The Localism ActThe intention of the Localism Act is to devolve power from central government to individuals, communities and local councils. Passed in November 2011, the Act sets new rights and powers that create a number of opportunities for voluntary and community organisations to influence what happens to local amenities, how local services are delivered and how new development is planned.
Neighbourhood planning will allow communities to form Neighbourhood Forums to decide how they would like their local area developed. Bringing together the views of residents, community groups, locals businesses and the local authority, the Forum’s will put together a neighbourhood development plan. In the development plan, the Forum can say where they think new houses, businesses, community spaces and shops should go and what they should look like.
Provided a neighbourhood development plan or order is in line with national planning policy, the strategic vision for the wider area set by the local authority and other legal requirements, local people will be able to vote on it in a referendum. If the plan is approved by a majority of those who vote, then the local authority will bring it into force.
The Community Right to Challenge
The Community Right to Challenge gives community groups, voluntary organisations and local authority employees the right to submit an “expression of interest” in taking over and running a local authority service. The local authority must consider whether the challenge will deliver a better value service for the community and respond to the challenge. If a local authority accepts the challenge, an open competitive procurement exercise must be run. Organisations of any sector will be able to bid to take over the running of the service.
The Community Right to Bid (Assets of Community Value)
The Community Right to Bid aims to ensure that buildings and amenities that are treasured by the community can be kept in public use. Under the Act, voluntary and community organisations can nominate an asset to be included in a ‘list of assets of community value’. The local authority will maintain this list. If the owner of a listed asset then wants to sell the asset a moratorium period will be triggered during which the asset cannot be sold. This is intended to allow community groups time to develop a proposal and raise the required funds to bid for the property when it comes onto the open market at the end of that period.
N.B A Community Asset is defined as ‘It must further the social well-being or cultural, recreational or sporting interests of the local community and this must be its principal use’.
The community nomination must come from a community council or a locally connected voluntary or community body. The nomination has to be made for land or buildings in the nominee’s local area.
Localism in Southwark
Southwark was successful in their application to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to undertake two Neighbourhood Planning forerunner projects to explore the possibilities of Neighbourhood Planning in advance of them becoming law. These are currently taking place in Bermondsey and Borough and Bankside.
Your Bermondsey Forum, the Bermondsey Neighbourhood Forum, gave a progress update to CAS members at Southwark Space in April. They reported that finding a representative and dedicated membership, a suitable structure and the right identity/brand for the Forum presented significant early challenges. Once overcome, the Forum began to focus on the mapping potential ‘opportunity sites’ for development. These opportunity sites were grouped together into 8 ‘masterplans’ that will form the focus of the Forum’s work. However, progress has been slow and the Forum must still engage with stakeholders to find the needed backing of community and source the adequate resources to bring the plans to fruition. The Forum was reluctant to express exactly how long this was expected to take but conceded it could take a considerable amount of time.
Community Right to Challenge and Bid
Southwark are waiting on further regulations and guidance from DCLG on how the Community Right to Challenge and Bid processes should be managed. It is expected that this will be received in June/July and rolled out soon afterwards. CAS will feed back to members as soon as possible on this.
Useful information and links
CAS acknowledges that Localism is a developing policy agenda and will continue to bring you updates as they emerge. In the meantime, a good source of information about the Localism Act as whole is the DCLG’s A plain English guide to the Localism Act: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/localismplainenglishupdate
Locality has produced some great step by step guidance on how to take advantage of some of the Community rights. This can be found here http://locality.org.uk/movement/policy/community-rights/
To find out more about Neighbourhood planning in Southwark, visit the Your Bermondsey Forum website http://yourbermondsey.org/ and Bankside Residents’ Forum website http://www.betterbankside.co.uk/brf
If you are looking to take ownership of a community asset, support is available through the Asset Transfer Unit. The project a partnership between Locality, Community Matters and the Local Government Association and they have supported many successful asset transfers to community groups across the country. Find out more on their website http://atu.org.uk/
If you would like to discuss how you might go about forming a Neighbourhood Forum or the possibilities of any other aspect the Localism Act, contact Andy Boaden firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7358 7017