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
Councils in England should stop sitting on multi-million pound vacant houses and reinvest in more affordable homes, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said today (26 November 2014).
The Communities Secretary said the sale of just one high-value council house could help fund more affordable house building, increase supply and reduce social housing waiting lists.
This is all part of the government’s long-term economic plan to get Britain building and is the latest in a number of measures taken since 2010 to make the best possible use of social housing.
Social housing waiting lists have halved since 2010 - but the new rules could bring this down even further.
Multi-million pound properties
From April, councils will be required to publish the most recent valuation of their social housing stock, annually to ensure it is being put to best use.
The information will be published by postcode, listing how much the properties are worth, how many are occupied and how many are standing empty.
The move will give people the information they need to ask questions of how their council is managing stock – and how selling more expensive properties could provide the funds for councils to build more homes and reduce waiting times.
Councils could also sell their higher-value empty properties, releasing more money for house building without affecting existing tenants’ rights.
And with the numbers of empty homes down by 160,000 since the end of 2009 to a 10-year low, this could reduce the numbers of empty properties even further.
For example, Southwark council were able to sell off one of their council homes for a staggering £3 million – helping to fund the building of 20 new properties across the borough.
Mr Pickles argued that other councils across the country could follow suit - potentially helping thousands of families by selling their higher-value vacant homes.
Councils across the country are sitting on millions of pounds which could be put to far better use and get them building elsewhere in the area. This would allow more families to come off social housing waiting lists and get into homes.
Instead of holding that money as equity in expensive empty properties, the councils should sell up those vacant buildings and reinvest the money to get the country building.
Through the government’s Affordable Homes Programme, £19.5 billion public and private funding has been invested in affordable house building, with a further £23.3 billion investment planned from 2015 to 2018. Over 200,000 new affordable homes have been delivered since 2010.
House building is a key part of the government’s long-term economic plan and since 2010 a range of measures have been taken to ensure the best possible use of social housing.
Other measures include:
- combating social housing tenancy fraud – this is now a criminal offence, punishable by up to 2 years’ imprisonment and a fine; councils have also received £19 million to find fraudsters in their area
- new guidance, which makes clear only hard-working families with a well-established residency, relatives or job in the local area can go on their council’s waiting list, so they are the first to benefit when homes become available
- encouraging councils to publish details of who is applying for and getting social housing in their area, as well as full details of how they allocate their homes, to increase confidence in the system
Ahead of next week’s Autumn Statement, the final report from the independent Service Transformation Challenge Panel was welcomed on Wednesday 26 November 2014 by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.
The panel, chaired by former and current local authority chief executives Sir Derek Myers and Pat Ritchie, was set up in April as part of the government’s continued commitment to deliver better, more open public services centred around individuals and families’ needs rather than working in traditional Whitehall silos.
They were asked to recommend changes which would help public services deal with demographic changes, increasing expectations and the need to reduce the cost of public services.
The panel has called for 3 fundamental changes:
- that local and central government use the person-centred approach of the Troubled Families programme to design services for groups and individuals with multiple and complex needs
- more easily accessible and more flexible funding for the up-front costs of transformation, but not more cash overall
- radical improvements in how data and technology are used to provide smarter services
Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said:
The successful Troubled Families programme has shown how by bringing services together in a common sense way we can get better results and save money for the taxpayer too. This report now provides us with a blueprint as to how we can take this approach forward into other areas such as jobs, skills and early years, and as we are already doing with health and social care through the Better Care Fund.
Residents’ satisfaction with services has gone up in the past 4 years while Council Tax has been kept down by cutting waste and focussing on frontline services. I welcome the fact that the Challenge Panel have shown us how we can continue to make that kind of progress in the future by putting people first and building services around them.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said:
Breaking down barriers between public services at a local level enables people to get a better, more coordinated service at less cost. That is what we are achieving through the Troubled Families programme, the Better Care Fund and other initiatives. This level of collaborative reform will be crucial to meeting the fiscal challenges of the next parliament in a fair way, that maintains high quality services. The Panel’s report makes the case brilliantly and I look forward to leading this agenda in the coming months.
