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The AJ's bloggers track the latest developments in the plan to hand power to the people

English councils' local development plan status coverage

NPPF fallout: 52% of councils do not have local plans

More than half of English councils have failed to draw up local plans in time for the NPPF’s introduction later this month

Localism: where did it all go wrong?

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


Reaction: Localism Bill becomes Localism Act

The Localism Bill was given Royal Assent yesterday, opening the way for a ‘profound’ overhaul of the English planning system

Richard Rogers

Rogers hits out against ‘fundamentally flawed’ planning reform

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’

RIBA president Angela Brady

RIBA urges architects to ‘Get local’

The RIBA has urged architects to seize the localism agenda and help communities make the most of their new planning powers


NPPF consultation lands 13,700 responses

The government has given MPs extra time to contribute to the debate over its controversial planning reforms following huge interest in the policy

Geoff Armstrong , partner at town planning practice DPP

Localism: identifying the people that matter is vital

The Localism agenda means more work and more proactivity, so getting the ‘key influencers’ on side early is critical, says Geoff Armstrong

Working Together. Delivering Growth Through Localism

The tale of two Localism Guides

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

The answer to the housing crisis: unblocking planning

Craig Casci of Grid Architects argues that housing problems are a symptom of the broken planning system, not the lack of land or delivery

Planning inspectors told to take into account draft NPPF

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

George Osborne

Osborne and Pickles: Do not underestimate government commitment to planning reform

Chancellor George Osborne and communities secretary Eric Pickles have defended the governments’ proposed planning reforms amid fierce opposition from conservation groups

Planning minister Greg Clark

Planning minister gives 36 more councils extra planning powers

The fourth wave of councils to be given new neighbourhood planning powers has been named by the Department for Communities and Local Government

  • News story: Historic counties day celebrated in the heart of government


    Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles raised the flag of Cumberland today outside his department’s headquarters in Westminster to celebrate Historic County Flags Day and the important role ancient shires continue to play in the nation’s cultural heritage.

    Great Britain’s traditional counties date back over a thousand years of history, but were sidelined by Whitehall and municipal bureaucrats in recent decades. This includes the restructuring by Edward Heath’s government in 1965 and 1972.

    By contrast, this government is championing local communities continuing to cherish and celebrate such traditional ties and community spirit. The law was changed by Parliament to make it easier to fly flags without a permit from the council – these new freedoms include flying the Cumberland flag.

    Cumberland is a historic county of Great Britain dating from the 12th century. The first record of ‘Cumberland’ was in 945. But in 1974, the administrative council was combined with parts of Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire to form part of the new county of Cumbria. However, the traditional county still lives on and is most famously associated with the Cumberland sausage, the HMS Cumberland and Cumberland County Cricket Club.

    Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said:

    Great Britain’s 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. This sense of pride and shared identity is one of the things that binds communities together.

    Peter Boyce, Chairman of the Association of British Counties, said:

    People’s affinity for their county runs deep. Historic counties provide a living link to past generations who trod the same ground and nurtured the same loyalties as today’s Britons. They speak to us of the wonderful diversity of Great Britain, each possessing their own distinctive history, landscapes, traditions, dialects and building styles.

    Charles Ashburner, Chief Executive of the Flag Institute, said:

    The traditional counties of Great Britain are rich in history, yet inclusive of all of parts of society. These areas have survived modern administrative boundary changes and are enjoying an impressive resurgence. Flags have been the ultimate symbols of identity throughout history and they remain so today. So it is fitting to see the government flying the Cumberland flag today.

    Further Information

    This is part of a series of steps to champion Great Britain’s local and national identities. The department recently launched a new initiative to support the ‘tapestry’ of traditional English counties being displayed on street and road signs. The government also published a new online interactive map of England’s county boundaries.

    Planning rules have been changed to allow for councils to put up boundary signs marking traditional English counties – including the likes of Cumberland, Huntingdonshire, Westmorland and Middlesex. The government has also proposed changes to highways regulations to allow traditional county names to appear on boundary road signs.

    The government has previously changed Whitehall rules to allow local and county flags to be flown without planning permission, and supported the Flag Institute in encouraging a new wave of county and community flags to be designed and flown by local communities.

