This is a slightly edited version of CLG’s media briefing note setting out the main elements of the Localism Bill which was published today
Right to veto excessive council tax rises
The public will be given the power to approve or veto excessive council tax rises – any local authority (including police and fire authorities) and larger parishes setting an increase above a ceiling set by the Secretary of State and approved by the House of Commons will trigger a referendum of all registered electors in their area.
Community Right to Challenge
A right for voluntary and community groups, social enterprises, parish councils and local authority employees delivering a service, to challenge a local authority, by expressing an interest in running any service for which they are responsible. A local authority must consider and respond to this challenge. The challenge may trigger a procurement exercise for that service in line with the relevant procedure, which the challenging organisation could then bid in, alongside others.
Community Right to Buy
This will require local authorities to maintain a list of public or private assets of community value put forward for consideration by communities. When listed assets come up for disposal (either the freehold or a long leasehold), communities will be given the chance to develop a bid and raise the capital to buy the asset when it comes on the open market.
This measure gives people, councillors and councils the power to instigate a local referendum on any local issue. Although these referendums will be non-binding, local authorities and other public authorities will be required to take the outcomes into account in decision making.
Decentralisation and strengthening local democracy
General Power of Competence
The general power of competence will provide local authorities, including certain parish councils, with all the same powers that an individual generally has, which will enable them to do anything apart from that which is specifically prohibited.This measure will mean that local councils will have new freedoms to run services free from Whitehall diktat.
Local Authority Governance
These measures will allow councils, regardless of their size to return to the committee system of governance, should they wish.
Directly Elected Mayors
Almost every major city in the world has a strong and powerful executive mayor. The Bill will address this discrepancy by giving areas the right to have a mayor. Mayors give local citizens a powerful local leader and figure head for municipal government, better deliver local economic growth, boost local democratic engagement and enhance the prestige of a city. This Government is committed to creating directly elected mayors in 12 English cities. Following Royal Assent, the Government will make an Order, whereby the council leaders for Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield would become shadow mayors, and be given the powers available to existing council mayors. These cities and any other area that calls for a mayor will hold mayoral referendums on local Election Day in May 2012. For areas that vote in favour, mayoral elections would then be held on local Election Day in May 2013 using the Supplementary Vote system which is used for existing mayors, including London. Mayors will be elected for four year terms and have the status and power to make their city a success, the detail of which will be further explained during the course of the parliamentary process.
Councillors should be free to campaign, to express views on issues and to vote on those matters, without fear of being unjustly accused of having a closed mind on a particular issue because of it. Predetermination and bias have proved to be difficult and controversial issues for many local authority members in the past. We will be legislating in the Localism Bill to make it clear that the normal activities of a councillor; campaigning, talking with constituents, expressing views on local matters and seeking to gain support for those views should not lead to an unjust accusation of having a closed mind on an issue that can lead to a legal challenge.
The abolition of the Standards Board regime will revoke the centralist model code of conduct for councillors, abolish the need for a local authority to have a statutory standards committee and abolish the Standards Board for England (which regulates local authority standards committees).
To improve transparency and local democratic accountability in how senior pay is set within local government. Provisions are included in the bill that will require local authorities and fire and rescue authorities to approve and publish annually at Full Council (for FRAs, a meeting of members), a senior pay policy statement which authorities will be required to follow when setting senior pay. Where councils want to depart from the pay policy, these would need to be referred back to Full Council (or a meeting of members for FRAs) to vote on.
Scrapping Bin Taxes
So-called ‘bin tax’ schemes would have allowed local councils to charge residents for household rubbish collections or fine families for having a full bin. This Bill will repeal sections 71 to 75 of, and Schedule 5 to, the Climate Change Act 2008 thus stopping these schemes taking place.
Reform of the Planning System
Abolition of Regional Strategies
The removal of the primary legislation which sets the basis for Regional Strategies.
Community Infrastructure Levy
The Community Infrastructure Levy allows local authorities to set charges which developers must pay when bringing forward new development in order to contribute to new infrastructure. The Bill introduces three changes to the Community Infrastructure Levy. Firstly, the Bill includes provisions to make regulations requiring some of these funds to be passed to neighbourhoods where the development has taken place. Secondly, it makes clear that funds can be spent on the ongoing costs of infrastructure, as well as the initial costs of new infrastructure. Lastly, it gives local authorities greater control over setting their charging levels – while independent examiners will still consider whether the charging schedule is unreasonable, it will be for the authority to decide how to make it reasonable.
