LocalismThe AJ's bloggers track the latest developments in the plan to hand power to the people
More than half of English councils have failed to draw up local plans in time for the NPPF’s introduction later this month
It promised to give local authorities the power to write their own development plans, but now experts say it is stifling growth and confusing an already murky planning process, reports Merlin Fulcher
The Localism Bill was given Royal Assent yesterday, opening the way for a ‘profound’ overhaul of the English planning system
Richard Rogers has hit out against the government’s proposed overhaul of the planning system claiming it could merge cities and ‘scar the countryside for generations’
The RIBA has urged architects to seize the localism agenda and help communities make the most of their new planning powers
The government has given MPs extra time to contribute to the debate over its controversial planning reforms following huge interest in the policy
The Localism agenda means more work and more proactivity, so getting the ‘key influencers’ on side early is critical, says Geoff Armstrong
Everybody wants to know what the impact of the government’s localism agenda will really be. Here are two, very different, explanatory guides
Craig Casci of Grid Architects argues that housing problems are a symptom of the broken planning system, not the lack of land or delivery
The planning inspectorate has issued guidance to its officers to start viewing the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) as a ‘material consideration’ in their decisions
Chancellor George Osborne and communities secretary Eric Pickles have defended the governments’ proposed planning reforms amid fierce opposition from conservation groups
The fourth wave of councils to be given new neighbourhood planning powers has been named by the Department for Communities and Local Government
Five councils have been given a fortnight to explain why steps should not be taken to stop their “propaganda on the rates”, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced today (17 April 2014).
Formal letters have been sent to 5 London boroughs triggering the first legal steps the Secretary of State can now take to require compliance with the Publicity Code for local authorities, under the new Local Audit and Accountability Act.
The code sets a range of provisions in relation to local authority publicity including the frequency, content and appearance of taxpayer-funded news-sheets. This includes limiting publication to prevent competition with local newspapers, obliging councils to be cost effective and objective in any publicity material they publish.
Parliament passed the new Act after ongoing concerns that a small number of local authorities were breaching the publicity code, originally introduced under Margaret Thatcher’s government. Strengthening these provisions was in the Coalition Agreement published in 2010, reflecting policy commitments made by both coalition parties before the general election.
The action is been taken against the municipal newspapers of Greenwich Time, Hackney Today, the Newham mag, Waltham Forest News and (Tower Hamlets’) East End Life. The councils now have a fortnight to show why a direction is not necessary. Any council that does not follow the legal direction could end up facing a court order requiring compliance.
This is part of a series of measures to protect local democracy and enhance local scrutiny. The new provisions of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 have been used to initiate an investigation into the probity of the controversial mayoral administration in Tower Hamlets. New powers will also shortly enhance the rights of the press and public to report council meetings using digital and social media, following cases where members of the public have been threatened with arrest for reporting council meetings.
These measures build on the Localism Act 2011 which protected councillors’ free speech by changing the law on ‘predetermination’ which was being used to prevent councillors from campaigning on local issues and by scrapping a quango that was being used to bully councillors who blew the whistle on waste and corruption. The new rules today do not affect party political campaigning using private funds.
Mr Pickles said:
It is scandalous that bloggers have been handcuffed for tweeting from council meetings, while propaganda on the rates drives the free press out of business. Only Putin would be proud of a record like that.
Localism needs robust and independent scrutiny by the press and public, and municipal state-produced newspapers suppress that. ‘Town Hall Pravdas’ not only waste taxpayers’ money unnecessarily, they undermine free speech.
I have given written notice to councils most clearly breaching the Publicity Code, noting that Parliament has passed new laws to tackle this abuse. We are prepared to take further action against any council that undermines local democracy - whatever the political colour.
We have changed the law to protect the free speech of councillors. If councillors and political parties want to campaign and put out political literature, they are very welcome to do so, and it’s an important part of our democratic process. But they should be using their own money, rather than taxpayers.