  • Speech: Eric Pickles joins the Hounslow Big Iftar


    It’s great to see the Ismaili Community Ensemble perform again, I saw them at a Nawruz gathering a couple of years ago which was another great performance.

    Islam arrived in the UK just 20 miles from here, travelling along the River Thames, the most British of landmarks, with sailors of the East India Company. Indian Muslims brought with them not just their goods and trade but the elements of Islamic faith that enrich us to this day.

    That link between Islam and Britishness has been there right from the start, and Ramadan is the strongest reminder we have of that.

    Eric Pickles at the Hounslow Big Iftar

    The Big Iftar success

    I am delighted to be here this evening, especially as I’ve been told that if there were ever a Big Iftar to attend, this is the one.

    Yet again, you have all made the Big Iftar a great success. Mosques around the country have opened their doors to show non-Muslims what Ramadan is all about.

    I’ve known Muslims all my life, and I’m really glad thousands of others are getting the chance to learn all about the Islamic faith, as well as getting the chance to share in good company and great food.

    But the Big Iftar is about more than fasting and the sharing of food. It is about bringing people of all faiths and none together to trample on the misunderstandings that can cause tension and distrust.

    I also want to pay tribute to the amount of money you raise for charity during this time. It’s simply astounding. The Muslim Charities Forum expect this year’s Ramadan to raise over £50 million. That’s more than Children in Need.

    And it’s thanks to the 2.5 million Muslims who give out of pure dedication to their faith, their community, and their country.

    Although it’s not just about money. The Muslim community in Leicester have packed parcels for a local homeless charity, things like toothpaste, shampoo and food.

    I know you’re doing something similar with the Share a Smile initiative, and proving there’s no such thing as a free lunch, I’m going to muck in too by packing the 5,000th hamper this evening.

    The Imam Hussain Blood Donation Campaign has also used the principles of Ramadan to get people behind their annual blood drive and selflessly give the gift of life to others.

    As we see other countries exchange conflict and disagreement Muslims in this country are exchanging food and friendship with all their neighbours.

    British Muslims are a shining example to the rest of the world, of being proud of your faith, while getting stuck in with the broader community. Nothing illustrated that better than the 700 Ismailis who volunteered as part of London 2012 and helped make it such a fantastic national success.

    Eric Pickles speaks at the Hounslow Big Iftar

    Closing remarks

    You’ve shown willing and openness, humour and generosity; traits that are absolutely central to all definitions of what makes Britain great.

    Ramadan is a pillar of Islam, and you are a pillar of British society.

    And in these last 10 days of Ramadan, I want to wish you ease and contentment for the remainder of this holy month.

    I followed the hashtag ‘Ramadan Problems’ on Twitter with great amusement. I hope that during those hard moments, when sundown can’t come soon enough, you will know how grateful we are for your zakat, which does untold good for British communities – and your brothers and sisters in faith around the world.

    Thank you.

  • Press release: Affordable Homes Programme to transform the way we build


    The government’s Affordable Homes Programme will change the way homes are built in Britain, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said today (22 July 2014).

    The ministers announced the successful bids for almost 62,000 homes under the first phase of the £23 billion programme, which will deliver 165,000 new affordable homes over 3 years from 2015.

    New technology and jobs

    A fifth of the homes will be built with cutting edge “advanced housing manufacture”, where parts are manufactured in factories before being assembled on site. This technique is widely used on the continent, but only plays a limited role in British housebuilding.

    Mr Lewis said the focus on new technology would provide high-quality homes, and help the sector achieve the fastest rate of affordable housebuilding for 20 years. Every home built under the scheme will support a person’s job, which means 165,000 job opportunities over 3 years, many for young people.

    Savings for taxpayers

    A total of 191 providers have been earmarked for funding. The new homes will be delivered across England, with almost a third in London.

    The investment from government will be combined with private finance to deliver the £23 billion programme. By putting in more private sector funding than previous programmes, the scheme will achieve a better deal for taxpayers.

    Mr Lewis said housebuilding was now at the highest level since 2007, and construction companies were hiring new workers at the fastest rate for 17 years, but it was vital that this momentum was maintained to build the homes families need.

    Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said:

    Building more affordable homes is an important part of ensuring every family has the opportunity to live in a decent home.

    By investing billions into new housing and cutting out burdensome planning regulations, we are building more affordable homes per year than at any time in 20 years and are also supporting job creation across the country.

    Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said:

    Housebuilding is an essential part of this government’s long-term economic plan. That’s why we have designed an ambitious new scheme to build affordable homes at the fastest rate for 20 years, which will support 165,000 jobs in construction and sustain thousands of small businesses.

    Our programme will use the latest construction technology to deliver high-quality homes, helping to transform the way we build in Britain, and providing homes where future generations will want to live and raise families of their own.

    Homes and Communities Agency Chief Executive Andy Rose said:

    We have set in place a solid delivery programme that will ensure a smooth transition from our current Affordable Homes Programme, and that delivery can start promptly.

    The allocations announced today are closely aligned with locally identified priorities and offer value for money and increased certainty of delivery, with over 75% of the homes we are funding on firm schemes.

    New jobs and more trade for small businesses

    The building programme will sustain thousands of small businesses that supply building materials.

    Almost a million independent firms are involved in the construction industry, accounting for 20% of all small and medium-sized companies, and businesses that supply building products have an annual turnover of more than £50 billion, which contributes 4.5% to the UK’s Gross Domestic Product.

    Building homes that families need

    Housing associations, councils and developers that have applied for funding have been required to demonstrate they are delivering new homes that are in short supply in their local area. Of the successful bids so far, 77% have been for 1 and 2 bedroom homes, so that smaller households can move to more suitably-sized accommodation.

    The Affordable Homes Programme includes affordable rented homes and affordable home ownership schemes and is being managed by the Homes and Communities Agency nationally and in London managed and allocated by Greater London Authority and the Mayor.

    See details of the successful bids.

    Office address and general enquiries

    Eland House
    Bressenden Place

    SW1E 5DU

    Media enquiries

  • Press release: Study shows scale of troubled families' problems


    A new report has shown that troubled families being helped to turn their lives around have an average of 9 different serious problems.

    The independently produced data published on Tuesday 22 July 2014 showed that, as well as having significant problems with truancy, youth crime, anti-social behaviour and worklessness; of the families being worked with in the government’s Troubled Families programme:

    • 71% also have a health problem
    • 46% have a mental health concern
    • 29% are experiencing domestic violence or abuse
    • 22% have been at risk of eviction in the previous 6 months
    • 35% had a child of concern to social services or who has been taken into care
    • 40% have 3 or more children, compared to 16% nationally
    • police callouts in the previous 6 months have averaged 5 per family

    Head of the government’s Troubled Families programme Louise Casey CB said the findings showed the need for a new approach from services to helping the most troubled families turn their lives around that “gets in through the front door and really understands what’s going on across the whole family”.

    She said:

    This report paints a picture of families sinking under the weight of multiple problems and is an illustration of why we can’t treat the individual problems of individual members of a complex family in isolation.

    It shows that these problems are interlinked and that they spiral out of control unless we do something about it.

    The best services understand that and provide practical solutions as well as challenge and support. However this data also shows how big the challenge is and why we need to take this approach to a wider group of families with a wider set of problems as soon as we can.

    Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles added:

    This report is an eye-opener into the lives that troubled families lead. We already knew that they were stuck in a rut and costing the taxpayer billions of pounds every year without intervention through the demand they put on services.

    But these figures show that the scale of their problems is truly shocking and puts the achievement of having turned around 53,000 troubled families already into an even starker light. That’s why I’m pleased we will be taking the hands on, tough love approach of the Troubled Families programme even further and faster and will start work with up to 40,000 additional families this year.

    Further information

    Read the Understanding Troubled Families report.

    As part of the national evaluation of the Troubled Families programme, each of the 152 upper tier local authorities were asked to randomly select at least 10% of the families they have started work with so far and provide information about their profile and their problems on entry to the programme. This included information on employment, education, crime, housing, child protection, parenting and health, in order to capture the range of problems present. Although local authorities were asked to randomly select the sample of families for monitoring purposes, it is not possible to be certain that families were chosen randomly in all cases. For example, the findings may be more likely to include families which local authorities have more data about. Not all the characteristics described here will necessarily be representative across the whole 120,000 families who will be helped by the Troubled Families programme over its lifetime.