The panel has made 20 specific recommendations, including:
- the best performing councils and local services should agree public service ‘deals’ with the government, allowing them greater local flexibility over how services are organised, provided and funded
- a £5 billion transformation fund should be created from existing pots of cash, including the transformation and innovation funds from across Whitehall
- local and central government should make better use of all public assets, building and land, to fund service improvements
- a presumption in favour of safe data sharing so that, when accessing public services, people can be confident information with will be securely and effectively shared so they only have to tell their story once and get a more effective response
Read the full independent report: Bolder, braver and better: why we need local deals to save public services.
The government will respond formally to the report shortly.
More background about the Panel, its membership, their visits and evidence gathering can be found on the Public Service Transformation Network website
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Imperial War Museum have launched a new online guide to help local community groups, museums and libraries bring their community together and discover their shared history by organising World War 1 commemoration events.
The guide - Suggestions for organising a ‘Bring a First World War object’ event - offers practical advice to organisations like community groups, museums, schools and councils on how to successfully organise a ‘Bring an Object’ event where members of the public can bring their own World War 1 mementoes and learn more about their treasured items as well as their own community’s World War 1 history. The British Army during the First World War was made up of people from across the globe including 1.3 million people from pre-partition India. ‘Bring an Object’ events are a good way to bring diverse communities together to discover more about our shared First World War history.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said:
A hundred years ago men from across the globe fought side-by-side in defence of Britain, and the liberty of the world. Their sacrifice not only defeated tyranny and oppression, it also built the foundations for modern Britain, where people from all backgrounds can live together in peace.
These ‘Bring an Object’ events enable communities across the country to honour and take pride in the achievements of the past. But they also ensure we can celebrate what makes Britain a great place to live today, and remember that the mutual tolerance and respect we value was bought at a price.
The guide is split into easy-to-read sections which offer advice on:
- when and where to hold a ‘Bring your Own’ event
- what to offer visitors to excite and engage them in the history of World War 1
- who to target and invite
- how to conserve historical items
- advice on how to publicise the event to get as much of the community attending as possible
DCLG and the Imperial War Museum have also launched an online resource to help people find out about some of the most commonly held family heirlooms from the First World War and guidance on how to research these objects further. To find out more visit the Imperial War Museum website.
- 2014 will mark 100 years since the start of the First World War. To honour and remember the lives of those who served in and were affected by the war the government is leading a national centenary programme of ceremonial events, cultural activity and education.
- For more information on how the government is building a fitting commemoration of this significant milestone in world history, please see First World War Centenary.
A demand notice has been issued on Social Enterprise North West (SENW) to recover £1.4 million of public money after serious irregularities in its accounts were uncovered.
The money forms part of a grant given to SENW to run a business advisory service in Liverpool called the Big Enterprise in Communities project (BEiC).
Launched in January 2012, the project, run by SENW together with 17 supporting organisations, received a total of £3.79 million from the European Regional Development Fund, administered by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on behalf of the British taxpayer.
However in July 2014, an audit carried out by the Audit Authority in accordance with European Commission rules identified serious breaches in the project’s accounts.
Under the terms of European grant funding, SENW is required to show how all public money it has received for the BEiC project has been spent.
Failure by the SENW to do so has forced the DCLG to take action to recover the money, by issuing a demand notice.
Communities Minister Lord Ahmad said:
I accept that European Commission rules can be very bureaucratic but in this case they are perfectly clear – failure to provide evidence of how money is spent puts the funding at risk.
The DCLG has a clear obligation to make sure every pound of taxpayers’ money is properly accounted for. It is totally unacceptable that SENW cannot provide proper accounts for £1.4 million worth of public money.
The DCLG’s demand notice will not seek to reclaim any of the money from BEiC’s 17 supporting organisations, who operated in good faith throughout.
With just 6 months of the grant funding to go, the BEiC project has already exceeded initial expectations – providing 3,128 businesses with start up support in Liverpool and the surrounding area.
Anyone thinking of starting up a business in the area should contact the new Advice Finder Service, run by Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership. It can provide details of 75 other business advisory agencies in the area delivering more than 300 services.
The fund comes on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and is one of a number of measures the government is taking as part of this global campaign.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles also wrote to England’s 326 councils to remind them of their legal duty to house women and children who have been forced to flee their homes for fear of violence and abuse.
