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
This follows a pre-appointment hearing before the Department Select Committee on 16 December 2014. She takes up her appointment on 11 March 2015.
As the new Housing Ombudsman, Ms Fowler will be responsible for the independent complaint resolution service between tenants and landlords, which covers all social housing and landlords registered from the private sector.
On her appointment Denise Fowler said:
I am delighted to have been appointed as the new Housing Ombudsman. Effective local complaint resolution builds trust and improves landlord and tenant relationships. Obviously there are times when such consensus is not possible and we then have a responsibility to investigate complaints impartially as swiftly and efficiently as possible. I hope that I can help the organisation to continue to develop its already excellent service.
Denise Fowler is a lawyer, having worked previously as a housing adviser, a housing lawyer, and partner in private practice and a member of the senior management team of the Housing Ombudsman between 2000 and 2002.
She has worked as a government lawyer since 2002 at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health. She is currently Deputy Legal Director, Head of Planning Law Reform at DCLG.
Press release: New coastal revival fund and community teams to bring jobs and businesses to seaside towns
A new £3 million fund will help kick-start the revival of at-risk coastal heritage that has potential to create opportunities for new businesses and jobs.
The Coastal Revival Fund will support communities looking to unlock the economic potential of those hard-to-tackle buildings, facilities and amusements such as piers, lidos and proms.
It will boost local economies by tapping into the opportunities that the heritage economy offers to new businesses and existing firms keen to grow on the back of the revival of local coastal sites.
Grants will be used to get restoration projects underway by funding initial work that will be a catalyst that attracts additional financing from the private and charitable sectors. It will unlock the community good will that is a key driver in getting projects started.
The fund will support projects that demonstrate the creativity, enterprise and passion needed to help seaside towns become year round destinations that people want to live and work in and has the potential to kick-start the revival of the remaining lidos and piers currently not reaching their full potential or facing neglect.
The National Piers Society has said that Weston Birnbeck Pier, Bognor Pier, Herne Bay Pier, and Swanage Pier are some of the historic structures that could benefit.
Seaside areas will also receive support from new Coastal Community Teams. More than £1 million will be provided for 110 teams which will create a long-term vision and strategy for their area to tackle the specific challenges their coastal town faces.
Coastal towns and villages often have individual projects underway that seek to boost the local economy and create jobs – such as a publicly funded skills scheme, a high street revival programme, or plans by the council – but they often work in isolation.
The Coastal Community Teams will bring all these elements together so all projects and proposals are part of a shared long-term vision that works together to promote local economic growth.
The Teams build on the hugely successful town team model for high streets which is successfully revitalising town centres across the country.
Each Coastal Community Team will be awarded £10,000 to establish themselves and will receive advice and support from the Coastal Communities Alliance.
Communities will be able to bid for a share of the new heritage fund to tap into the potential local heritage has to benefit the surrounding economy and wider community.
Coastal Communities Minister Penny Mordaunt said:
There is enormous potential in our coastal areas that we are determined to unlock so they can rise up and create new jobs and play a key part in our long-term economic plan to secure a brighter future for Britain. The announcements we are making are about building capacity and opportunity in our coastal communities.
Our new heritage fund is an important catalyst for drawing in additional funding and community good will that will get the revival of hard-to-tackle local coastal attractions underway and support new businesses.
Coastal Community Teams will be essential for pulling together a shared vision that makes that most of local heritage, skills and know-how that can make our seaside towns and communities thrive.
Nicola Radford from the Coastal Communities Alliance said:
The Alliance is delighted to be leading on the Coastal Community Teams programme in partnership with DCLG. We see this opportunity as recognition of the hard work of all our members in raising awareness of the unique economic issues affecting coastal communities and look forward to seeing many new and successful initiatives arising from the establishment of the Teams.
The government is committed to supporting coastal communities through our £116 million Coastal Communities Fund which is funding 211 projects across the UK. The fund is creating almost 12,400 jobs and providing more than 6,000 training places and apprenticeships.
Details of how to apply to be a Coastal Community Team and further information about the Coastal Revival Fund - Heritage Restoration: Economic Regeneration will be published shortly. If you would like further information on these schemes in the short term or to register your interest, please email email@example.com.