The recommended code of practice on local authority publicity applies to all decisions by local authorities relating to taxpayer-funded paid advertising and leaflet campaigns, publication of free newspapers and news-sheets and maintenance of websites – including the hosting of material which is created by third parties. It states that publicity by local authorities should:
- be lawful
- be cost effective
- be objective
- be even-handed
- be appropriate
- have regard to equality and diversity
- be issued with care during periods of heightened sensitivity
It does not inhibit publicity produced by political parties or councillors at their own expense.
The Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 gives the Secretary of State the power to direct a local authority to comply with some, or all, of the provisions of the recommended code of practice on local authority publicity. This code applies to all local authorities in England. The process for issuing a direction is for the Secretary of State to first give notice in writing to the authority of the proposed direction so the authorities can make any relevant representations. After that 14 day period has elapsed, the Secretary of State may then issue the direction. If the direction is not complied with, a person having appropriate interest (such as a council taxpayer, elector, or a councillor of the authority concerned, or the Secretary of State), may seek a court order requiring compliance with the direction. Non-compliance with a court order may be contempt of court.
Having regard to the information available to him the Secretary of State intends to direct the councils written to today to comply by no later than 1 May 2014 with the specified provisions of the recommended code of practice on local authority publicity issued under section 4 of the Local Government Act 1986 on 31 March 2011 which was approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
On objectivity the code states that:
Local authorities should ensure that publicity relating to policies and proposals from central government is balanced and factually accurate. Such publicity may set out the local authority’s views and reasons for holding those views, but should avoid anything likely to be perceived by readers as constituting a political statement, or being a commentary on contentious areas of public policy.
On even-handedness the code states that:
Where local authority publicity addresses matters of political controversy it should seek to present the different positions in relation to the issue in question in a fair manner.
On appropriate publicity the code states that:
Local authorities should not publish or incur expenditure in commissioning in hard copy or on any website, newsletters, newssheets or similar communications which seek to emulate commercial newspapers in style or content. Where local authorities do commission or publish newsletters, news-sheets or similar communications, they should not issue them more frequently than quarterly, apart from parish councils which should not issue them more frequently than monthly. Such communications should not include material other than information for the public about the business, services and amenities of the council or other local service providers.
The following table set out which councils have been written to and for what reason:
Local authority Required compliance Alleged form of non-compliance The Royal Borough of Greenwich Comply with all provisions in the Code by 1 May Not objective, not even-handed, ‘Greenwich Time’ is published 50 times a year The London Borough of Hackney Comply with the Code’s provisions on frequency of publication by 1 May ‘Hackney Today’ is published fortnightly The London Borough of Tower Hamlets Council Comply with all provisions in the Code by 1 May Not objective, not even-handed, ‘East End life’ is published weekly Newham Council Comply with all provisions in the Code by 1 May Not even–handed, ‘the Newham mag’ is published fortnightly The London Borough of Waltham Forest Comply with all provisions in the Code by 1 May Not even-handed, ‘Waltham Forest News’ is published fortnightly
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A new pilot scheme will give the most vulnerable homeless people the right skills and training to get into work, Housing Minister Kris Hopkins and Skills Minister Matthew Hancock announced today (16 April 2014).
The ministers said the government is determined to test different ways of delivering support to the most disadvantaged people who want to work, but lack the basic maths, English and other skills that are vital when applying for jobs.
The London STRIVE (Skills, Training, Innovation and Employment) pre-employment programme will initially help 100 single homeless people over 2 years. The scheme will address key barriers to employment, providing 50 people a year with the right skills and opportunities to have an independent future without the need to rely upon local services and benefits.
Over the course of a programme designed with their particular needs in mind, participants will build up their basic skills in IT, maths and English and get their confidence to a level that will open the doors to further training helping them move out of homelessness into work.
STRIVE, run by homelessness charities Crisis and St Mungo’s Broadway, will work alongside Jobcentre Plus to identify those who would benefit most from the scheme.
