The Localism Bill – what shall we build here?

23 05 2011

Bensham, waiting to be consulted.....

by Lowri Bond

 

While I welcome the ideology of localism I wonder how some of the changes brought through the recent bill will actually play out on the ground, especially with regards to the built environment. Aspects of the bill that effect planning law, and the new measures to lead communities through the process of gaining greater responsibility (but that might have to follow in a later post), particularly trouble me……

Whose community consultation is it anyway? The responsibility to consult communities before very large planning applications are submitted will lie with the developers themselves. This seems particularly flawed does it not? Especially given that (lets face it) very few developers approach projects with any notion of ethical, long-term outcomes for the benefit of the community. With the power and ability to buy in the services of clever image-makers, marketing specialists and consultants it doesn’t take a leap of the imagination to predict what the outcomes of these consultations will be. Surely the developer will never be able to apply the principles of independence and impartiality that are required to achieve a representative outcome, even if their intensions are good. The Localism Bill states that ‘this will give local people a chance to comment when there is still genuine scope to make changes to proposals’ but I am skeptical that it will be local people who will most benefit.

Speaking of benefits, ‘What about the community infrastructure levy?’ I hear you cry! Well the bill states that, ‘as well as being able to influence planning decisions, local people should be able to feel the benefits of new development in their neighbourhood.’ So, local authorities will be able to set the levels at which they charge developers to build, in order to raise money to support existing and new infrastructure. Now, when money is tight, in my mind it’s not difficult to imagine that this might compromise planning committees’ ability to judge applications on their design or sustainability merits, if they will ultimately help boost the dried up funding for schools, transport, and other essential public services. A big fat financial reward for saying yes to development is just the ticket for making it particularly hard for the poorest communities to say no. Watch this space……

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