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New Localism Bill Brings A Market Free For All

The full horror of the Government’s proposals in relation to business led neighbourhood plans is now revealed with the publication of the new version of the Localism Bill this week.

Business led plans will not need to ‘further the social, economic and environmental well being of individuals’. Instead they will ‘promote the carrying on of trades, professions and other businesses’.

An optimistic view is that this looks like bad drafting but the politics suggests that Government really wants to create planning free zones and the press release continually refers to making it easier to change use and to removing the need to apply to the council. Combined with the prime ministerial attack on the ‘enemies of enterprise’ and the debate around the development presumption and growth it does start to feel like an organised attempt to dismantle the planning system and to allow market forces to dominate.

Communities like those in Bankside who were designated Business Neighbourhood Frontrunners before the revised Bill was published are now in the horrible position of potentially losing the protection of the well-being purpose for their plan. This could be a deliberate trap or more likely an unfortunate timing of events.

We can only hope that the committee stage in the House of Lords, where the Bill is now, will be able to put this right and preserve the well being requirement for all residents of a neighbourhood plan area whoever is leading the plan. The Government might argue that the residents have the ultimate right of veto through a referendum (which itself seems odd for those business led plans that are for places where no-one lives) or that the local authority will be able to influence the objectives of the plan but, if so, surely requiring the well being objective is not controversial.

There is a massive power shift here. Business has the resources to do neighbourhood plans and communities don’t. Communities will react in different ways. Some will be put off, others will become defensive and some will embrace the involvement of business as a way out from the immensity of the challenge of producing a plan. Few will be able to have an equal partnership with business that achieves both the well being objective and the promotion of business.

Interestingly in Bermondsey, where we have our local BID, Team London Bridge, as a partner, we invited all the Government’s appointed enablers to write to us to explain how they could help us deliver our plan. None of them bothered to reply so one wonders how effective this group of Princes Foundation, CPRE, Locality and RTPI is going to be. CLG thinks they are going to use the taxpayer money they have been awarded to allow communities to buy in the resources to help deliver neighbourhood plans. The cynics are suggesting it is more likely that large proportions of the cash will disappear on organisational overheads and the money will not easily be applied on the ground.

The Government is covering these changes with immense amounts of spin. The press release referred to helping with the regeneration of local high streets and to supporting schools and not to promoting business as the main objective. Clearly the lesson from the Blair era is that spin works. Few people read beyond the headlines these days.

So our hopes now are with their Lordships. I’m told they are up for sorting the Bill out and in particular for dealing with these new clauses that were not in the original bill, which have been subsequently introduced in response to lobbying from vested interests, and which have not therefore been properly scrutinised in the Commons. They will have the support of community groups throughout the country and many us will be watching the outcome closely and with everything crossed.


One Response

  1. […] second is Chris Brown’s blog piece for Renewal and Regeneration.  Whilst a more negatively phrased piece than Jim’s, Chris rightly points out that the […]

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