The fund and coastal teams complement our broader work to put communities up and down the country in greater control of their local area. Our Community Rights support package will see even more communities take action - from regulars running their local pub and protecting other treasured assets to ambitious plans for new development, new jobs and better targeted services.
The National Piers Society has produced a list of piers including those that could benefit from the Coastal Revival Fund.
Bognor Regis Pier Trust
In partnership with the owner the Trust are planning to bring the pier back into community ownership, and to help with preserving, restoring and enhancing it as part of the overall regeneration of Bognor Regis.
The Trust aims to return the pier to the elegant and traditional attraction of yesteryear, and to secure its future by protecting it from further damage or loss to its structure.
Herne Bay Pier Trust
In 2009 Canterbury city council agreed to the formation of the Herne Bay Pier Trust whose key focus is the preservation, renovation, reconstruction and enhancement of Herne Bay Pier.
The Trust’s long-term vision is to see the pier brought back to its original glory by reconnecting the isolated pier head with the pier neck.
Friends of the Old Pier Society/Birnbeck Regeneration Trust
The Friends of the Old Pier Society is a not-for-profit organisation formed in 1996 to save the magnificent Birnbeck Pier in Weston-super-Mare. The pier is unique as it is the only British pier that links the mainland with an island.
Sadly, the pier has been closed to the public since 1994 and is included on the ‘At Risk’ Register compiled by English Heritage. The long-term vision is to return the pier to community ownership and restore the pier as a tourist attraction and community asset.
The National Piers Society in conjunction with the Trust is in the process of launching a RIBA architecture design competition. The Trust is also working with the University of Bath to develop viable business plans for the pier.
Swanage Pier Trust
The Swanage Pier Trust is the overall managing body and took control of the Swanage Pier Company at the end of 1994 with the aim of restoring and maintaining the pier for the benefit of residents and visitors alike.
Operation, maintenance, and further development of the pier (the pier museum, shop and café, fishing facilities, diving facilities, events programme, boat trips) as a tourist attraction and community asset is the Trust’s overarching objective.
Following Professor Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation in the town and Louise Casey’s best value inspection published earlier this month, which found widespread failings across the council’s culture and services, Eric Pickles announced that he was minded to send in commissioners to take on the full range of authority’s executive functions and begin a rapid improvement programme. And having consulted on the proposals for the past 3 weeks he today confirmed he would be going ahead with the intervention with immediate effect.
The commissioners will be led by Sir Derek Myers, the former joint Chief Executive of the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham.
Sir Derek will be supported by Stella Manzie CBE, a former Chief Executive of Barking and Dagenham, Coventry, Redditch and West Berkshire councils, who will take on the role of Managing Director Commissioner responsible for the day to day running of all services until the Commissioners appoint a new permanent chief executive.
In addition Malcolm Newsam will remain in Rotherham as Children’s Social Care Commissioner, having been nominated by the Local Government and Education Secretaries, and Mary Ney and Julie Kenny CBE will act as supporting Commissioners.
In order to improve services for victims of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, the Secretary of State added that he is prepared to make available £250,000 over 2 years to allow the re-establishment kind of service that the Risky Business project previously provided in the town.
And in his written statement to MPs Eric Pickles also confirmed that he remains minded to use his powers under the Local Government Act to move Rotherham to ‘all out’ Council elections from 2016.
The Secretary of State said:
Louise Casey and Professor Alexis Jay’s reports made clear that Rotherham suffered from a complete failure of political and officer leadership, with a pervading culture of bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced political correctness that has cemented the council’s failures. While we do not take such significant steps lightly, the council is currently incapable of tackling its weakness without substantial intervention.
However I am confident that with the right leadership provided by these 5 commissioners we can give Rotherham the fresh start it needs. The people of Rotherham and, most importantly, the victims of child sexual exploitation, need better services than they have been given until now and deserve a council they can trust to provide them.
Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis today (26 February 2015) announced a multi-million pound boost to support communities looking to set up neighbourhood plans.
Neighbourhood planning allows people to decide the future development of their area, including where new homes and businesses should be built.
Nearly 1,400 areas representing 6 million people across England are already using their neighbourhood planning powers, with others looking to follow suit.
Today Mr Lewis announced that neighbourhood planning groups will be able to apply for grant funding from midday tomorrow (Friday 27 February 2015) as part of the £22.5 million programme. Grants can be used to pay for events to engage the local community, print leaflets and to pay for specialist planning expertise.
