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
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles today (19 October 2014) celebrated the important role Bonfire Night plays in bringing Britain together across colour, class and creed as he published a common sense community guide to bonfires and fireworks to mark the longevity of Parliamentary democracy and the British Monarchy.
He challenged health and safety zealots and the politically correct who have tried to suppress the celebration of this British day.
Local shops this week started stocking fireworks for the annual celebration on 5 November, when thousands of communities across the country will come together to mark the failure of Guy Fawkes’ plot in 1605 to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James, the first King of Great Britain. Bonfire Night subsequently became Britain’s ‘Thanksgiving Day’.
The new guide takes on health and safety zealots and municipal killjoys, by encouraging community bonfires and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes – with common sense tips to ensure a safe, enjoyable evening.
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles said:
Bonfire Night is a great British tradition, and it continues to have resonance as we give thanks for the longevity of our Parliamentary democracy and the British Monarchy.
This new guide challenges the municipal killjoys and health and safety zealots who want to stop bonfires and fireworks. The public should be encouraged to celebrate this day in the traditional way, together with some common sense tips to ensure a safe and fun evening.
Important occasions like this bring people together across colour, class and creed. Britain is stronger as a nation when we celebrate these ties and traditions that bind our country together.
A community guide to organising bonfires and fireworks has been published on this website.
On 5 November 1605, Guy Fawkes was caught in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder, as part of a terrorist plot to blow up Parliament and King James I (and King James VI of Scotland) on the occasion of the State Opening of Parliament. Guy Fawkes was subsequently tried as a traitor with his co-conspirators for plotting against the King and government. The following year in 1606 it became an annual custom for the King and Parliament to commission a sermon to commemorate the event.
Parliament passed the Observance of 5th November Act – commonly known as the ‘Thanksgiving Act’ - which introduced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot’s failure. Although the Act was repealed in the 19th century, the tradition of bonfires and fireworks continues, including burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on the bonfire.
To this day, prior to each State Opening of Parliament by the Queen, the Yeomen of the Guard still searches the cellars of the Palace of Westminster for gunpowder. And ‘Guy Fawkes Night’ or ‘Bonfire Night’ remains a day of celebration in British culture.
Press release: Fire services improvement fund - public get a win-win: better local services and at lower cost
Fire Minister Penny Mordaunt today (17 October 2014) announced the winners of a £75 million fund which will improve frontline services and save taxpayers over £300 million.
The Fire Transformation Fund, announced last March, is giving £75 million to fire and rescue authorities to help ensure better and more efficient front-line services for the public. In total, 37 projects from across the country will get funding.
Announcing the winning bids, Fire Minster Penny Mordaunt said:
Fire services have done an amazing job over the last few years in reducing demand on their emergency services; there are fewer fires and deaths. But this means the service needs to adapt – to meet new demands and to ensure it is working in the most efficient way. That’s why we’ve set up the Fire Transformation Fund.
One of the things that I found encouraging was the high number of bids looking to promote greater collaboration with other emergency services through sharing stations and services, sharing of back office functions, and joining up on service delivery. This is exactly the sort of innovation that is needed across the public sector and I look forward to seeing how these projects progress.
Amongst the winning bids are the following:
- Surrey will lead a project with fire, police and ambulance services across Sussex and Surrey to deliver efficient emergency service transport functions. (Award £5.96 million / fire and rescue authority projected discounted savings to public sector £20 million.)
- Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Authority will work with county council services to re-locate library services in 4 Hertfordshire villages to on-call fire stations, with resultant joint-use rationalisation efficiencies whilst establishing a community friendly platform for prevention and protection service delivery. (Award £700,000 / fire and rescue authority projected discounted savings to public sector £900,000.)
- Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority will work with both Kent and Essex fire and rescue authorities to establish a procurement hub leading towards a national procurement capability for the sector. (Award £370,000 / fire and rescue authority projected discounted savings to public sector £27 million.)
- Essex Fire and Rescue Authority will lead a syndicate of 9 fire and rescue authorities establishing an insurance pooling arrangement open to all fire and rescue authorities with additional secondary insurance to cover extreme events. Efficiencies will be achieved via reduced insurance costs, whilst continuing to maintain a robust approach to risk management. (Award £220,000 / fire and rescue authority projected discounted savings to public sector £2.3 million.)
- In the last decade there has been a 46% reduction in call outs and incidents. Deaths from fires in the home are now at an all time low. Yet expenditure and fire-fighter numbers have remained broadly the same.
- In May last year an independent review by Sir Ken Knight, London’s former Fire Commissioner with over 40 years in the service, concluded that fire and rescue authorities need to transform themselves to reflect the entirely different era of risk and demand they now operate in.
