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Localism Bill enacted

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and British Property Federation (BPF) have welcomed the enactment of the Localism Bill as it passed into law in November.

Both organisations are in favour of the coalition government’s ‘big idea’, believing that putting power back into the hands of communities is largely a positive step.

Ghislaine Trehearne, policy officer with the BPF, said: "We welcome the Government's recognition of the need for localism to support sustainable economic growth and have been pleased to work closely with the Government in developing the concept of business neighbourhoods in areas that are mainly commercial in character.”

Stephen Thornton, RICS’ UK head of external affairs, also said: “Giving communities new planning responsibilities to shape their local area is a positive step and the RICS hopes that this spirit will be reflected in the implementation of the Act”. However, he added that “this greater local involvement must provide enough housing and commercial property for communities and businesses to thrive and deliver badly needed economic growth."

According to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) the Localism Act will trigger the biggest transfer of power in a generation, releasing councils and communities from the grip of central government. The Government’s flagship legislation puts a raft of new rights and powers at the disposal of local people to take charge of their future, delivering on more than 30 coalition agreement commitments.

Key measures include:

  • Introducing a new general power of competence, giving councils unprecedented freedom to work together to improve services and drive down costs.
  • Opening the door for the transfer of power to major cities to develop their areas, improve local services, and boost their local economies.
  • Giving councils greater control over business rates, allowing them to offer business rate discounts, which could help attract firms, investment and jobs.
  • Introducing new planning enforcement rules, giving councils the ability to take action against people who deliberately conceal unauthorised development.
  • Reforming homelessness legislation to enable councils to provide good quality private rented homes where appropriate, freeing up social homes for people in need on the waiting list.
  • Allowing councils to keep the rent they collect and use it locally to maintain social homes through the abolition of the housing revenue account.
  • Passing greater powers over housing and regeneration to local democratically elected representatives in London.

Key measures to increase the power of local communities include:

  • Introducing a new right to draw up a neighbourhood plan, giving local people a real voice to say where they think new houses, businesses and shops should go - and what they should look like.
  • Enabling communities to bring forward proposals for development they want - such as homes, shops, playgrounds or meeting halls, through the Community Right to Build.
  • Freeing home sellers and buyers from red tape through the abolition of Home Information Packs. The Act removes HIPs once and for all from the statute books.
  • Requiring developers to consult local communities before submitting certain applications. This gives people a chance to comment while there is still scope to make changes.
  • Ending decision-making by unaccountable officials on important infrastructure projects such as train lines and power stations. The Act abolishes the Infrastructure Planning Commission, and restores responsibility for taking decisions to elected, accountable ministers.

Many of the measures are expected to be in place by April 2012.

For more information, go to the DCLG website at www.communities.gov.uk

The Watts Bulletin is the technical companion to the Watts Pocket Handbook, the essential guide to property and construction, as used by professionals since 1983.

Watts Bulletin editor: Trevor Rushton.