    This report describes the families who entered the Troubled Families programme up to December 2013, examining some of the problems they had at the point at which local authorities started working with them as part of the programme. It also discusses the implications of these findings and how local authorities are now changing the way they work with families.

    Information was submitted by 133 authorities, a return rate of 89% and covers 8,447 families comprising 11,449 adults and 16,277 children, which represents 11% of the families worked with over this period.

    Read the report setting out the more detailed initial findings of the data, produced by Ecorys.

    The average of 9 problems is based on those families for which full data were available across every problem (1,048 families)

    The Troubled Families programme applies to England only.

    Troubled families are defined as those who:

    • are involved in youth crime or anti-social behaviour
    • have children who are excluded from school or regularly truanting
    • have an adult on out-of-work benefits
    • cost the public sector large sums in responding to their problems, an estimated average of £75,000 per year without intervention

    Earlier this month the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced that almost 52,833 troubled families had had their lives turned around since the programme began in April 2012.

    Turning around troubled families means:

    • getting children back into school
    • cutting youth crime and anti-social behaviour across the whole family
    • getting adults into work
    • reducing the costs to the taxpayer of tackling their problems

    See full details of the government’s payment by results framework for troubled families.

    Local authorities are paid up to £4,000 on a payment-by-results basis for turning around troubled families. The government’s £448 million 3-year budget for 2012 to 2015 is drawn from 6 Whitehall departments who all stand to benefit from the public sector working more effectively with troubled families.

    At the Spending Review last year it was announced that the Troubled Families programme would be expanded to work with more families. The Budget in March 2014 announced that work with up to 40,000 of these families would begin this year.

    Media enquiries

    Office address and general enquiries

    Eland House
    Bressenden Place

    SW1E 5DU

  • Statement to Parliament: Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council


    In 2010 I decided to make Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council subject to statutory intervention involving the council being overseen by 3 commissioners, appointed by me, and who are also responsible for exercising certain of the council’s functions such as appointing senior staff.

    This intervention was necessary given serious failings in the council’s corporate governance, and no capacity among those leading the council to make improvement. The council’s previous attempts to address its problems had failed, allowing poor and failing services to continue. In particular the council operated to frustrate what the (then) mayor and Cabinet sought to do, the mayor and Cabinet showed a lack of efficient leadership, and the desire to pursue long standing political antagonisms were given priority over much-needed improvements to services for the public.

    The intervention is scheduled to end on 31 July 2015.

    Alongside this intervention my Rt Hon Friend the Secretary of State for Education and I are with the council implementing a separate intervention focused on children’s social care services, involving transferring responsibility for those services away from the council to an independent Trust. This intervention is designed to deliver sustainable improvements in children’s social care in Doncaster, addressing the long-standing serious weaknesses in those services.

    In June this year the Local Government Association undertook a peer review of the council. That review has now reported, concluding that the council’s performance has materially improved, both politically and managerially, and that the council is no longer an outlier in terms of the performance expected of a local authority, except with regard to children’s services. Following that peer review, on 1 July the former Minister for Local Government (the Hon Member for Great Yarmouth) had a meeting with the lead commissioner on the corporate governance intervention, together with the council’s mayor and chief executive. At that meeting the mayor explained the improvements that the council had achieved and described the further progress the council were planning to make.

    It is clear to me that, given the level of improvement that Doncaster has now achieved, their firm plans for the future, and their readiness to engage with the wider local government sector on improvement, continuing the statutory corporate intervention will add little, if any, value. The lead commissioner shares this view as he explained when he met my Hon Friend.

    Accordingly, I intend to bring the statutory corporate intervention to an early close. It is also important that we now finalise the statutory intervention on children’s social care and take the final steps to establish the Children’s Services Trust; we will very shortly be consulting the council on the statutory direction which is the final technical step to establish the Trust.