The support programme runs to 2018 and from April it will also provide community groups with technical assistance and expert advice to support new neighbourhood plans and neighbourhood development orders, throughout the process.
It comes as ministers are due to host a national neighbourhood planning summit, bringing together local authorities, MPs, builders, and communities from across the country to help more people bring forward neighbourhood plans.
Visiting Altrincham Forward, which is seeking a business-led neighbourhood plan for the town, Brandon Lewis said:
From the very beginning we’ve been clear that we wanted to give power back from Whitehall to local communities and with 6 million people living in areas producing neighbourhood plans the success of our reforms is clear.
Now I want to keep up the momentum, and encourage more areas to come forward and this new £22 million programme for grant applications will do just that. It will also support lots more areas and enable people to take control over planning in their neighbourhood.
Giving power back to local people
Local people can draw up ‘neighbourhood plans’ that can be used in determining planning applications, and ‘neighbourhood development orders’ that grant planning permission; and vote them into force in a referendum.
To date, every one of the 48 plans and 4 orders submitted to a local referendum have been approved by local people.
The government will also launch a new online toolkit tomorrow, for neighbourhood planning communities, to help them navigate the process and develop their plan as effectively as possible.
Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive of Locality, said:
We’re delighted to have been selected to deliver Department for Communities and Local Government’s new neighbourhood planning programme. Over the past 2 years we’ve helped local people create the neighbourhoods they want to live in and now more than 10% of the country’s population lives in a designated neighbourhood plan area. We want many more people to have a say in the development of their local area and we will be continuing and expanding our support to help more communities shape the development of their own neighbourhoods.
We will help more people have a say in where homes, shops and offices should be built and influence what new buildings should look like. From tomorrow (Friday, February 27) at noon our new website mycommunity.org.uk will be live, providing information on the new support and grants Locality will be offering to help local people who want to shape the development of their area.
Grants for community groups wanting to gain permission for new community buildings or community-led housing are also opening at midday tomorrow.
Locality, a national network of community-led organisations, is delivering the government’s neighbourhood planning support programme and will be assessing applications.
For further information on grants see www.mycommunity.org.uk after noon on Friday, February 27.
New toolkits will be available at www.mycommunityrights.org.uk.
I would like to update hon. Members on Rotherham council.
On 4 February 2015, I informed the House that I was satisfied, having considered the report of the inspection by Louise Casey CB, that the council is failing to comply with its best value duty, and proposed to use my statutory powers of intervention to secure the council’s compliance with that duty.
As I told the House, “the report…confirms a complete failure of political and officer leadership in Rotherham…Poor governance is deeply seated throughout the council. There is a pervading culture of bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced political correctness that has cemented the council’s failures. Both members and officers lack the confidence to tackle difficult issues for fear of being seen as racist or of upsetting community cohesion. The council is currently incapable of tackling its weakness without substantial intervention.”
I gave the council 14 days to make any representations it wished on the inspection report and my proposal for intervention. I have now carefully considered the representations that the council has made and, having considered afresh Louise Casey’s report, I remain satisfied that the council is failing to comply with its best value duty. It is encouraging that the council in its representations wholly accepts the conclusions in the report and welcomes the appointment of commissioners.
I have concluded that it is both necessary and expedient for me to exercise my intervention powers and, given the serious failures in the council, that, as I proposed, the intervention should initially be broad and wide ranging with commissioners exercising many of the authority’s functions until these can be confidently rolled back for the authority to exercise in compliance with its best value duty.
I therefore inform the House that today, my Rt Hon friend the Secretary of State for Education and I have given the council the necessary Directions under section 15(5) and 15(6) of the Local Government Act 1999 and section 497A(4B) of the Education Act 1996 to implement the proposed intervention measures to ensure Rotherham metropolitan borough council’s compliance with the best value duty and to secure that the authority’s children’s social care functions are performed to the required standard.
I am also minded shortly to make an Order under the Local Government Act 2000, as I proposed, to move Rotherham council to holding all out elections in 2016 and every fourth year thereafter. One of the political groups on the council has made representations to me that the 2015 local elections should be the first all-out elections. I have carefully considered this, but I am clear that making such a change only some 2 months before the elections is neither practicable nor desirable. The 2016 all out elections, for which there will be adequate time for candidate selection and good planning, will provide a good foundation for the fresh start that Rotherham needs.