Daniel Howard-Trickett, one of the first people to join the new initiative at Crisis, said:
I have been out of work since the end of last summer, having previously worked as a kitchen porter. Since then I have been looking for something that could help me to progress in life.
Learning computer skills and embedding it with English and maths will hopefully enable me to do that and to get a job and succeed in life.
Housing Minister Kris Hopkins said:
This government is determined to help vulnerable people tear down the barriers that prevent them from finding a job.
Many homeless people simply want to work hard and get on in life, but finding work is a real struggle if you don’t have basic skills in maths, English and IT.
That’s why we are supporting the STRIVE programme, which will help ensure the most disadvantaged people have opportunities to build up their skills and gain confidence, so they can move forward with their lives and start to live independently.
Skills and Enterprise Minister, Matthew Hancock said;
I can think of few better uses of education funding than to support English, maths, and IT skills for homeless people. It is wrong that until now excellent education projects led by St Mungo’s Broadway and others have been denied government funding - today we are putting that right. There is no doubt that charities like St Mungo’s Broadway and Crisis are best placed to reach those in need of help, but we are backing them in this vital task.
Leslie Morphy, Crisis Chief Executive said:
The crushing experience of homelessness leaves individuals feeling very vulnerable. At Crisis we offer dedicated and specialist support to help people turn their lives around, build new skills and confidence and ultimately find work. This new pre-employment programme will help us reach more people, getting them back on their feet and leaving homelessness behind.
But while our services have long been successful they have always struggled to get mainstream funding. It is vital that as well as helping individuals we use this programme to capture what works and ensure the lessons are fed into employment programmes and funding to ensure all homeless people across the country get the help they need.
Howard Sinclair, Chief Executive of St Mungo’s Broadway, said:
STRIVE will be a vital stepping stone for people in need of tailored specialist support around literacy, maths and IT as they search for work. The people we see at St Mungo’s Broadway do need this additional support and we are delighted their particular needs have been recognised. It is about giving people a chance to succeed and rebuild their lives, rather than being knocked back from the start.
- STRIVE is funded jointly by DCLG and BIS. A total of £297,330 will be invested over the 2-year pilot. DWP are working with Crisis and St Mungo’s to establish referrals onto the scheme.
- The charities will work alongside Jobcentre Plus to identify suitable individuals to join the programme, and continuously measure progress towards employability. The scheme will be supported by all four Job Centre Plus London districts.
- A skills and employment training schedule has been developed with capacity to work with up to 50 homeless clients per year.
- Crisis and St. Mungos’s Broadway are both being funded to work with clients to develop basic skills in English, maths and IT, as well as developing essential employability skills according to each individual’s needs and aspirations.
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An e-petition has been circulating suggesting that the Department for Communities and Local Government is examining plans to remove council duties to provide allotments. This is completely untrue and has no basis in fact.
In 2011, the government compiled a list of statutory duties that councils must follow, but ministers made very clear to Parliament there were no plans to change any of the duties on allotments. This remains the case.
Local authorities continue to have a specific responsibility for the management and provision of allotments in their area, taking into account local demand. There are no plans to change this, and the e-petition’s claims are simply false.
In January 2014, the department published allotment disposal guidance: safeguards and alternatives replacing the previous guidance from 2002. The new guidance strengthens allotment protection, as the requirement for waiting lists to be taken into account must now be rigorously applied to all that council’s waiting lists, not just the waiting list for the site to be disposed of. This aims to ensure that poorly maintained sites are not used to justify disposal.
The government has introduced a range of measures to help communities who want land to grow fruit and vegetables. Through new community rights, local residents have increased opportunities to protect existing allotments from development and increase provision of green spaces. For example, in Thame, in Oxfordshire, their new neighbourhood plan will create an additional hectare of allotment land. Allotments have also been listed as assets of community value.
As part of our commitment to supporting local community groups, the department has also published a best practice guide for community groups wanting to find land to grow fruit and vegetables and an additional guide on establishing community orchards and other spaces for food growing.