Local Plan Reform
Ministers wish to give local authorities and communities greater choice and control by removing the ability of the Planning Inspectorate to re-write local plans – and by removing procedures on timetabling and monitoring, which many authorities have found bureaucratic. Planning inspectors will continue to assess local plans at a public examination, and authorities will only be able to adopt plans judged ‘sound’ by the inspector, but inspectors will only be able to suggest changes at the request of the local authority. Local authorities will be able to suggest changes during the examination and withdraw development plan documents before their adoption, without seeking clearance from central Government. Local authorities will also have to publish up to date information direct to the public on what planning documents they are preparing, while central government powers to direct changes will be more limited.
The Bill will introduce a new right for communities to shape their local areas. Neighbourhood plans will enable communities to permit development – in full or in outline – without the need for planning applications.
Community Right to Build
This measure will give local communities the power to take forward development in their area without the need to apply for planning permission, subject to meeting certain safeguards and securing 50 per cent support of the community through a referendum. It will be for communities to identify suitable land, sources of finance and secure support for their proposals, but we will put in place arrangements to provide help and guidance.
Duty to cooperate
We are introducing a duty to cooperate to ensure that local authorities and public bodies cooperate with each other.
To strengthen the role of local communities in planning, the Bill will introduce a new requirement for prospective developers to consult local communities before submitting planning applications for very large developments. This is intended to give local people a real chance to comment on proposed developments which may have an impact on them, and to collaborate on issues such as design at an early stage, when they still have a real change to influence proposals before they are finalised.
Developers will be required to have regard to any opinions raised during this consultation when deciding whether to make any changes before submitting their planning applications.
In order to engage in the planning system individuals and communities need to know that – where people try to flout the system – local planning authorities have the ability to take action. These proposals will tackle abuses like making deliberately misleading planning applications and running retrospective planning applications and enforcement appeals simultaneously.
Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission)
This measure will replace the Infrastructure Planning Commission with an efficient and democratically accountable system that provides a fast-track process for major infrastructure projects and ensures Parliamentary approval of National Policy Statements (National Policy Statements) before they can be designated. Decisions on applications for major infrastructure projects should be taken by Ministers, who are democratically accountable, rather than by an unelected quango.
Social Housing Reform
Social Housing Allocations reform
We will give back to local authorities the freedom to determine who should qualify to go on their housing waiting list. The rules on eligibility will continue to be set centrally. We will also make it easier for existing social tenants to move within the social sector, by removing transferring tenants who are not in housing need from the scope of the allocation rules – they will no longer have to compete with those on the waiting list in housing need. Under the current system local authorities must include on their waiting lists for social housing anyone who applies, with the exception of some foreign nationals and people guilty of serious unacceptable behaviour. As social housing is in great demand and priority is given to those most in need, many applicants have no realistic prospect of ever receiving a social home. The current arrangements encourage false expectations and long waiting lists (currently almost 1.8 million households). This measure will allow local authorities to set waiting list policies that are appropriate to their local area.
Reform of Homelessness legislation
People who experience a homelessness crisis need somewhere suitable to live, but do not necessarily need social housing. But under the current legislation they can insist on being provided with expensive temporary accommodation, at taxpayer’s expense, until social housing becomes available. Around 70% of homelessness duties are ended with an offer of social housing – which results in around 20% of social lets being allocated to people owed the homelessness duty, at the expense of other people in need on the housing waiting list.
The Bill will give local authorities the flexibility to bring the homelessness duty to an end with an offer of suitable accommodation in the private rented sector without requiring the household’s agreement. There will be safeguards: as now, an offer of private sector housing will only bring the duty to an end if the accommodation is suitable for the whole household. The private sector tenancy would need to be for a minimum fixed term of 12 months, and the duty would recur if, within 2 years, the applicant becomes homeless again through no fault of his or her own (and continues to be eligible for assistance).
