Almost one year to the day that the Localism Act was given Royal Assent, Future of London held a breakfast seminar looking at its impact on 14 November 2012, in partnership with Portland. The devolution of power, particularly to the hands of communities, is central to the aims of localism and of the coalition government. This seminar brought together speakers from London boroughs, Neighbourhood Forums, and the business community to explore how London’s communities are seizing the opportunities presented by localism.
Joanne Woodward, Head of Planning Policy at LB Enfield, spoke about the impact the Localism Act has had on planning. Many elements of the Act have direct relevance to local government, including the General Power of Competence, changes to the Housing Revenue Account, and CIL. Increased community control of planning is particularly provided for by the Act, with neighbourhood planning a high-profile example. Despite these provisions, Joanne reported that just 50 per cent of boroughs have shown formal interest in neighbourhood planning so far.
Fabian Sharp, Coordinator at Paddington Development Trust, brought a community voice to the event, through the experience of Queen’s Park Forum in the City of Westminster. The Forum was recently successful at ballot in a referendum on establishing a community council in the area, and is set to be the first community in London to use the legislation within the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. Elections for the community council will be held in 2014, and the council will be funded by a small additional levy on all residents, with the aim of delivering and improving services in the neighbourhood. Although this establishment is not directly tied to the Localism Act, community councils will be able to take advantage of the Act’s provisions; moreover, it is illustrative of many communities’ appetites for power and decision-making on a very local scale.
The final speaker on the panel was Simon Pitkeathley, CEO of Camden Town Unlimited, the area’s Business Improvement District that was established in 2006 following The Business Improvement Districts (England) Regulations 2004. Like community councils, BIDs are voted for by the community they represent (in this case, businesses), which are willing to pay an additional levy to deliver locally-appropriate services, and to have an organisational voice for their community. In this respect, “BIDs have been doing localism for a long time”.
While communities’ appetites for the opportunities that localism presents range widely, there are clear examples of enthusiasm from across neighbourhood planning, community councils and BIDs. They especially demonstrate a desire to stimulate change and improvement to the status quo, beyond the confines of traditional governance structures. After only one year of the Localism Act, many of its policy instruments are only just beginning to be applied. It is clear that more work is needed on a range of issues localism presents, such as people’s interpretation of democratic accountability, and managing relationships between London Boroughs and more local-level institutions. There is much to be learned from existing examples of localism, and London boroughs and their communities would benefit from greater dialogue with existing Neighbourhood Forums, community councils and BIDs.
Joanne’s and Simon’s presentations from the event can be found below.
More photos from the event are available on Flickr: