Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Norfolk Association of Local Councils (L 69)

Introduction

1. The Norfolk Association of Local Councils represents over 400 parish and town councils in Norfolk (and their 4,000 local councillors and thereby their electors), and is committed to making this first tier of local government more effective, more democratic and better able to take a leadership role in local communities. However, it is unable to represent the urban areas within Norfolk, as they have no parish councils. It is a member body of the National Association of Local Councils.

Summary

2. The Association welcomes the introduction of the Bill but fears that, as there are no firm structures defined, the take-up will be slow, perhaps at the wrong level and potentially by possibly undemocratic organisations that will not sustain themselves in the long term.

3. The Association believes that the current clearly defined legal structure for Parish Councils (which may alternatively be called Community, Neighbourhood, Town or Village Council) and which exist in perpetuity, is the ideal structure for the Neighbourhood Forums mentioned throughout the bill. These powers and duties can be extended – where not covered by the well being power – to cover this new and exciting initiative and in particular should automatically confer the powers to bid, draw up a neighbourhood plan and the community right to build. The existing powers and duties are listed in the Appendix

4. The bill should impose on principal councils (Boroughs, Districts, Unitary and where appropriate County and City) where their area is unparished, a duty, in consultation with the residents, to institute Neighbourhood Councils with the powers and responsibilities that Town and Parish councils already have, including the ability to raise a small amount from the local electorate by way of the precept and that these should replace the neighbourhood forums mooted in the bill and defined further in the changes to the amendments to The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 detailed in Schedule 9 which proposes a membership which is self appointed rather than elected. Having elected Neighbourhood Councils would substantially reduce the local democratic deficit.

5. The opportunity can be taken in the Bill to remove the right of a Parish Council to call itself a Parish Council and to select one of the other allowed designations to avoid confusion between the Civil and Ecclesiastical parishes in the minds of many electors. We call it the Vicar of Dibley syndrome.

Background and Further Information

6. We feel that Parish Councils, which have been in existence since 1894 when they were split from the Ecclesiastical Parish, have served the inhabitants of rural villages and market towns – as well as some fringe urban areas around the cities – very well. In these rural areas they are the first tier of local government and have delivered real value at very low cost and worked well with the other two tiers of local government and in partnership with community organisations. They exist in perpetuity. Where there are no parish councils there are only two tiers of local government and where there are unitaries, there is only a single tier and many fewer elected representatives.

7. These Parish and Town Councils already provide many local services such as play areas, sports facilities, community halls, information centres, public conveniences, and often take on the responsibilities such as grass cutting, gritting, lighting, car parking from the other tiers of local government which they invariably do at lower cost and with a better service level; mostly because of the commitment to this by local residents. Currently in Norfolk and presumably elsewhere, they are looking to and, being looked at by the other two tiers of local government to, take on more responsibilities.

8. This – the first tier of local government – is the most local tier of government and if the localism bill were to extend this form of local government to all areas of England and Wales there would be real benefits in moving democracy down to the neighbourhood level – it would also put real teeth into the Bill as it would define a structure to be used for all the excellent ideas therein. It would be of particular benefit to rural counties such as Norfolk as then all the residents would be on an equal footing. However, we believe that this structure would serve all areas of the country well and provide a solid basis for the new neighbourhood forums mooted in the Bill.

Conclusion

9. We would therefore like to see the Bill extended to cover this and so we have suggested the changes listed in the Summary above. These changes will make it easier to implement and define the ‘neighbourhood forums’ and give them real powers independent of the principal or planning authority as well as increasing the democratic power at a very local level – surely the main thrust of the Localism Bill.

February 2011

Appendix A :  Powers & Duties of Parish Councils – not exhaustive

Allotments: Duty to provide allotments, Power to improve and adapt land for allotments, and to let grazing rights; Note: It may be right to remove the duty to provide allotments from some urban councils

Baths and washhouses:

Power to provide public baths and washhouses;

Burial grounds, cemeteries and crematoria: Power to acquire and maintain, Power to provide. Power to agree to maintain monuments and memorials, Power to contribute towards expenses of cemeteries;

Bus shelters: Power to provide and maintain shelters;

Bye-laws: Power to make bye-laws in regard to pleasure grounds, Cycle parks, Baths and washhouses, Open spaces and burial grounds, Mortuaries and post-mortem rooms;

Clocks: Power to provide public clocks;

Closed churchyards: Powers as to maintenance;

Common pastures: Powers in relation to providing common pasture;

Conference facilities: Power to provide and encourage the use of facilities;

Community centres: Power to provide and equip buildings for use of clubs having athletic, social or recreational objectives;

Crime prevention: Powers to install and maintain equipment and establish and maintain a scheme for detection or prevention of crime, Power to contribute to police services e.g. PCSOs, Duty on Parish Councils to consider crime reduction in every policy and action; Drainage: Power to deal with ponds and ditches;

Dogs: Power to make a Dog Control Order, Power to take enforcement action against those who commit an offence against a Dog Control Order;

Entertainment and the arts: Provision of entertainment and support of the arts;

Flyposting and Graffiti: Power to take enforcement action against those that flypost or graffiti;

Gifts: Power to accept;

Highways: Power to maintain footpaths and bridle-ways, Power to light roads and public places, Provision of litter bins, Powers to provide parking places for bicycles and motor-cycles, and other vehicles, Power to enter into agreement as to dedication and widening, Power to provide roadside seats and shelters; Consent of parish council required for ending maintenance of highway at public expense, or for stopping up or diversion of highway, Power to complain to highway authority as to unlawful stopping up or obstruction of highway or unlawful encroachment on roadside wastes, Power to provide traffic signs and other objects or devices warning of danger, Power to plant trees and lay out grass verges etc. and to maintain them;

Investments: Power to participate in schemes of collective investment;

Land: Power to acquire by agreement, to appropriate, to dispose of, Power to accept gifts of land;

Litter: Provision of receptacles, Power to take enforcement action against those that litter; Lotteries: Powers to promote;

Mortuaries and post mortem rooms: Powers to provide mortuaries and post mortem rooms;

Open spaces: Power to acquire land and maintain;

Parish documents: Powers to direct as to their custody;

Public buildings and village hall: Power to provide buildings for public meetings and assemblies;

Public conveniences: Power to provide;

Sustainable communities: Able to be represented on a panel of representatives to be consulted on proposals that would contribute to sustainable communities;

Telecommunications facilities: Power to pay public telecommunications operators any loss sustained providing telecommunication facilities;

Town and country planning: Right to be notified of planning applications;

Tourism: Power to encourage visitors and provide conference and other facilities;

Traffic calming: Powers to contribute financially to traffic calming schemes;

Transport: Powers in relation to car-sharing schemes, taxi fare concessions and information about transport, Powers to make grants for bus services;

War memorials: Power to maintain, repair, protect and alter war memorials;

Water supply: Power to utilise well, spring or stream and to provide facilities for obtaining water from them;

Well-Being: Power to well-being of the area (for eligible councils)