These intervention measures are centred on a team of commissioners who will both exercise functions of the authority and oversee a rigorous programme of improvement to bring about the essential changes in culture and ensure there is in future effective and accountable political and office leadership.
Specific intervention measures include the following:
- the commissioners exercising all the authority’s executive functions (i.e. the functions which are the responsibility of the authority’s cabinet) and certain other functions in particular all licensing functions, including taxi licensing, and responsibility for appointing the authority’s 3 statutory officers, the Chief Executive, the Chief Finance Officer and the Monitoring Officer
- the authority being required under the direction and oversight of commissioners to prepare and implement improvement and action plans in order to deliver rapid and sustainable improvements in governance, leadership, culture, the exercise of the overview and scrutiny functions and in the performance of services; every 6 months the authority must report progress to me and my Rt Hon friend the Education Secretary
- an improvement panel or panels, as the commissioners agree, being put in place to hold the authority publicly to account for the progress it makes on securing future compliance with the best value duty and securing that its children’s social care functions are performed to the required standard
- the authority being required to cease to pay special responsibility allowances to members of its executive whilst they have no functions to exercise
The commissioner team will comprise a Lead Commissioner; a commissioner with a full time “managing director” role, primarily to address the issues of ineffective officer leadership until a new chief executive is appointed; a Children’s Social Care Commissioner having particular responsibilities to secure improvement in the authority’s children’s social care functions; and 2 or more supporting commissioners.
I have nominated Sir Derek Myers to be the Lead Commissioner. Stella Manzie CBE will take the role of the Managing Director Commissioner, and Malcolm Newsam will be nominated as Children’s Social Care Commissioner. Mary Ney and Julie Kenny CBE will be nominated as supporting Commissioners.
The council will be required to comply with any instructions of the commissioners in relation to the exercise of those functions for which the commissioners are responsible, and to provide the commissioners at its expense with such services, amenities and administrative support as the commissioners may reasonably require, and with access to the council’s premises, documents,and to any employee or member as appears to the commissioners to be necessary.
The Directions will remain in force until 31 March 2019 unless I consider it appropriate to amend or revoke them at an earlier date. I expect that there will be a phased roll back of powers to the authority as and when there can be confidence that the authority could exercise a function in compliance with the best value duty, and in the case of children’s social care, to the required standard. To this end the authority, under the direction of the commissioners, will be required every 3 months to review and report to me any functions which it is considered would be appropriate to be rolled back to the authority. If I agree I will then make the necessary amending direction.
It has also been suggested that the governance of the authority could be improved – made more transparent and accountable - if it were changed to the committee system. Before taking any steps to implement such a change, I will be inviting the commissioners views as to what they see would be the most effective and efficient form of governance for the authority. I am also open to representations from the public.
Though it is a difficult decision to undertake such a broad central intervention, I am clear that these exceptional circumstances, in which the people of Rotherham have been so profoundly let down by their authority, call for such action. I am confident that the measures which I and my Rt Hon Friend the Education Secretary are taking today will rejuvenate and improve local governance in Rotherham, restoring the faith local people can have in their council.
Louise Casey’s report also describes how a small youth project, Risky Business, developed a ground breaking approach to reaching out to victims of child sexual exploitation and to collecting evidence about perpetrators, until the misguided and inappropriate decisions of the council resulted in the closure of the Risky Business service. The report concludes that the critical work undertaken by Risky Business “is now missing from Rotherham”. This should not continue, and historic victims of child sexual exploitation should be given the help they need. So, accordingly, subject to being provided with an appropriate business case demonstrating value for money, I am prepared to make available £250,000 over the next 2 financial years for a Risky Business-style service to be established.
I am placing a copy of the documents associated with these announcements in the Library of the House and on my department’s website.
Thank you Professor Ford for your introduction, it’s a great pleasure to be here this evening.
My colleagues in Parliament tonight are debating the difficult issue of second jobs.
I actually have 3 jobs. I am the Member of Parliament for Brentwood and Ongar, I am the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and I am also Minister for Faith.
It’s a job I take very seriously, but it’s also a source of constant inspiration when I see time and again the contribution of faith to Britain today.