- Services continue to spend to their budgets rather than to the risks they have to manage. Huge variations exist between how the 46 different authorities operate. The cost per head ranged from £26 to more than £50 per year.
- Sir Ken’s report identified that the 46 fire and rescue authorities, each had their own structures. Differences in operational practices, including minimum crewing levels and the ratio of senior managers to firefighters further show that there are savings to be made without reducing the quality of outcomes for the public.
- The report stated that if above average authorities found ways to reduce their spending to the national average, then the money saved or reinvested could amount to nearly £200 million per year.
The Communities Secretary today (16 October 2014) strengthened the policy on planning for waste facilities such as recycling plants making clear that companies and councils looking to build these should first look for suitable sites and areas on brownfield land.
Today’s new rules also changes the previous policy, and means councils can no longer give special consideration to locational needs, or wider economic benefits the site could bring, over other considerations, as justification for building waste facilities on green belt land.
Mr Pickles said these measures would ensure the green belt could continue to offer a “strong defence” against urban sprawl in our towns and cities, and brings waste into line with the policies on other development, where approval should only be given in very special circumstances, and brownfield sites should be sought in the first instance.
Protecting the green belt
Today’s new policy follows new guidance published earlier this month, which reaffirms how councils should use their local plan, drawing on protections in the National Planning Policy Framework, to protect the green lungs around towns and cities.
Green belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional cases, through the preparation or review of the Local Plan.
This is on top of a range of measures the government has already taken to protect the green belt. These include:
- abolishing the previous administration’s top-down regional strategies
- selling surplus brownfield land for redevelopment
- introducing more flexible planning rights so empty and underused buildings can be brought back into productive use
Local Plans are now at the heart of the reformed, democratic planning system, so councils can decide where development should and shouldn’t go in consultation with local people.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said:
I am crystal clear that the green belt must be protected from development, so it can continue to offer a strong defence against urban sprawl.
Today’s new rules strengthen these protections further, and ensure that whether it’s new homes, business premises or anything else, developers first look for suitable sites on brownfield land.
The new waste planning policy and guidance has been published today on this website.
Stephen Williams, Minister for Communities, has today (16 October 2014) visited Fianium Limited to see progress first-hand of the company’s £7.6 million expansion project at its site in Hamble, Southampton.
Fianium Limited – which develops and manufactures ultrafast lasers – was awarded £1.125 million through the government’s Regional Growth Fund (RGF). The investment is enabling the business to bring 100 new jobs to Southampton.
The minister today toured the company to see how the cash from the RGF is helping to boost jobs and growth across the region by expanding their research and development into industrial lasers.
Mr Williams said:
The government’s Regional Growth Fund is helping to create thousands of jobs that last, stimulate private sector investment and rebalance the economy.
I am thrilled to see that the people of Southampton are to benefit. Companies like Fianium Limited and the people who work there are helping us to build a stronger economy and a fairer society for this generation and the next.
Through the RGF, companies commit to creating jobs and investing in their regional economy in return for government funding.
So far £170 million of RGF money has been invested in businesses across the south east, helping to create 42,000 new jobs as companies have committed to investing an additional £1.1 billion. Across the country the RGF has funded private sector projects which will create 573,000 jobs, attracting £16 billion of investment from business and industry.
The latest round of bids – round 6 – guarantees at least a further £200 million of funding nationwide that will create thousands of jobs and further fuel our recovery. This round has seen 174 bids across the country totalling over £800 million – with 13 bids totalling £44 million in the south east.
Penny Mordaunt, Local Growth Minister, has today visited Wedgwood to see progress on the company’s £34.3 million redevelopment of its Stoke-on-Trent manufacturing base and visitor centre. Construction started in April 2014 and there are currently over 100 tradesmen on site.
The project was made possible thanks to a £5.1 million RGF grant which has allowed Wedgwood to safeguard 440 jobs and create 102 new ones in Stoke, with over 40 new jobs already in place as the project moves towards its planned completion in Spring 2015.
Wedgwood Waterford Royal Doulton - a leading provider of luxury home and lifestyle products worldwide - received the award to support the project to develop a new ceramic manufacturing facility with increased capacity to meet strong demand for “Made in England” product, new office facilities for a growing workforce and an exciting new “World of Wedgwood” visitor experience that will attract significantly more visitors to both Wedgwood and the Potteries. The scheme is set to provide a significant boost to the region.
The Minister today toured the company to see how the cash from the RGF is helping to boost jobs and growth across the region.
Penny Mordaunt said:
I am thrilled to see that the people of Stoke are to benefit. Companies like Wedgwood and the craftsmen that work here are helping us to build a stronger economy and a fairer society for this generation and the next.
