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Localism Bill update

7 October 2011

The Localism Bill has barely been out of the local government press recently, mainly due to the Government accepting, or signalling that they will accept, amendments which are generally beneficial to local authorities.

These changes have come in some cases after hard lobbying efforts by the Lords following the summer break: they obviously came back in fighting form! So now is a good time to have a look at what these proposed amendments are and the impact theyll have on local authorities.

PlanningChanges to assumptions of planning permission for calculating compensation for compulsory purchase have been put forward.

The Lords suggest changing the requirements for a local authority to serve a planning enforcement order only to situations where there has been a deliberate concealment of a breach. This has the potential to reduce the enforcement power of the local authority.

Referenda for neighbourhood development plans are to be arranged for both the domestic and the non-domestic rate payers if there is a high enough percentage of business use in the relevant area. This could be controversial if residents feel that local authorities are "siding" with business.

Housing

The Lords have proposed exempting buildings controlled or managed by a co-operative society from the HMO licensing regime. They also proposed amendments to flexible tenancies for social housing to protect certain groups of people, namely the elderly and the disabled, and to allow relevant landlords more discretion in deciding to review a tenancy.

Governance

There will continue to be some form of code of conduct for elected members. It is not proposed that the Standards Board is maintained but there will be a requirement for a code.

Local authorities, economic prosperity boards and combined authorities should be allowed to apply for further powers to be devolved on a case by case basis from central government. The powers will only be delegated if a compelling application is made by one or more local authorities. For Englands core cities this could mean exciting new ways to bring forward innovative local projects.

There has been a major revamp of the ability of central government to pass on EU fines to local authorities, obviously well received by local government. Any decision will have to be approved by both houses and be subject to statutory policy.

The Secretary of State will not have the power to require an authority to have an elected mayor and cabinet system, only that a referendum is held and the elected mayor cannot concurrently be the chief executive.

The general power of competence has been extended to integrate transport authorities, passenger transport executives, economic prosperity boards and combined authorities, in as far as the remit of their powers extend.

Local authorities will have more flexibility over deciding to change from a whole council election system to an election by thirds but not more than once every five years.

Communities

The Lords have introduced exceptions allowing a local authority to refuse to hold a local referendum: if costs would be more than 5 of the councils council tax requirement for that year; if the same issue has been the subject of a referendum in the previous four years; or where there is another statutory process that covers the decision e.g. planning. This has the potential for large savings to local authorities.

Some changes have been made to the "assets of community value" provisions all of which give greater clarification of the process in terms of definitions, notification and timescales.

For the "community right to challenge", it will be local authorities rather than the government who will set out periods for inviting expressions of interest to take over council services.

ConclusionThese amendments are on the whole good news for local authorities who will be able to make more decisions based on their local circumstances. It is now to be seen how far the Commons will go in accepting the Lords suggestions.

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