Last updated Date:09/07/2012
In England ‘localism’ is a major part of the coalition government’s programme. It seeks to roll back the involvement of central government in the things that most closely affect local communities, such as housing and planning decisions. The ultimate aim is to support communities to identify and drive local priorities and shape what local services look like and how they are delivered. The achieve this, the government is looking to devolve power and funding to the lowest possible level.
Localism is closely aligned to the idea of the ‘Big Society’, through which the government is seeking to promote a much more active, participatory approach to democracy.
Key government initiatives to implement localism, which relate to housing, include:
- The scrapping of Regional Spatial Strategies, which had set out regional targets for house building, but the instigation of a new duty to cooperate across neighbouring local authority areas
- Introduction of the ‘New Homes Bonus’ to provide financial incentives to local authorities to promote development
- An overhaul of the planning system including the introduction of neighbourhood plans; a requirement for developers to consult communities prior to the submission of very large planning applications; and strengthening the role of enforcement
- Social housing reform - giving individual landlords new powers to grant tenancies for a fixed term, where they choose to do so
- Allocations reform - giving local authorities greater control over who they admit to waiting lists for social housing in their area
- Reform of homelessness legislation to enable local authorities to discharge their duties to homeless people into the private rented sector
- Reform of social housing regulation - with greater emphasis on local accountability and tenants scrutinising their landlords’ performance
- The introduction of a national home swap scheme to enable greater tenant mobility across the social housing sector
- Reform of council housing finance to give local authorities greater control of their finances
- The introduction of a number of new powers for communities, such as:
- A duty on local authorities to hold local referendums in certain circumstances
- A community right to build, giving local communities the power to take forward small developments in their area without the need for planning permission
- A community right to buy, allowing communities to bid for public or private assets, if they are of community value, when they come up for sale
The majority of these changes are being implemented through the Localism Act, which is the principle vehicle for the government to implement this agenda. It gained Royal Assent in November 2011 and many of the key provisions, including arrangements for local authority self financing, the introduction of fixed term tenancies and the new arrangements for regulation, came into effect at the beginning of April 2012.
The Localism Act could bring visible changes to the way housing and community involvement are approached in coming years.
We support the principle of giving greater flexibilities to local authorities and housing providers and greater powers to communities to help them shape the area they live in. However, we are concerned that the capacity and resources which local authorities are able commit to the localism agenda may be limited by public sector spending cuts generally, and in particular by cuts to services delivered by the voluntary and community sector. The ability of local communities to take control of decisions affecting their areas relies on them having the capacity, knowledge and time resources to do so – the appetite for which is not yet unknown.
It is vital that increased influence for communities does not, in practice, mean greater powers for particularly vocal residents, for example to prevent much needed new homes being built. We are also concerned that the scrapping of Regional Spatial Strategies has led to some local authorities reducing targets for development in their areas and it is not yet clear whether the introduction of the New Homes Bonus will be sufficient to change both local authorities’ and residents’ attitudes towards development.
Debates during the passage of the Act shone the spotlight on some of England's most pressing housing issues. We have long campaigned for reform of council housing finance and particularly welcome the progress in this area.
The challenge now is for housing professionals, councillors, council staff, advice workers, tenants and others to use the new legal framework to deliver the housing outcomes which so many households value, need, and aspire to.
Giving tenants control May 2012
Tenant Panels: Options for Accountability, National Tenant Organisations, March 2012
CIH briefing on the Localism Bill - report stage May 2011
CIH summary of the Localism Bill January 2011
CIH response to DCLG's Localism and decentralisation of public services inquiry October 2010
Localism Act November 2011
CLG updated plain english briefing on the Localism Act November 2011
You may wish to visit other sections of our website to obtain more detailed information on specific areas covered by the Localism Bill
CIH response to DCLG's consultation on reviewing local authority statutory duties April 2011