Ministers are visiting companies around the country today following a meeting of the Local Growth Committee in Stockport chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The government’s Regional Growth Fund is a £3.2 billion fund designed to help companies in England to grow. So far £2.9 billion has been allocated to support projects and programmes committed to deliver sustainable jobs and economic growth.
More than 200,000 new affordable homes have been provided in England since April 2010, according to new figures published today (16 October 2014).
Housing Minister Brandon Lewis welcomed the figures as a “clear sign” of how the government’s long-term economic plan was working, with new affordable homes being provided “in every corner of the country”.
This includes the government’s Affordable Homes Programme: already, 132,000 of the 170,000 homes planned through the programme have been provided, thanks to £19.5 billion public and private funding being invested.
It means that since April 2010, 204,000 new affordable homes have been provided.
In contrast, between 1997 and 2010 the number of social rented housing homes dropped by 420,000.
New figures published today also show how thousands of social housing tenants who previously were locked out of home ownership are now exercising their Right to Buy thanks to the reinvigorated scheme.
Since April 2010, 31,500 households have taken up their Right to Buy – including 22,600 council tenants and 8,900 housing associations with the preserved Right to Buy.
But of these, over three quarters – 24,100 - were able to do so since April 2012 when the increased discounts were introduced in the reinvigorated scheme.
In contrast, only 7,000 households were able to take up their Right to Buy between 2008 and 2010.
Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said:
Today’s figures are a clear sign of the government’s long-term economic plan in action, with affordable homes being delivered across England.
Since 2010 we’ve delivered 204,000 new affordable homes.
And, thanks to our reinvigorated Right to Buy, social housing tenants who once saw home ownership as being out of reach are now getting their chance to take their first steps onto the property ladder.
Affordable homes provided across the country
The Affordable Homes Programme includes social rented homes, affordable rented homes and affordable home ownership schemes, and is a key part of the government’s long-term economic plan. And with every new home supporting a job this multi-billion pound programme is helping get people back into work.
A fifth of the affordable homes provided last year, and nearly a quarter of the total since 2010, were provided in London.
The success of the Affordable Homes Programme is one of a number of indicators that England is building following the housing crash in 2008.
- planning permission was granted for 230,000 new homes in England in the last 12 months – equating to planning permissions for 630 homes a day
- the Help to Buy schemes have helped over 53,000 people in England get on the property ladder with a fraction of the deposit they would normally require – leading developers are building more as a direct result of the scheme, with private housebuilding up a third compared to last year
- annual council housebuilding starts in England are at a 23-year high
- housing starts in England are at their highest since 2007
- the numbers of empty homes in England are now at a 10-year low
See the breakdown of affordable housing supply by local authority district.
I would like to update honourable members on the main items of business undertaken by my department since the House rose for conference recess on 12 September 2014.
Getting Britain building
The Coalition government’s housing investment is supporting the construction industry to get Britain building the homes that our country needs. House building is now at its highest level since 2007, which shows our long-term economic plan is working and bringing in results. But there is more to do.
On 26 September, I launched a new £400 million Rent to Buy programme to boost the building of new rental homes that will help hardworking people rent now and buy later. This new scheme provides more flexibility for those who want to rent affordably now, save for a deposit, and then buy their home. Under the scheme, housing associations and other providers can bid for a share of £400 million in low-cost loans to build up to 10,000 new homes across the country. Landlords must then make these homes available for rent at below-market rates for at least 7 years giving the tenants the opportunity to save a deposit and get ready to buy their new home.
Figures published by my department on 25 September showed how almost 53,000 households in England have already benefitted through the government’s Help to Buy schemes. These schemes enable hardworking people to buy a home with a fraction of the deposit they would normally require.
On 30 September, we announced plans to help 11 areas across England to be at the forefront of helping aspiring self-builders. The chosen areas – Cherwell, South Cambridgeshire, Teignbridge, Shropshire, Oldham, West Lindsey, Exmoor and Dartmoor, Pendle, Sheffield, South Norfolk and Stoke-on-Trent – will establish and maintain a register of prospective custom and self-builders in their area and begin identifying shovel-ready sites for them.
On 9 October, my department announced new powers for councils to help them build new affordable homes across the country, building on the reforms we have already delivered to the decentralised housing revenue account. This will allow 22 councils to borrow an additional £122 million over the next 2 years to deliver more than 1,700 new affordable homes and support local growth. There is further funding available to local councils, which is only available thanks to the decisive action we have taken to reduce the deficit left by the last administration.
