The Localism Act gained Royal Assent on 15th November 2011. The government says that the act triggers the biggest transfer of power in a generation, releasing councils and communities from the grip of central government. The Bill, which has 8 parts and 25 schedules, puts a raft of new rights and powers at the disposal of local people to take charge of their future, delivering on more than 30 coalition agreement commitments.
"The Localism Act pulls down the Whitehall barricades so it will no longer call the shots over communities…Councils have their general power of competence and residents have a real power over decisions like council tax, town hall pay, planning, community buildings or local services". Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities: Eric Pickles.
The Act includes the following significant changes to the planning system:
- abolition of regional strategies, including the housing targets set out in those strategies.
- the right of communities to draw up a neighbourhood plan.
- a community right to build.
Please click here to view a plain English guide to the act. (external link)
Key measures to increase the power of local government through the Act include:
- Introducing a new general power of competence, giving councils unprecedented freedom to work together to improve services and drive down costs. Councils are now free to do anything - provided they do not break other laws.
- Ending the ineffective system for overseeing the behaviour of councillors by abolishing the Standards Board.
- Enabling councils to return to the committee system of governance, if they wish, regardless of their size.
- Giving councils greater control over business rates. For example councils will have the power to offer business rate discounts, cancel unfair backdated business rates, and simplify the process for claiming small business rate relief.
- Introducing new planning enforcement rules, giving councils the ability to take action against people who deliberately conceal unauthorised development and abuse of the planning system.
Key measures to increase the power of local communities include:
- Introducing a new Right to Bid, which will give residents the opportunity to take over treasured local assets like shops and pubs and keep them part of local life.
- Introducing a new Right to Challenge, making it much easier for local groups with good ideas to put them forward and drive improvement in local services.
- Giving communities the right to veto excess council tax rises. Previously only central government had the power to 'cap' increases.
- Increasing transparency on local pay, by requiring councils to publish the salaries of senior officials working in local authorities.
- Introducing a new right to draw up neighbourhood plans, giving local people a real voice to say where they think new houses, businesses and shops should go - and what they should look like.
- Enabling communities to bring forward proposals for development they want - such as homes, shops, playgrounds or meeting halls, through the Community Right to Build.
- Requiring developers to consult local communities before submitting certain applications. This gives people a chance to comment while there is still scope to make changes.
- Ending decision making by unaccountable officials on important infrastructure projects such as train lines and power stations. The Act abolishes the Infrastructure Planning Commission, and restores responsibility for taking decisions to elected, accountable Ministers.
The act was implemented incrementally during 2012. All of the signficant changes made by the act are now in force.