Updated: Added the flood recovery scheme infographic
Government departments, local authorities and agencies are working together to do everything they can to help communities recover from the extreme weather during winter 2013 to 2014.
Flood recovery schemes for communities and businesses
The winter of 2013 to 2014 was the wettest on record with over 7,800 homes and nearly 3,000 commercial properties flooded. To date about £14 million has already been paid out to help communities recover and to meet the costs of protecting lives and properties in the future, with a further £183.5 million due to be paid to local authorities by the end of March.
Repair and renew grant
A repair and renew grant of up to £5,000 each for all affected homeowners and businesses to top up any money received from insurers and make sure flood resilience is built into repairs was launched on 1 April. Read more details on how to apply for the repair and renew grant.
Other schemes include:
- the business support scheme - a £10 million fund to support businesses to develop and implement business recovery plans
- business rate relief - an estimated £9 million to give all affected businesses 100% business rate relief for 3 months and to give them an extra 3 months to pay the business taxes they owe to HMRC as they get back on their feet
- a support fund for coastal tourism businesses - £2 million to provide practical assistance to coastal areas to help them boost summer trade
- the Council Tax discount scheme - funding of up to £6 million to enable councils to cover Council Tax discounts for flood hit households for at least 3 months
- the enhanced Bellwin scheme - to give help to local authorities incurring expenditure above the usual qualifying threshold
- the farming flood recovery fund - £10 million which will provide grants of up to £5,000 to support farm businesses to bring flooded land back into production as quickly as possible
- the severe weather recovery scheme - an £86.5 million fund to help speed the recovery in affected areas, including fixing the most damaged roads
See all the flood support schemes and funding available from central government and get details on how to apply.
The graph below shows take up and spend against the £540 million total so far.
- Flood insurance
- Government action on flood defences
- Ongoing risk of groundwater flooding
- Advice and information
- Government announcements
Insurers have arranged temporary alternative accommodation for over 2,100 households and loss adjusters have made over 6,500 visits to flooded properties to assess the damage, organise emergency payments and get drying out repairs started as quickly as possible.
The Association of British Insurers has published a film on how to protect your home if you live in a flood prone area, or make a claim if you’re recovering from a flood. You can find more information on the Association’s website
The major banks have made a total commitment in excess of £750 million to provide financial support to business and individual customers affected by the floods.
Government action on flood defences
Since early December 2013, flood defences have protected more than 1.3 million properties from flooding. These flood defences are currently being inspected by the Environment Agency with help from the military. A total funding package of £270 million has been made available to repair or maintain flood defences, including £10 million for Somerset.
Ongoing risk of groundwater flooding and most likely flooding scenario
The Environment Agency expects the situation to continue to improve a risk of groundwater flooding remains, particularly in the south of England and the Thames Valley. All agencies are working closely together to protect property and critical infrastructure.
Find out if your area is at risk of flooding with the Environment Agency Live Flood Warning map.
£183.5 million has been given to local authorities for local highway repair and emergency maintenance. The government has also allocated £2 million to help repair small English ports.
All rail routes damaged in the storms have been repaired and reopened except Barmouth to Pwllheli in Wales which is expected to reopen on 19 May.
Public Health England continues to support the response and recovery operation and has published guidance on recovering from the floods.
Advice and information
Who to call if you have a power cut
Your chosen electricity provider sells you energy, but it’s your local distribution network operator who maintains the power lines that connect your home or business to the network.
Take a look now and make a note of the number of the company that covers your area in case you need to use it at some stage. Further information: Who to call when you have a power cut.