It comes as the Home Secretary Theresa May will today address a parliamentary reception to mark 40 years of the charity Women’s Aid.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said:
Specialist refuges can mean the difference between life and death for some victims of domestic abuse, and today’s £10 million funding will help councils maintain this vital national network and ensure support is provided wherever it is needed.
This government has made changes to safeguard vulnerable victims and today is another example of our commitment to ensuring we have a strong safety net for anyone who finds themselves in a situation so fearful they are forced to flee their home.
Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan said:
The government is absolutely committed to ending violence against women and girls. We know that there is more to be done and we are determined to relentlessly drive a culture change to support victims and survivors.
I want women and girls to know that if they ever suffer the horrific ordeal of domestic violence and need a safe place to stay there is always one available, and that they will be offered the expert advice and support they need to rebuild their lives.
This additional funding will provide victims with immediate support and ensure they can feel safe and secure.
Communities Minister Stephen Williams said:
Violence against women and girls has absolutely no place in our communities and we are determined to end it wherever it occurs.
Today’s £10 million funding will help provide safe havens for women at risk of domestic violence, while our continued efforts both in the UK and internationally will help bring an end to female genital mutilation and other so-called honour-based violence.
Ending domestic violence
Latest figures published by the Crown Prosecution Service show the conviction rate for domestic violence is at its highest ever level, with three- quarters (74.6%) of all cases reaching successful outcomes. Police referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service for charging decisions have also reached their highest ever levels, and the volume of prosecutions and convictions have both risen by over 10% in the last year.
Mr Pickles said with victims of domestic violence making an average 32 attempts to leave before they make their final escape, councils must do everything in their power to ensure there is nothing to prevent a woman from taking the vital steps to safety.
The £10 million fund will be available over this year and next, and builds on steps taken by this government to end domestic violence, support victims and ensure offenders are prosecuted.
- a £40 million fund for local support services and specialist helplines
- new laws and powers – including the criminalisation of forced marriage, the introduction of new stalking laws
- the national roll-out of Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme
International action against violence
Today marks the start of 16 days of international action, to end violence against women and girls, and a range of government activity.
Later this week the government will announce details of local community groups who have received grants to help end the harmful practice of female genital mutilation.
Crime Prevention Minister Lynne Featherstone will visit the Katherine Low Settlement charity, to highlight the importance of communities talking openly about female genital mutilation.
She will also address students at King’s College London on the need for men to speak out as ‘agents of change to tackle violence against women and girls.
This is on top of action already taken to end the practice of female genital mutilation. In July, the Prime Minister and UNICEF jointly hosted the Girl Summit, shining a spotlight on the importance of ending female genital mutilation and forced marriage.
The government has introduced a range of measures to support women and girls at risk of violence:
As part of our review of victims’ services ‘Getting It Right For Victims and Witnesses’ we also outlined plans to generate up to £50 million extra a year for victims’ services. This will be partly funded by making criminals pay more for their crimes. The Victims’ Surcharge has been extended and increased so that criminals, not taxpayers, are contributing more to services that support victims. Next year there will be a potential total budget of up to £100 million, double Ministry of Justice’s previous spending of around £50 million per year.
Since 2011 £4 million per year has been provided to female Rape Support Centres in England and Wales, including funding to create the 13 new centres created through the Rape Support Fund. This has increased to £4.4 million in 2014 of which £300,000 has been set aside to allocate to 2 new centres.
In September we announced, that the coalition government has met its commitment to fund 15 new rape support facilities across the country since coming to power in 2010. There are currently 84 established centres receiving government funding through to 2015 to 2016, with 2 new centres due to open in 2015.
This includes dedicated housing support for those escaping domestic violence.
On this the government has:
- invested £6.5 billion to help vulnerable people through housing support – with a proportion used by local authorities to commission refuge services
- made £500 million available since 2010 to local authorities and the voluntary sector to prevent and tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, helping the most vulnerable in society – including victims of domestic abuse
- funded UKRefuges Online, a UK-wide database of domestic violence services which supports the national 24-hour free phone domestic violence helpline – this service enables those working with victims of domestic violence to identify appropriate services and potential refuge vacancies around the country so victims can get the help they need as quickly as possible
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles joined the tributes to Lieutenant Frank de Pass, the first person of the Jewish faith and the first Indian Army Officer to receive the Victoria Cross (VC), at a special event in Whitehall today (25 November 2014).