On 10 October, we announced a new £3 million Site Delivery Fund to get work on housing sites back on track. The money will help deliver up to 25,000 new homes across the country on sites that have been given planning permission but remain caught up in red tape. The fund is being shared across 60 bids from councils for areas where large housing developments have been agreed, and councils have shown how government support will allow them to tackle planning barriers and accelerate delivery on as many sites as possible.
Boosting local infrastructure
The Local Infrastructure Fund is another way we are getting Britain building and boosting local economies. It is targeted at housing schemes that could deliver real benefits to their communities but are struggling to move forward. Already 85,000 homes have been unlocked through this scheme. On 24 September, my department announced a £16.5 million cash boost to fast forward the development of a further 1,600 new homes at Newton Leys, Milton Keynes, which despite receiving planning permission for development in 2006, has been stalled for years.
On 10 October, we also published a progress report on the Growing Places Fund, which showed local enterprise partnerships are continuing to make excellent progress in delivering the economic growth, jobs and homes that communities need. The fund has supported 323 projects across the country leveraging £2.8 billion of extra investment including some £1.8 billion from the private sector. I expect this to support almost 70,000 new housing units and 4 million square metres of commercial and industrial floorspace.
Supporting the Right to Buy
Since the launch of the reinvigorated Right to Buy scheme in 2012, 22,500 social tenants have benefitted from expert support and thousands of pounds worth of discounts in order to become homeowners. But such a right cannot be exercised if those eligible do not know about it.
On 25 September, my department began writing to almost 1 million social tenants across the country to remind them of their Right to Buy. This letterbox campaign will be supported through advertisements in selected local newspapers. These people will be informed about the new levels of discount available and the Right to Buy Agent service launched in August which provides reliable personal advice from start to finish of the process. There might never be a better time for eligible council and housing association tenants to make this life-changing decision for them and their families.
Delivering a localised planning system
On 29 September, I announced my department’s latest estimates on planning permissions being granted for new homes. Based on our analysis of Glenigan data, a total of 230,000 new homes received planning permission in England in the 12 months to Q2 2014. Combined with the fact that the number of planning appeals has fallen, this shows that our locally-led planning system, following the abolition of the top-down Regional Strategies, is working.
Despite housebuilding levels being on an upward trajectory there is still an acute need for more homes, especially in London. Since May 2013, those looking to convert offices into new homes have been able to do so under a permitted development right without applying for planning permission. Decentralisation is not just about bringing power down to councils, but also down to neighbourhoods and individual firms and householders. Such rights have been enthusiastically adopted by the housing industry, with a particular move towards providing new studio and 1 bedroom flats.
This has included the conversion and refurbishment of the Archway Tower in Islington. However, Islington council issued an inappropriately-wide Article 4 Direction, seeking to abolish these rights across the whole borough. This is despite there being a previous exemption process. After discussions with the council, on 17 September we took steps to ensure empty and redundant office space in Islington can continue to be converted into new homes for Londoners. Avoiding a blanket ban across the borough, office to residential conversions have been disapplied in very small, targeted parts of the borough instead.
On 2 October, my department published new figures showing that during the 3 months up to June 2014, councils received 1,900 applications to enable redundant office buildings to be turned into new homes. They also revealed 900 had been approved during the same period. Permitted development rights are also enabling people to extend their homes without having to apply for planning permission. These figures revealed councils received 7,700 applications for home extensions – 6,500 of which got the go-ahead without needing to go through the whole planning process. These figures are just for 1 quarter, but illustrate how our local planning reforms are helping deliver new homes and support home improvements.
Protecting the countryside and green belt
The Coalition government is determined to protect our countryside and the green belt, as stated in the Coalition agreement.
On 2 October, my department published new planning guidance reaffirming how councils should use their Local Plan drawing on protections in the National Planning Policy Framework, to safeguard their local area against urban sprawl. This guidance explains that, once established, green belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional cases, through the preparation or review of the local plan. It also states that housing need does not justify the harm done to the green belt by inappropriate development. Unlike the Regional Strategies, we have been very clear that there is no central diktats demanding that councils rip up the green belt.
On 14 September, we announced proposals for consultation on amending planning policy and planning guidance on travellers. The new measures that will ensure fairness for all in the planning system and provide greater protection for our green belt and countryside. The measures will crack down on unauthorised traveller sites to tackle those who flout planning rules and abuse the system.
It also proposes that the definition of travellers in planning law will be changed so that local authorities would only be asked to plan ahead to meet the needs of those who lead a genuine travelling lifestyle. This would mean any application for a permanent site by someone who has stopped physically travelling would be considered in the same way as an application from the settled population - rather than be considered under policies relating to travellers.
