically face a referendum of all registered voters in their area. The government says it means they will have to "prove their case" and will reduce waste.
People will be able to trigger referendums on any local issue. The results will not be binding - but local authorities will have to consider them when making decisions. The government says it will help people make their views known and influence decisions.
POWERS FOR COUNCILS
A "power of competence" would give local authorities - including some parish councils - the right to do "anything apart from that which is specifically prohibited", something the government says will let them run services "free from Whitehall diktat" and help them "innovate and work together with others to drive down costs". The bill also includes measure to allow councils to go back to being run by committees - instead of by a mayor and cabinet. The government says councils currently have "limited choice" about how they work.
DIRECTLY ELECTED MAYORS
The bill includes measures to allow 12 English cities to have elected mayors: Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield. Council leaders would become "shadow mayors" once the bill has become law, with all the mayors' powers. There would then be a referendum in May 2012 on whether areas want a mayor.
The bill would make it clear councillors are entitled to campaign on certain issues without being "unjustly" accused of being biased. The government believes current bias rules have left councillors confused about what they can and can't say - for example, whether they can speak or vote about a housing development, if they opposed it during their election campaign.
This is being scrapped. Set up in 2004 to root out corruption and misconduct in local government, the government says the whole regime costs £6m a year and had become a vehicle for "petty and vexatious complaints". Instead it will be a criminal offence for councillors to deliberately withhold or misrepresent an interest.
COUNCIL CHIEFS' PAY
Local authorities, and fire and rescue authorities, will have to approve and publish rules on setting pay for senior staff - any attempt to depart from the rules would require a vote in full council.
PAY AS YOU THROW CHARGES
The bill confirms the government's intention not to take forward "pay as you throw" charges for household waste. It repeals measures in the Climate Change Act 2008 that would have allowed up to five pilot schemes in England. The idea was to give those households which recycled most waste a rebate, while charging those who recycled the least, as a way of cutting landfill. But no councils applied for the pilot schemes, saying they had not been told how it would operate.
Regional strategies - aimed at building three million homes by 2020 - are being scrapped. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles tried to do so using discretionary powers but lost a court battle to housing developer Cala Homes. The Localism Bill will remove the primary legislation which set up the strategies. The government says construction has slowed down despite what Mr Pickles has described as the "Soviet tractor-style top-down planning targets".
CHARGES ON DEVELOPERS
Changes to the "community infrastructure levy" charges local councils set on developers to contribute towards local infrastructure - including ensuring some money goes directly to the neighbourhood where developments have been built, so it can be spent on local facilities such as cycle paths or playgrounds if needed.
The government says the bill will stop the Planning Inspectorate being able to make changes to local plans, which guide development in areas. Instead the inspector will assess plans and will have to judge them "sound" before they can be adopted - but will only suggest changes at the request of the local authority. It also introduces "neighbourhood plans". The idea is that parish councils and "neighbourhood forums" come together to decide where new shops, offices or homes should go and what green spaces to protect - which is then voted on by local people in local referendums. They will be able to define developments which should have automatic planning permission.
Local communities will be able to propose development which, if it meets certain safeguards and gets 50% of support in a local referendum, will be able to built without planning permission. It is aimed at tackling lack of building in rural areas where planning authorities restrict building but local people want new housing or other facilities. Also big developments will require early consultation with local people to let them comment and collaborate on things like design - before plans are finalised. Developers would have to consider opinions raised before submitting planning applications. The bill also confirms the abolition of Infrastructure Planning Commission - instead ministers will take decisions on big planning projects such as airports and wind farms.
The bill includes measures to allow councils to decide who goes on their housing waiting lists - although central government will set the categories considered to have the greatest housing needs. It also includes plans to make it easier for tenants to move to other social housing and for an internet-based "national home swap scheme" allowing tenants to see properties across England with tenants looking to exchange homes. Changes to the "homelessness duty" will mean councils can offer people private sector accommodation instead of being obliged to offer social housing. Councils will be able to offer new social housing tenants shorter, fixed-term tenancies - ending the right to a council house for life. The bill also changes the financing of council housing - councils will be able to keep rental income to spend on maintaining homes. And it includes changes to the regulatory system for social housing - including the abolition of the Tenant Services Authority and changes to the ombudsman regime for social housing complaints.
HOME INFORMATION PACKS
The bill will officially abolish Hips, the packs containing property information, title deeds and local searches which were introduced in 2007 in England and Wales to speed up the house-selling process. They have been suspended since 21 May. Sellers will still have to get energy performance certificates under separate legislation.
The bill hands more powers over housing, economic development, regeneration and the Olympic legacy to the mayor and borough councils. The London Development Agency is being abolished - instead the mayor will be directly accountable for its roles in managing EU funding and regeneration. The mayor will be able to create "mayoral development corporations" to "focus regeneration efforts. The 32 boroughs will get more control over local planning decisions while the mayor will be limited to the largest planning applications. And the London Assembly will be able to reject the mayor's policies with a two-thirds majority.