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
Updated: Updated with latest surplus figures.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles today (10 February 2015) welcomed the news that over 100 local authorities are set to freeze or lower their Council Tax this year.
New figures showed that 114 town halls and police authorities will take up the offer of the government’s freeze grant, with 8 set to reduce bills for taxpayers.
And the news came as a government analysis showed councils’ have at least a further £30 billion available to them in reserves and uncollected income.
Council reserves stood at £21.4 billion at the end of the last financial year – up from £14.3 billion in 2010 to 2011 – an increase of 50% in just 4 years.
During the same period, town halls failed to collect some £2.5 billion of Council Tax and arrears and lost £2.1 billion to fraud. They also have £220 billion worth of assets on their books, of which £2.4 billion is earmarked as ‘surplus to requirements’.
Speaking ahead of a vote by MPs on the Local Government Finance Settlement for 2015 to 2016, the Secretary of State said the figures showed that it was still possible to provide good frontline services and keep Council Tax down.
Eric Pickles said:
It’s great news that so many local authorities have already promised to keep bills down for taxpayers and take up our support for freezing or reducing Council Tax.
Councils account for a quarter of public spending and every bit of the public sector must do its bit to pay off the deficit. But there are more than enough sensible savings to be made before hardworking families should have to foot any more of the bill.
Reserves have rocketed up in the past few years and councils could be making better use of assets to keep taxes down and protect frontline services, while at the same time doing more to stop the billions they are losing to fraud and collecting more Council Tax arrears.
The government has provided potential savings worth up to £1,075 for the average band D bill payer with 5 successive years of Council Tax freezes, keeping Council Tax bills down by 11% in real terms since 2010.
Public satisfaction with local authority services has increased – 6 out of 10 people think services are the same or better than 5 years ago.
Spending power reductions for local authorities this year average 1.7%.
A crack down on rip off parking charges by private firms could end excessive fees and inflated fines forced upon motorists, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has announced.
Measures could help small shops and town centres by stopping extortionate charges that are a deterrent to shopping locally and instead drive people to shop in out-of-town centres or online.
Topics outlined for discussion today on private parking practices include whether there should be a ban on private companies setting excessive charges or levying excessive penalties for overstaying in a parking bay.
The discussion could also consider the amount and type of data that should be provided to private parking operators by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and whether a clampdown on the aggressive use of bailiffs by some firms is needed.
It could also look at whether steps need to be taken to stop unclear or missing signs leading to a parking penalty or to tackle a lack of clarity on charges and fines.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said:
We need to look at whether private firms are charging unnecessarily excessive fees or fines simply for parking. Nobody should endure the stress of being clobbered with a huge bill just for driving to the shops.
Extortionate fees only put people off driving to high streets and damage local retailers and businesses. They are far from fair for motorists who end up paying through the nose.
This discussion paper will allow people to raise issues about the way private and public parking firms operate and charge motorists.
This discussion applies to issues on parking on private land and on land owned by public authorities.
Topics to be considered could back other government measures recently brought in that give drivers a 10 minute grace period when parked in a bay to prevent fines for being just a few minutes late back to a vehicle.
The use of CCTV ‘spy cars’ has also been banned in the majority of circumstances, ending the tyranny of automated fines being issued in industrial volumes, and landing on doorsteps without warning.
And a powerful new right enables residents and local firms to demand that their council reviews parking in their area, including the charges and use of yellow lines.
These parking measures which are now in law are a victory for drivers and one of a number of initiatives introduced by the government to support high streets and give local shops a fairer deal.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has recently taken over responsibility for off-street parking on both private and public land from the Department for Transport.
Housebuilding is a key part of the government’s long-term economic plan – and is at the heart of 3 bills that have received Royal Assent.
A new Urban Development Corporation will help deliver the first Garden City for 100 years at Ebbsfleet, with up to 15,000 new homes.
Overlapping and unnecessary building standards, that increase the cost of construction for housebuilders, are scrapped making it easier and less expensive to build.
There will be new support from councils for aspiring self- and custom builders in their area to find suitable plots of land to get their projects off the drawing board.
There will also be help for aspiring homeowners and tenants in the private rented sector, with more people qualifying for the Right to Buy, measures to prevent so-called retaliatory evictions and requirements on letting agents to publish full details of the fees they charge to tenants.
And homeowners in London looking to rent out their homes on a short-term basis will now be able to do so without seeking planning permission from their council – putting the Capital’s rules in line with those already in place for the rest of the country.
Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said:
We’re working across all parts of the housing industry to get the country building again and it’s working, with housebuilding levels at their highest since 2007 and planning permission granted on 253,000 homes in the last year alone.
Today’s measures maintain the momentum, cutting red tape to get homes built, providing help for those who want to buy and support for people renting in the private sector.