Ensuring high standards in private rented housing
On 1 October, my department brought forward new rules that require letting agents to join 1 of 3 redress schemes, to ensure tenants and leaseholders have a straightforward option to hold them to account.
The vast majority of landlords and letting agents provide a good quality service to those looking for a home in the private rental sector. The redress schemes will help ensure standards are maintained and provide tenants with somewhere to go if they feel like they are getting a poor deal.
The schemes run by The Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services Property and the Property Redress Scheme offer independent investigation into complaints about hidden fees or poor service.
Increasing accountability and transparency in local government
Greater power for local government must go hand in hand with greater local transparency and accountability. The public should be able to hold local councils to account about the services they provide. But to do this, people need information about what decisions local councils are taking, and how local councils are spending public money.
This government has introduced a new publicity code for local councils in England, to help defend the independent free press. The code sets out a range of provisions on the frequency, content and appearance of taxpayer-funded newssheets. Alas not everybody follows these guidances. So on 26 September, my department warned 11 councils that legal action could be taken in a matter of weeks if they fail to stop or justify actions considered not to be in compliance with this code. Action is being taken against the London Boroughs of Enfield, Greenwich, Hackney, Hillingdon, Lambeth, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, as well as Luton, Medway and North Somerset councils over the frequency of their municipal newspapers. Tower Hamlets was also notified about the provisions in the code on lawfulness of council publicity.
On 3 October, my department also updated the local government Transparency Code, which will further extend and entrench local accountability and openness on how councils spend taxpayers’ money and make decisions. This will now become a legal requirement, subject to the passage of the associated secondary legislation through Parliament.
Enhancing efficiency and resilience of local fire and rescue services
On 10 October, my department published the September updates of the Future Control Room Services Scheme and an update on the marketing and disposal of the Regional Control Centres. These updated national summaries provide good evidence to show that the Future Control Rooms projects remain on track to deliver the benefits outlined in the original national summary. Good progress is also being made to market and dispose of the remaining Regional Control Centres which were a legacy of the failed FireControl programme and its flawed contracts (signed by the last administration) with no break clauses.
Improving local welfare provision
The nationally-run community care grants and crisis loans were poorly targeted and failed to help those most in need. So, in 2012 as part of wider welfare reform, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) made the decision to abolish these discretionary funds and transfer responsibility to councils so they could deliver and tailor new local support because they best know their areas’ needs. In contrast to the centralised grant system, under the DWP’s reforms, councils could choose how best to provide support in their areas.
The DWP has provided a separate fund for 2013 to 2015 and is currently conducting a review of the provision to date. On 10 October, the government published a consultation on how local welfare provision should be funded in 2015 to 2016. We will analyse the responses to this consultation alongside the findings of the on-going DWP’s review into the existing provision. The government will make a decision on funding for 2015 to 2016 in time for the provisional local government finance settlement in December 2014.
Improving governance of public-sector pensions
On 10 October, my department published consultations on the governance of the pension schemes for local government and firefighters, as part of the Coalition government’s wider public service pension reform to ensure better value for taxpayers’ money.
Celebrating and rejuvenating the Great British high street
The high street has been the cornerstone of our communities for decades and we are starting to see them re-emerge with a renewed sense of self confidence. The Great British High Street Awards to find Britain’s best high streets is shining a light on hard working traders and communities around the country and showing what can be done to help shopping streets evolve to be places where people want to shop, socialise and work.
On 3 October, my department published a shortlist of 21 high streets which are battling it out in 7 categories – coastal, market town, city, village, local parade, town centre and London – for the coveted Great British high street crown.
Championing united communities and British values
To mark International Day of the Girl on 11 October, the government announced further funding to help tackle, both at home and abroad, the unacceptable practices of female genital mutilation and forced marriage. This package includes funding from my department to support community engagement, such as working with local faith leaders and improving education to make clear that such practices have no place in modern Britain.
On 3 October, ministers gave their best wishes to Muslims in the United Kingdom for Eid ul-Adha, which is the second of 2 religious holidays celebrated by Muslims worldwide each year. Ministers also gave their best wishes to Jewish people for Yom Kippur (also known as Day of Atonement), which is the holiest day of the year for those of the Jewish faith.
This government has been championing local communities continuing to cherish and celebrate traditional ties and community spirit, including flag-flying. On 29 September, my department raised the flag of Westmorland to celebrate Westmorland Day and on 1 October, my department raised the flag of Lincolnshire to celebrate Lincolnshire Day. England’s counties and historic counties continue to form an important part of our cultural and local identity in this country and many people remain deeply attached to their home county.
I am placing copies of the associated press notices and documents in the Library of the House.