Friday 14 April
Friday 4 April
Tuesday 1 April
Friday 31 March
Friday 14 March
Sunday 9 March
Thursday 6 March
Saturday 1 March
Thursday 27 February
Tuesday 25 February
Monday 24 February
Thursday 20 February
- PM announces details of flood support packages
- Military personnel to remain available to assist local authorities
- Dredging to start on the Rivers Tone and Parrett as soon as possible
- Radio adverts launched to help safeguard flooding clean-up operation
Wednesday 19 February
Tuesday 18 February
Monday 17 February
Sunday 16 February
Saturday 15 February
Thursday 13 February
- First meeting of new Cabinet Committee on Flooding
- Eric Pickles’ statement to Parliament on changes to the Bellwin scheme and the form councils can use to apply for it
- Transport Secretary meets with bus industry to help tackle weather disruption
- Citizens Advice support for flood and storm victims
- Brandon Lewis’ statement on sandbags
Wednesday 12 February
- Eric Pickles’ statement to Parliament on the latest situation
- £61 million for rail resilience and roads recovery
- New measures to help communities hit by flooding
- Tax helpline launched to support people affected by flooding
Tuesday 11 February
- David Cameron’s statement on the UK storms and flooding
- Government cuts cost of flying from Cornwall
Monday 10 February
- Eric Pickles’ statement following the evening COBR meeting
- Eric Pickles updates the House of Commons on the latest situation
- Nick Clegg visits flooded areas and promises government support
Sunday 9 February
Saturday 8 February
Friday 7 February
- Military support flood relief operation in Somerset
- Transport Secretary visits Dawlish in south-west
- Eric Pickles’ statement following the COBR meeting
Thursday 6 February
- Forty two new flood defences given the green light
- Eric Pickles’ statement to Parliament: government action taken to respond to floods and extreme weather
Wednesday 5 February
High Streets Minister Brandon Lewis and retail expert Mary Portas today (15 April 2014) visited Rotherham high street in Yorkshire to see first hand how it went from struggling to thriving in only 2 years.
The once challenged town centre has been rejuvenated and become a leading example of what can be achieved by a Portas Pilot and £100,000 of government funding.
Rotherham is showing how high streets can adapt to changing consumer behaviour and become social places which offer something that the internet cannot.
Brandon Lewis said:
Rotherham is a prime example of how a struggling town centre can be turned around into a success story, and in the last 3 years 86 new businesses have opened their doors in the high street.
The town has grabbed the opportunities offered to it and is a great example of how our high streets can become shopping destinations that serve the whole community. It’s an example to other town centres around the country.
Mary Portas said:
I’m bursting with pride at everything that’s been achieved in Rotherham. The town team have done an extraordinary job increasing footfall and reducing vacancy rates but most of all producing a place people want to shop in and feel at home in. They have huge competition from some of the UK’s biggest shopping malls right on the doorstep but they are bearing out the national statistics that people prefer high streets.
Like many high streets the 2008 economic downturn forced a number of shops to close in Rotherham with long-term vacant units on some prime shopping streets but its 5 year strategy is redefining the town centre.
Rotherham has reopened 86 new shops, reduced the number of boarded up shops and signed up 100 shops to their local loyalty card scheme increasing footfall and shopper satisfaction. Over 16,000 Rotherham residents have registered for a card.
Along with visiting new independent businesses now operating on the high street, the minister opened the Makers Emporium, a project offering 3,000 sq ft of retail space on a temporary basis to more than 30 local entrepreneurs, and designers launch their products and test the market.
The government is putting in place a wide range of measures to help high streets and has funded 24 Portas Pilots and 330 town teams to support them as they adapt to changing customer behaviour. It is providing:
Support for local shops and high streets
A billion pound package of support for the UK’s high streets was recently announced which includes changes to business rates which provides a £1,000 discount for retail premises including shops, pubs, cafes, and restaurants; caps the increase in bills to 2% - businesses were expecting a 3.2% rise; extends the doubling of the Small Business Rates Relief; and allows businesses to pay their bills over 12 months (rather than 10), which will help every firm with their cash flow.
Easier parking to help town centres
Independent experts have warned that aggressive parking policies are harming local high streets and local shops. We are getting rid of aggressive parking policies by changing the previous approach of setting parking fees to discourage car use and provide ‘maximum’ parking levels.