Communities Minister Stephen Williams said:
Under the old system of housing standards, builders faced a confusing and contradictory mass of measures.
From today, the coalition government is introducing a simple, easy to understand set of requirements. These will help housebuilders and councils to work together to build more of the high quality and sustainable homes for people right across the country.
Bills receive Royal Assent
These measures come into force thanks to 3 Bills that today received Royal Assent. They are:
The Deregulation Act:
This includes, on housing and tenancies:
paving the way for the creation of a Development Corporation for Ebbsfleet – the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation is due to come into existence on 20 April 2015, with planning powers transferred to it on 1 July. It will oversee the development of the new Garden City in the area
an end to retaliatory evictions – tenants in the private rented sector will be protected from being evicted by their landlord simply because they have raised a legitimate complaint about the condition of the property
short-term lets in London – people in London looking to rent out their homes on a short-term basis will now be able to do so without seeking planning permission from their council – giving the Capital’s residents the same rights enjoyed in the rest of the country
extending the Right to Buy – council tenants will now qualify for the Right to Buy once they have lived in their properties for three years or more, changed from five years previously
optional building requirements - dozens of overlapping and complex housebuilding standards have been cut down to a simple, streamlined system. Fundamental rules on building safety remain, but this new system will save around £100 million a year for both councils and developers
tenancy deposit protection – where landlords took a deposit before the introduction of the tenancy deposit protection legislation in 2007 for a tenancy which rolled over after the end of the initial tenancy, and is still in existence, they have in most cases until 23 June to protect their tenant’s deposit or potentially face a fine
And on local government:
powers for ministers to restrict the use of CCTV to enforce on-street parking - this will end the overuse of CCTV by some councils, and help support high streets and local shops.
changing the law to scrap unfair and arbitrary bin fines – people will no longer be able to be fined for accidentally putting their rubbish out early or putting the wrong bit of waste in the wrong bin
scrapping some outdated, bureaucratic statutory duties placed on councils – including ‘sustainable community strategies’ and ‘local and multi area agreements’
Consumer Rights Act
Among other measures, this new Act requires letting agents to publish full details of the fees they charge to tenants, so that anyone looking to rent in the private sector knows what they can expect to pay.
This is on top of a requirement on letting agents to belong to 1 of 3 redress schemes, so tenants and landlords have somewhere to go if they have a complaint.
The Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding Act
A private member’s bill brought by Conservative MP Richard Bacon with backing from the government, this Act brings forward the first part of the Right to Build, by requiring councils to establish local registers of people looking to buy plots of land to commission or build their own home. The Act also requires councils to take account of the demand for self and custom build when exercising their planning housing, regeneration and land disposal functions.
The Local Government (Religious Observances) Act
The Act puts beyond doubt the fact that all councils, including parishes, can choose to hold prayers at the start of the sessions, maintaining the longstanding British tradition.
The government-backed legislation was taken through Parliament by Jake Berry MP and Lord Patrick Cormack following legal challenges against some councils that conduct prayers.
Local Government (Review of Decisions) Act
This will protect the public from the over-zealous application of health and safety rules and ensure a right of appeal if a council refuses permission for an event to go ahead on health and safety grounds.
Ebbsfleet Development Corporation:
Robin Cooper, currently deputy chief executive at Medway Council, is to be appointed as chief executive and ex officio board member of the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, alongside Michael Cassidy as chairman.
Three council leaders from the Ebbsfleet area have also been nominated to serve on the corporation’s board.
Cllr Paul Carter CBE, leader of Kent County Council
Cllr Jeremy Kite MBE, leader of Dartford Borough Council
Cllr John Burden, leader of Gravesham Borough Council
This is in addition to 5 other board members that were announced at Budget. See details on the website.
New Zero Carbon housing standard
From 2016 all homes will be zero carbon, through a mixture of raised building standards and “allowable solutions” such as offsite energy sources and contributions to clean energy schemes. Today the government has published its response to consultation proposals to exempt sites of fewer than 10 homes from the allowable solutions requirements, with safeguards against abuses; and an impact assessment on allowable solutions.
Custom and self build
The government has also today published the government’s response to its recent consultation on the Right to Build which this Act will help to take forward.
The Secretary of State has directed Greenwich council, under the powers Parliament has given to him, to publish its council newspaper no more than 4 times a year. The council has decided not to comply with the direction, and the Secretary of State has today (27 March 2015) issued proceedings in the Court seeking enforcement of that direction.
Kris Hopkins, Minister for Local Government, said:
It is disappointing that Greenwich council has refused to comply with our direction to stop the weekly publication of its municipal newspaper. Consequently, the Secretary of State has initiated proceedings in the High Court against the council to enforce that direction.
Council tenants unable to take up their Right to Buy will have the help they need to become homeowners under plans announced by Brandon Lewis today (27 March 2015).
