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The Localism Agenda – Greater community involvement?

What are the Government’s intentions regarding the Localism Agenda and greater community involvement? Is the aim to increase involvement by local government planners, which may result in quicker decisions; or is it to give more power to local communities and individuals, which could lead to increased ’nimbyism’?

The answer you get to these questions will very much depend on who you ask, as at present it is very unclear as to what the Government’s ‘Localism Agenda’ actually entails.  Regional Government Offices have already been abolished and their Regional Spatial Strategies with them, but proposals for Local Enterprise Partnerships to replace Regional Development Agencies are unclear and there appears to be no guidance or advice as to how these LEP’s should be formed and to a lesser extent what their role would be in driving regional and sub-regional policy. Other transition arrangements are vague and Local Authorities do not seem to understand the current framework any better than us in the private sector.

In its purest form the Governments concept of local planning is rooted in civic engagement and collaborative democracy in an attempt to change the system from being ‘top-down’ to being ‘bottom-up’. However, it is first necessary to define where exactly the ‘bottom’ lies. The Localism Agenda does not necessarily seek the devolution of power to the lowest common denominator; rather that powers are exercised in a prudent and responsible way at the appropriate level. To us at Big Tree Planning this means the local planning authority, perhaps with increased emphasis on community involvement at the pre application stage and added weight given to the views of local residents expressed.

Caution must be exercised by this approach however, as every proposal will invariably be met by an element of opposition, whatever its benefits to the wider community. Localism is not intended to halt the wider aspirations of the Government in terms of increased economic development, house building and the growth of UK business to aid the economy’s recovery.

The government’s intentions regarding greater community involvement and increased localism are unclear. However, it is relatively safe to say that local planning authorities will have greater responsibility under the coalition government, and it is likely that this will in turn trickle though to local communities.

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