Planning opinion: Localism - a brave new world?


THE coalition is re-thinking planning law in light of its localism agenda. Will this be a victory for people power and local democracy or a recipe for inertia?

Government would say that the localism agenda represents an historic shift of power back to local authorities and local people but what does it really mean?

The Localism Act, at whopping 483 pages, is not a recommended beach read. However, the main principle is to provide flexibility for local government, new powers for communities, a more effective planning system and reform to ensure that decisions about housing are taken locally.

Theoretically, a group of individuals should be able to provide a plausible strategy for the future development and control of a local area for which they feel passionately about. For example, identifying a long term supply of housing land without having to consider regional housing targets.

However, whether local areas can be galvanised together to formulate comprehensive policies and whether local and national policy makers are prepared to listen to the local voice remains to be seen.

Whilst I envisage that small rural communities will get together to formulate policies that directly affect them within a geographically well defined area, I question whether or not there is spirit within the more disparate urban population to come together in such a fashion.

Cynics would suggest that as national and local planning policy will provide the overall blueprint for future policy and decision making, local opinion and concerns could count for nothing.  It would be a shame if local planning groups merely became talking shops with no ability to influence design and policy.

Ultimately, greater rights for the public over matters of policy which affect them directly must be a positive thing.