The Housing Minister announced that 42 councils will each receive a share of nearly £20 million to help tenants with the Right to Buy to buy their own home on the open market.
The Right to Buy Social Mobility Fund will particularly help those looking to move for work, to be nearer to family, or those whose properties are difficult to mortgage.
Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said:
The Right to Buy offers a helping hand to thousands of council tenants across the country to become homeowners – but some remain trapped in their own homes, unable to take up this opportunity.
The Right to Buy Social Mobility Fund changes, and offers people the chance to get on the property ladder and buy a home that best suits their needs.
Helping people onto the property ladder
Housebuilding, and supporting aspiring homeowners, are key parts of the government’s long-term economic plan.
The government reinvigorated the Right to Buy in 2012, increasing discounts so they currently stand at £77,000 outside of London and £102,700 in the Capital.
Since then, more than 33,000 households have taken up their Right to Buy, with nearly £730 million in sales receipts being reinvested in affordable housebuilding.
Overall, council housing starts are at a 23-year high.
Today, Brandon Lewis announced the allocation of £18.48 million Right to Buy Social Mobility funding, to help tenants across the country to buy on the open market.
Those councils will now set up local schemes, so that tenants can apply for £20,000 outside London, or £30,000 in the Capital, towards buying a new home – freeing up their social home for a family in need.
Tenants will be able to apply for this support if they are able to support a mortgage but cannot buy the property they are in.
This could benefit older people who want to buy smaller properties or be nearer their family, or someone looking to move to take up a job opportunity.
Alternatively, it could help those who are in properties that are difficult to mortgage because of the way they are built.
Right to Buy discounts currently stand at £77,000 outside London and £102,700 inside London – from April 6 these discounts will increase by the Consumer Price Index measure of inflation to £77,900 outside London and £103,900 in the Capital.
Measures in the Deregulation Act have increased the numbers of tenants eligible for the Right to Buy – previously, a tenant would have to live in council housing for 5 years before qualifying; this has been reduced to three years.
42 of the 55 councils that bid into the scheme will receive a share of £18.48 million
A decision has been deferred on whether to award a share of the Fund to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets until it can provide the necessary assurances about its corporate governance.
The new phase of Canary Wharf (formerly called Wood Wharf) development will deliver 3,500 homes as well as offices, shops and leisure facilities.
The scheme has been planned for more than a decade – but today’s (27 March 2015) funding boost will enable work to finally get started.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said:
London’s Docklands have been completely transformed in the last 20 years into an exciting place to live and work.
Today’s £200 million deal will ensure this continues long into the future with the development of Wood Wharf, delivering thousands of homes as well as job opportunities.
Delivering homes and jobs in the capital
Housebuilding is at the heart of the government’s long-term economic plan, with starts at their highest since 2007 and 253,000 homes granted planning permission last year.
A key part of this has been getting work started on large-scale sites by providing the funding boost needed to get the infrastructure in place to support new homes.
Under the terms of today’s deal, the Canary Wharf Group will receive a £200 million loan from the government to provide the infrastructure needed to unlock the site to the east of the existing Canary Wharf estate, including the relocation and upgrading of utilities for the site.
The funding will also make it an attractive place to live and work by funding a network of parks and public squares, as well as improved road and pedestrian access.
It will mean work can then get started on delivering 3,500 homes, including 607 affordable homes, as well as 2.8 million square feet of offices, shops and community facilities.
These proposals have already got planning permission, so work will be able to start within months.
Andy Rose, chief executive at the Homes and Communities Agency, said:
The £200 million contribution to this project will accelerate the infrastructure needed to boost this vital centre for business activity by unlocking land to establish Canary Wharf as a residential location, building the homes that London needs to supply viable housing developments.
The agency has demonstrated that by working in partnership with the private sector and the mayor of London, a project of this scale and complexity can be delivered. This loan supports the building of thousands of homes, creates significant employment and represents good value for the tax payer.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson said:
This funding will help to accelerate the regeneration of a currently derelict brownfield site into a brand new community.
Sir George Iacobescu CBE, chairman and chief executive officer of Canary Wharf Group said:
This crucial contribution by the HCA towards the infrastructure needed to underpin the next phase of Canary Wharf will enable the Group to fulfil its ambition of creating one of the most exciting and vibrant places to live and work in London. This is just the type of targeted and practical assistance that our sector needs to help deal with the housing shortage in London.
We are just embarking upon this major 4.9 million square foot scheme which will include up to 3,610 new homes, 1.9 million square feet of lower-rise office buildings to accommodate the fast growing technology, media and telecoms sectors as well as financial and professional services firms, and high street retail units to complement the existing hub of retail at Canary Wharf. We will also provide a large GP surgery, a 420 place school, a community sports hall and material new green parks and dockside walks.
Funding comes from the government’s £1 billion Large Sites Infrastructure Fund.