Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by A V Sandell (L 13)

Localism Bill 2010/2011

The comments below may be useful in the consideration of this bill. Having spent years fighting inappropriate decisions imposed on our community and working as a volunteer to improve our local sustainability in true Big Society style, I am a strong supporter of empowering the community. Next action should be utilities. These are my personal observations and do not represent the views of any group that I am a member or associated with.

Allowing councils to choose to return to the committee system of governance and allowing for referendums for elected mayors in certain authorities

I believe that the cabinet system in local Councils is preventing democracy and the electorate’s views being put forward through their individual Councillors. It is imperative that Councils return to a committee system for greater accountability.

I have recently witnessed the activities of our District Council and this would appear to be the system.

1. The leader, presumably elected by his peers of the largest political party represented then more or less appoints the cabinet presumably from colleagues who are likeminded.

2. Agenda’s are not easily available and public participation is not allowed without 2 days notice should anyone actually be aware what is to be proposed, discussed or passed. Some meetings remain completely secret said to be of a confidential nature.

3. Individual Councillors may or may not be aware of what is going on and are usually restricted to their individual portfolios or scrutiny. Councillors therefore, do not represent their constituents on any other matters.

4. At the Executive Meeting I recently attended there was the Leader of the Council and four other Councillors plus the Policy and Performance Officer, Chief Executive, Minute Secretary and six other Officers. Two Councillors spent the majority of the meeting half asleep whilst the leader made everyone aware of his views in agreement with the Chief Executive. One Councillor tried to defend the whole of the District rather than the biggest local town virtually against everyone else in the room, I admired his tenacity. There was no debate on most of the subjects presented by officers and policies passed on the nod. There also appeared to be no expertise presented.

5. It is understandable that this system is preferred by Officers and the Councillors that make decisions because it means business is dealt with quickly usually without any opposition. The electorate’s views are not taken into account and they are unlikely to even be aware of what is being put forward until it is being applied.

6. In our area personalities on both the Executive and Officers has meant a bias towards the local biggest town from where the Leader and most employees live to the detriment of the rest of the District.

7. In the ideal world, I would like to have advance notice of what is being discussed and talk to my Councillor who could then make representations into the debate. This does not happen so why do we even have Councillors to represent us?

8. A return to the Committee System would be a start but there also needs to be far more openness in local government. It may be necessary to legislate for this to happen.

9. By the way, our Town Council is completely different and open, almost a small perfect model of how the system should work.

Giving residents the power to instigate local referendums on any local issue and the power to veto excessive council tax increases

1. Further to the above it is possible that this piece of legislation could be used to force a referendum on whether our largest local town has a Town Council. At the moment the District Council also takes on this role to the detriment of the rest of the District. Previous referendums have been held only in the town in question and not in the wider District.

2. Our local Town Council precepts for services that are not funded through other Councils, possibly unfairly as they are provided elsewhere and generally meets the needs of local people. However, this does mean that our Town Council precept is higher than the rest of the District. This is not a failing of the Town Council but of the District and possibly County Council in providing these services elsewhere but not to us. For example, cemeteries, Council Contact Centre, swimming pool, parks and floral displays etc. It is possible that some local residents resent paying additional Council Tax. We possibly need fairness in delivery of services and not a referendum in this instance.

Abolish Regional Spatial Strategies

Provide for neighbourhood plans, which would be approved if they received 50% of the votes cast in a referendum

Example of a recent planning permission given by the Local Authority.

1. Site identified as suitable for housing in Core Strategy 1996 with opposition. Given outline planning permission in 2000 for an unspecified number of houses initially but granted for 29 affordable houses as 50% of the whole with great opposition by public and Town Council because of the size of the development and safety. Full Planning Application 2010 60 houses with 12 affordable.

2. High local opposition to the large estate of houses on the outskirts of the town. The village size town has only 900 houses in total and there has been a lot of recent infill and conversions that have made excellent additions already. The Town Council and Community Plan Group also oppose the density, road safety and size of the development. There has been no local consultation on design or anything else.

There is no local employment available with infrastructure and services unlikely to be able to cope with the increased housing.

3. Planning was granted because the developer has been working with the Planning Authority and the scheme meets current housing density (not for long), required numbers of housing for development of a key service centre and the site has been identified to be suitable for housing. Planning congratulated themselves for meeting further targets.

Local communities must be able to make their own decisions on planning and take into account local residents wishes. In small communities public discussion and decision on these matters is paramount to their environment and not the profit of developers.

January 2011