Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by Basildon Borough Council (L 89)

Background

The following submission is from Cllr Dr Richard Moore, Cabinet Member for Planning at Basildon Borough Council.

Submission Regarding Neighbourhood Planning

1. We are concerned that Town and Parish Councils could be taken over by pressure groups to achieve their own (planning) aims. For example, Gypsy & Traveller groups could take over a parish council to give planning permission to an unauthorised Traveller site.

2. We are concerned that neighbourhood planning could result in politicised Town & Parish Councils (where they are independent in Basildon Borough at present).

3. The Bill as currently drafted risks putting too much planning power in the hands of people who are not elected or removable by a democratic process should a pressure group decide to become a neighbourhood forum. There appears to be a lack of checks and balances in the process as outlined in the Bill.

4. Town & Parish councillors are unpaid volunteers. The Bill does not make clear how they would become trained to carry out the neighbourhood planning role.

5. Local Planning Authorities (LPA’s) typically have some sort of planning committee made up of elected representatives who review and decide on planning applications. It is unclear from the draft Bill how Town & Parish Councils or Neighbourhood Forums would deliver this role.

6. Town & Parish Councils and Neighbourhood Forums do not have professional planning officers working for them. The Bill is unclear on what professional resource would be available to them; the Bill appears to impose on Local Planning Authorities a potentially open-ended requirement to provide officer support for planning applications. We are concerned that this could place an unacceptable burden upon LPA’s.

7. Town & Parish Councils may be put in the position of having to hire a professional planning officer or contract with the LPA for planning expertise to help them deliver the neighbourhood planning role at additional cost to the taxpayer.

Submission Regarding Other Issues

8. The Bill does not address specifically Gypsy & Traveller RSS site numbers and the process to be used in lieu of the RSS numbers.

9. The Bill does not revoke circular 1/2006 regarding Gypsy & Traveller sites. Circular 1/2006 includes specific references to the RSS, see for example paras. 22-25 and 33 which needs addressing before the Localism Bill becomes law.

10. Local Planning Authorities are unable to decide for themselves how many traveller pitches are necessary in their area without considering the RSS Gypsy & Traveller numbers and Circular 1/2006. (Local Planning Authorities urgently need the withdrawal of Circular 1/2006).

11. The Bill does not allow appeals against local planning decisions from local residents as well as from developers so that the appeal process is more symmetrical. It essentially leaves the appeal process as it is today.

12. Utility companies should be required to participate fully in the LDF process so that Utility company infrastructure requirements can be recognised in the development of the LDF and Neighbourhood plans.

13. CLG will refund the cost of local referendums to Local Government. Our understanding is that the total burden (of all referendums) will be included in the settlement grant rather than to individual councils for the individual costs of referendums. We are concerned that this could result in less money being given to a particular Local Authority than its actual costs.

14. The Bill proposes that the petition for local referendum should be duly signed by the required percentage of local government electors in that area (Part 4 - section 40) and ‘the required percentage’ is 5% (section 41). We recommend that this level should be 10%. In our view ‘required percentage’ should be, at the very least, higher than the largest Ward in the local government area – the 10% level should ensure this.

15. Date of Referendum (Part 4 para. 49) – in order to reduce referendum costs the date of the referendum should be aligned to the annual local election or general election date.

February 2011