We’ve also changed planning rules to allow councils to make decisions about parking requirements and fees to better meet local needs. The government wants councils to attract shoppers by setting competitive parking charges, and to improve the quality of parking in town centres so that it is convenient, safe and secure.
Putting local leadership first
Councils and businesses and those who work on the ground are best placed to know what could make their high street thrive and the government is backing community led-renewal and business improvement districts to help re-energize town centres.
Supporting local markets
The government has teamed up with the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA) to set up the Love Your Local Market Campaign. This is helping new market traders starting up businesses, and celebrates and promotes our local markets.
In 2013 700 markets took part in 3,500 events during the campaign fortnight with 2,800 new traders taking part. This year’s Love Your Local Market campaign will be held from 14 to 28 May 2014.
Ensuring better use of buildings
Planning restrictions have been lifted to help landlords make better use of their empty properties so they can lease them for shorter periods, helping start-up businesses to set up in the high street, and by making it easier to turn commercial properties into homes to increase local footfall. The changes give town centres the flexibility they need to adapt existing buildings to new shops, homes and businesses.
The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister commissioned retail expert Mary Portas to conduct an independent review of the high street’s future. The Portas Review: an independent review into the future of our high streets was published in 2011. It set out what Mary Portas thought had led to the decline of the high street and made 28 recommendations about what could be done – by government, local authorities and business – to breathe life back into them.
The government is working with the Future High Streets Forum. This brings together leading businesses, academics and local leaders to look at the challenges facing our town centres and work with councils to build on what government has started.
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Millions of tenants and leaseholders will receive stronger protection from unscrupulous letting agents, under plans announced by Housing Minister Kris Hopkins today (15 April 2014).
The minister revealed 3 approved ‘redress schemes’ that all letting and property management agents will be required to join later this year, and will ensure tenants and leaseholders have a straightforward option to hold their agents to account.
The 3 compulsory redress schemes – The Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services Property and The Property Redress Scheme – will offer independent investigation of complaints about hidden fees or poor service. Where a complaint is upheld, tenants and leaseholders could receive compensation.
The majority of letting agents are already signed up with one of the 3 organisations. The remaining 3,000 agents, 40% of the entire industry, will now be encouraged to join one of the schemes ahead of the legal requirement.
Mr Hopkins said the new rules would strike the right balance between protecting tenants and not harming the industry with excessive red tape, and were just one part of the government’s efforts to secure a better deal for tenants in the private rented sector.
Housing Minister Kris Hopkins said:
All tenants and leaseholders have a right to fair and transparent treatment from their letting agent. Most are happy with the service they receive, but a small minority of agents are ripping people off, and giving the whole industry a bad name.
That’s why we will require all agents to belong to one of the official redress schemes. They will ensure tenants have a straightforward route to take action if they get a poor deal, while avoiding excessive red tape that would push up rents and reduce choice for tenants
Other measures that are being introduced by the government to protect tenants include:
- a new voluntary code of practice that will set standards for the management of property in the private rented sector, with a view to making it statutory to provide greater confidence for tenants in what they can expect
- a new help to rent guide, which will help tenants understand what they should expect from their rental deal, and how they can take action if they are the victim of hidden fees or poor standards of accommodation
- the introduction of a model tenancy agreement, which landlords and tenants can use for longer tenancies (3 years, for example) which will provide extra security and stability for families
- extra guidance for local councils on how to tackle rogue landlords, protect tenants from illegal eviction and how best to push for harsher penalties before magistrates for housing offences where these have a real impact on peoples’ lives
- an on-going review is considering how else we can improve property conditions in the private rented sector, and tackle bad landlords without any negative impact on the majority of landlords who provide a good service to their tenants. A discussion document inviting views on these issues was published earlier this year. The deadline for responses was 28 March and these are now being considered
Office address and general enquiries