It shows me that your mission is more important than it has ever been.
We live in an age of confusion and fear about religion. Violent conflicts are erupting around the world, driven by men who claim a monopoly on faith and piety.
Many people are concluding that religion is the problem. A relic of the past we’d be better off without.
This view is shortsighted. The history of Temple Church bears testament to that.
The Knights Templar who built it had an eye for graceful architecture, but less talent for peace and interfaith dialogue.
Their time passed, their ideas were defeated and their power evaporated.
Later in the 1580s the church hosted the “Battle of the Pulpits”.
Rival sermons took place here each Sunday, born from the theological disagreements of the English Reformation.
This was a dispute, but it was fought with words not swords, and its legacy would help set the course taken by the Church of England.
But we must not be too smug. The 16th century also defined alternative paths of religious dialogue.
25 years before the pulpit debates, a young man, William Hunter, was executed in my constituency of Brentwood.
Burnt at the stake over a disagreement over the Eucharist.
Nor were the debates a progression of enlightenment.
Just a few short years after the civilised dialogue, Roman Catholic priests would be literally torn apart by the State.
So it was often a difficult journey, but one that would prepare the way for religious tolerance and political freedom in Britain.
Our country became a safe haven for persecuted people of all faiths and none.
- French Protestants during the Wars of Religion
- European Jews fleeing Tsarist pogroms and Nazism
- or Bosnian Muslims following the breakup of Yugoslavia.
All chose Britain.
It’s a legacy we can learn from today; and yet so often we choose not to.
Most people in Britain are proud of the freedoms we enjoy.
Far fewer would acknowledge that they have grown from the seedbed of faith.
Rather than trying to understand religious belief, it’s simply wished away as an obstacle to progress.
This attitude is lazy, but it’s also dangerous, because it leaves the fundamentalists unchallenged.
Increasing religious understanding and respect is an urgent requirement that must not be neglected.
Government support for Coexist House
That’s why the government supports the vision of Coexist House to create an inter-faith centre in London.
It will benefit communities in the UK and around the world; reaching out to people of all faiths and none, and demonstrating how religious belief is an integral and peaceful part of peoples’ lives.
It’s what we need, because a proper understanding of faith is the best way to stand up to bigotry in all its forms.
The violent extremists, but also the aggressive secularists who insist we suppress all religion in the public sphere.
Faith should no longer be treated as a dubious personal hobby that should be hidden from view.
That will only ensure fundamentalists control the debate and enjoy a permanent position in the public spotlight.
Funding for faith groups
We all need to recognise that faith groups are a tremendous force for good; serving and supporting the downtrodden and marginalised in society, and bringing communities together.
My mission has been to ensure it remains at the heart of our shared national life.
We’re actively supporting the grassroots work of churches, mosques, synagogues and temples.
Like the Together in Service volunteering initiative.
It includes funding to create links between faith-based social action groups, and to help thousands of young people learn about responsibility.
We also backed the “Big Iftar”, where mosques opened their doors to show non-Muslims what Ramadan is all about.
These events were primarily about sharing food, friendship, and having a good time, but they also help limit misunderstandings that can cause tension and distrust.
The same can be said of our Near Neighbours initiative.
The £8 million programme uses the infrastructure of the Church of England to bring together diverse faith communities so they can improve their local neighbourhoods.
On Monday (23 February 2014) we announced the 800th grant project.
This programme is creating quality relationships, which break down barriers between people of different faiths in communities around the country.
We need to build on this momentum, and I believe Coexist House can play a big role by promoting religious education and mutual respect.
Recent months of religious violence across the world have made many feel pessimistic about the future – especially about the role of faith in Britain.
I think that is misplaced.
I am clear that faith is not something you can leave at the door. It’s part of who you are, it’s why you get up in the morning, it’s what makes you tick.
I don’t want to lose those voices. I want to hear proud Christian voices, proud Muslim voices, proud Jewish voices, proud Hindu voices, and proud voices from all the other faiths that make such an amazing contribution to Britain.
Without them, Britain would be a lesser place.
Because if we can use the amazing energy of Britain’s faith communities, there’s no telling what we can achieve together.
That’s why the time for Coexist House is now, and that’s why you can continue to expect the support of this government.