Social Housing Tenure reform
Currently, social landlords are normally only able to grant lifetime tenancies. The provisions in the Bill will enable local authority landlords to grant tenancies for a fixed length (the minimum length being two years). These ‘flexible’ tenancies will give more freedom to local authority landlords, allowing them to manage their stock more effectively and ensure that the occupation of social housing better reflects actual need. Landlords will retain the power to grant lifetimes tenancies. Currently, the decision to allocate someone a social tenancy is taken on the basis of the situation of that person at a particular point in their life. As the tenancy is given for life, a landlord will not be able to review the person’s occupation of the property even if subsequent changes, e.g. an increase in income, mean that the person’s need turned out to be only short-term.
Reform of Council Housing Finance
This reform will replace the current annual centralised system for subsidising council housing and replace it with a locally run system. Under the new system, councils will keep their rental income and use it locally to maintain their homes. To achieve this, the Bill will enable a one-off payment between Government and each council.
National Homeswap Scheme
This measure will take a power to set, via the social housing regulator a standard on mutual exchange – a swap of accommodation between two or more tenants where each party moves permanently into their exchange partner’s property. This would require landlords to participate in web-based mutual exchange services that enable tenants to see a wide range of properties across providers in England. Less than 5% of households move within the social housing sector each year compared to almost a quarter of private renters. Tenants who are overcrowded, who need to move to get a job or to be nearer to family for caring have to compete with households on the waiting list, one option for them is to seek a mutual exchange. In order to create more mobility within the social stock and give greater choice to tenants over where they live we propose that a national scheme should enable tenants to see a wide range of properties across providers.
Reform of Social Housing Regulation
This measure will: make reforms to the regulatory system for social housing; abolish the Tenant Services Authority and transfer its remaining functions to the Homes and Communities Agency; and make changes to the Ombudsman regime applicable to social housing complaints. This will be enacted by making amendments to the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, the Housing Act 1996 and the Local Government Act 1974. Abolishing the Tenant Services Authority will put local people in control of driving up standards of social housing management and resolving most failings. The regulator will be focused on the economic regulation of landlords and resolving serious failings that can’t be resolved between landlord and tenant at the local level. Under the plans England’s 8 million social housing tenants will receive stronger tools to hold landlords to account and there will be a greater role for locally elected representatives in resolving problems in their area. State intervention will be reduced. Housing associations will continue to be subject to robust economic regulation with a stronger focus on value for money, thereby maintaining lender confidence, protecting taxpayers and supporting the supply of social housing. The system of two separate ombudsmen handling social tenants’ complaints will end. A single Ombudsman specialising in complaints about social housing will ensure consistency, and provide a common route of redress for all social housing tenants.
Facilitating moves out of the social rented sector
The Government is keen to see that support is given to help realise social tenants’ ownership aspirations, which in turn can help to enable better housing outcomes for those in need through more effective use of social rented stock. The Bill will ensure that housing association tenants who are also members (e.g. share holders) of their landlord organisation are allowed to take up incentive schemes which facilitate moves out of the social rented sector into owner occupation.
Home Information Packs
Home Information Packs were suspended on 21 May and all requirements relating to Home Information Packs have ceased to apply to responsible persons – either a seller or their estate agents and sellers, this measure will repeal Part 5 of the Housing Act 2004 thereby abolishing Home Information Packs. Energy performance certificates will still be required under separate legislation.
The full range of powers to strengthen London’s governance includes:
- The devolution of executive powers over housing investment from the Homes and Communities Agency to the Greater London Authority so it can be fully aligned with the Mayor’s own funding pot and the London Housing Strategy;
- The abolition of the London Development Agency, with its city-wide roles on regeneration and management of European funding to be transferred to the Greater London Authority so that the Mayor is directly accountable. The Government has already announced the end of the Government Office including London and the Regional Development Agencies;
- New powers for the Mayor of London to create Mayoral Development Corporations to focus regeneration where it’s needed most, such as to help secure East London’s Olympic legacy, in partnership with London Boroughs;
- Boroughs will be given control over more of the major local planning decisions that affect their local communities. The Mayor will only consider the largest planning applications in future;
- Streamlining consultation on Mayoral strategies, so there is a single environmental strategy. The Assembly will also gain a new power to reject the Mayor’s final strategies by a two-thirds majority.