The event marked the 100-year anniversary of Lieutenant de Pass’s brave actions in saving a fellow soldier which earned him Britain’s highest military honour.
Speaking following the ceremony, where a Victoria Cross paving stone was laid in Lieutenant Frank de Pass’s honour, Eric Pickles said:
Lieutenant de Pass displayed exceptional courage 100 years ago, in the cause of liberty.
The legacy of men like Frank and their acts of supreme valour in service of their country is the Britain of today, united by shared values, where there is mutual respect and tolerance of all faiths.
Over the course of the centenary, we have the opportunity to stop and reflect on these great displays of bravery and by the laying of commemorative stones we will ensure that there are permanent memorials to all of our First World War heroes.
The Lord Mayor of Westminster Councillor Audrey Lewis, said:
In describing Frank’s actions, a fellow officer described his conduct as ‘most intrepid’ and ‘a magnificent example to the men of the Detachment’. Even in the midst of war, his exceptional bravery and valour was recognised by his comrades.
The ceremony was attended by Lieutenant Colonel Jonny Kitson a member of Lieutenant Frank de Pass’s family who was joined by Sergeant Johnson Beharry VC, the first living recipient of the Victoria Cross in over 30 years, the Head of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women and veterans from the Royal British Legion. The stone was blessed by the Military chaplain Rabbi Reuben Livingstone.
This August saw the start of the nationwide campaign to honour those who received the Victoria Cross during the First World War. Over the next 4 years on a date corresponding or close to when they were awarded the VC, commemorative paving stones will be laid in their place of birth or where they lived following the war.
469 stones will be laid in communities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 35 VC recipients will be commemorated in the Republic of Ireland. 145 stones will be laid in the National Memorial Arboretum to commemorate those born overseas.
The National Army Museum in Chelsea displays the Victoria Cross awarded to Frank de Pass alongside an ‘In Memoriam’ leaflet.
Biography of Lieutenant Frank de Pass VC
Frank de Pass was born in Kensington in April 1887 to a family of Spanish/Portuguese Jews, who originally came to England in the 1660s.
He was commissioned into the Royal Horse Artillery in 1906 and transferred into the 34th Prince Albert Victor’s Own Poona Horse in 1909.
On 24 November 1914, near Festubert, France, Lieutenant de Pass entered a German sap (deep trench) and destroyed a traverse in the face of the enemy’s bombs. Later that same day, he rescued, under heavy fire, a wounded man lying exposed to enemy bullets in the open. The next day, 25 November 1914, Lieutenant de Pass, was shot and killed by an enemy sniper after engaging the sniper to protect his men whilst supervising the repair of a parapet. He was 27 years old.
His ‘In Memoriam’ booklet at the National Army Museum contains a passage which states:
Many brave deeds have been performed during the war, but there are few instances of gallantry more conspicuous than that displayed by this heroic young soldier. He was the very perfect type of the British officer.
He united to singular personal beauty a charm of manner and a degree of valour which made him the idol of his men. He was honoured in death by the Victoria Cross. No one in the war earned in better.
See the dates of upcoming paving stone laying ceremonies.
The decision about the site of each stone has been taken by the relevant local authority. Guidelines to local authorities encouraged them to site the stones in a location that would have had resonance with the VC recipient, such as outside a house that they lived in or near their old school. Most importantly, the stones should be part of the community and sited in a position where they will be visible to members of the public.
A public competition was held to choose a design for the paving stones and this was judged by a panel of 7 experts. The competition was won by Charlie MacKeith from London whose winning design will feature on all the paving stones that will be laid in communities across the country. The circular design seeks to ‘make one pause and remember’ and uses the material, form and lettering of the family of memorials used by the War Graves Commission.
The paving stones are made of Scoutmoor Yorkstone a hard-wearing British stone that is quarried near Ramsbottom. Each stone will include the name of the individual, the rank and regiment of the individual (at the time the VC was awarded) and the date of the action for which the VC was awarded.