    In these circumstances I am proposing to end the statutory corporate intervention as soon as the Trust is fully up and running, which I expect to be by the end of September. Whilst statutory intervention is rightly a measure of last resort, its use at Doncaster is a clear demonstration of how appropriate intervention can be a powerful means of successfully addressing deep-rooted failings in a council and ensuring that it is able to provide the leadership and local services that local communities rightly expect.

  • Statement to Parliament: Fire and rescue services


    The Fire and Rescue National Framework for England, revised in 2012, defined the overall strategic priorities for fire and rescue authorities. These priorities are to:

    • assess the full range of foreseeable fire and rescue related risks their areas face
    • make provision for prevention and protection activities and respond to incidents appropriately
    • work in partnership with their communities and a wide range of partners locally and nationally to deliver their service
    • be accountable to communities for the service they provide

    The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 requires the Secretary of State to report every 2 years on fire and rescue authorities’ compliance with the National Framework. The report was published on 3 July, and the government was pleased to report a picture of full compliance.

    Compliance with the framework demonstrates that the government’s high level expectations are being fully met. Despite this excellent news, the public rightly expects fire and rescue authorities to continue to strive for excellence, and to demonstrate the best possible value for money. Sir Ken Knight, in his independent review ‘Facing the Future’ identified a number of ways in which fire and rescue authorities could make improvements and savings – up to almost £200 million in total – without compromising the quality of frontline services.

    The government welcomed ‘Facing the Future’ and I take this opportunity to thank Sir Ken for starting the debate on the challenges and opportunities facing fire and rescue authorities. We will seek to build on Sir Ken’s findings by focusing on:

    • fire prevention and protection. We are clear that fire prevention and protection is the front line for the fire sector. It will remain the number one priority. We will support fire and rescue authorities in their efforts to reach and better protect those most at risk from fire, working in partnership with other public sector bodies and local organisations, and, where appropriate, utilising relevant data held within government. We welcome the recent introduction of Primary Authority for fire safety, which allows businesses – both large and small – to benefit from greater consistency and assurance on regulatory compliance advice, and, which offers fire and rescue authorities the opportunity to increase efficiency and target audit and, if necessary, enforcement action on higher risk premises

    • a modern and flexible fire and rescue workforce that will see an increase in the proportion of on-call firefighters enabled by an attractive, modern employment offer, with the right support and incentives for employers. As highlighted in ‘Facing the Future’ if the number of on-call firefighters increased by just 10% nationally, this would deliver savings of up to £123 million

    • encouraging greater collaboration between fire and local authorities, and between fire, police and ambulance services to deliver better outcomes for the public

    • the need for better and more sharing of services including senior staff between fire and rescue authorities and other organisations to drive efficiencies

    • a more joined up approach to procurement. Government has already published research undertaken in partnership with the Chief Fire Officers Association, which – as highlighted in ‘Facing the Future’ – shows that fire and rescue authorities could make at least £18 million of savings simply by buying smarter, together.

    Since ‘Facing the Future’ was published, this success story has continued with the total number of fires and other incidents attended in England continuing to fall. Calls are now 46% lower than 10 years ago. The government is firmly of the belief that fire and rescue authorities must seize the opportunity to transform themselves in line with this changing environment.

    To support fire and rescue authorities in driving efficiencies and transformation change, the government has provided a £75 million Fire Transformation Fund for 2015/2016 on a bid for basis.

    The level of interest shown in the Transformation Fund, and the growing evidence of fire and rescue authorities working collaboratively with other emergency services, has demonstrated the real progress that has been made in the sector since ‘Facing the Future’ was published.

    To further support transformation in the fire and rescue sector the department intends to commission an independent review of the conditions of service for all fire and rescue staff and the way in which they are negotiated and decided.

    Firefighters are willing to put their lives on the line every day and they deserve to work in an environment where expenditure is properly focused on front line prevention and protection and on front line response. To achieve this, fire and rescue authorities must review how they operate and how they deliver, and must embrace the many opportunities for change they have. Sir Ken Knight highlighted a number of challenges – from the need for more collaboration between fire and rescue authorities and the wider sector, to making the best use of on call firefighters, to achieving the most cost efficient procurement. This statement makes clear our intention to work with the sector to meet these challenges, and by doing so ensure that fire and rescue authorities continue to deliver the very best service to the public in the years to come.

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