Democracy and politicians – never the twain shall meet?

As Whitehall politicians become more and more impatient with the drain local democracy places on the public purse, successive governments are finding ways to marginalise local politicians and insert those in their own image into that level of government, to do their bidding.

Labour attempted it with regional assemblies, with a sop to local democracy being made via the quality parish council initiative.  Regional government would emasculate every democratically elected body that currently existed outside of the Westminster bubble, with parish councils taking on parochial service delivery, thereby offering their local electorate a facade of local democratic power and control.

The current government has offered local government the ‘carrot’ of devolution.  The stick comes via the wresting away of democratic decision making and therefore wider than local spending powers, from directly elected local representatives, with the introduction of elected mayors.  These mayors would apparently see the bigger picture and establish a more direct line of ‘communication’ for their areas with central government.

Having failed to get these in place in a number of areas, they now appear to have come up with another cunning plan to do away with these pesky councillors.

Copied from The MJ Online Thursday 25 May 2017

Strengthening local democracy
By George Jones and John Stewart | 24 May 2017
Few have commented on a strange proposal in the Government’s Industrial Strategy green paper. It states: ‘We will work with local government to review how to bring more business expertise into local government, for example through the creation of a modern “alderman” type of role within local government’. There is no explanation of what this sentence means.

The use of the title alderman clearly repeats the use of the title mayor, which used to be restricted to the person indirectly chosen by the council to perform the politically-impartial role of chairing the council and carrying out ceremonial and social functions. But now it also refers to a person directly elected by the local electorate as the executive leader of the authority. The use of the word ‘mayor’ was intended to make this new role attractive to voters, but instead it confused the electorate as to what the role was to be. Now the term ‘alderman’ is perhaps seen as a way of making the new proposal (whatever it is) acceptable.

Whoever thought up this word may have misjudged how most people think. Aldermen have long been forgotten. They were abolished in the 1974 reorganisation of local government with little regret. They were seen as often frustrating the democratic will of the people, since they were appointed by the councillors, not the voters, and served for a six-year term.

Aldermen were usually senior councillors protected from defeat by the electorate. The position had been created in the 19th century as constituting a kind of House of Lords in local councils, acting as a constraint on the dangerous democratic processes of elected councillors.

The Government is intensifying its attack on local democracy. It is following its previous demotion of elected councillors into only the role of scrutiny of executive mayors by now proposing to diminish them further by inserting into councils aldermen, appointed not elected locally, with full voting rights.

This proposal signifies that in the culture of central government there is little interest in local representative democracy and no concern for its principles. It shows talk of local devolution is a sham.

The result of central government’s neglect of local representative democracy, or even of understanding its importance, has been that in a series of initiatives it has undermined elected local government.

Over the last 20 or more years, functions have been removed from elected authorities and placed under appointed bodies. The outstanding example is education, where schools are increasingly under the control of ‘chains’ which have emerged without any clear legislative basis.

The essence of local representative democracy is expressed in the direct election of councillors by citizens of the area they represent. But in combined authorities the mayor is the only member who is directly elected. The other voting members are appointed by their own councils.

The principle of direct election has been replaced by indirect election, usually of the leaders of the separate authorities. The principle of equal representation of areas is undermined by a restriction to a single individual for each authority, despite greatly varying populations.

The creation of directly-elected mayors undermines the position of councillors. The concentration of power in a single individual weakens local democracy. The council, as the expression of local representative democracy can alter policies and the budget only if there is a two-thirds majority, which is impossible in most local authorities.

The introduction of such ‘special majorities’ is a recent development in legislative bodies. It means the majority of a council can have no power even if a majority has voted for a proposal.

Local representative democracy is the principle on which our local government has long been based. It is the only effective way in which citizens can ensure accountability. Some, however, urge the merits of participatory democracy, and see it as opposed to representative democracy. We are not opponents of the techniques of participatory local democracy, but regard them as ways to strengthen representative democracy.

In a variety of ways local representative democracy is being eroded, leading to greater centralisation.

These developments have rightly led many, including The MJ, to argue for the start of a discussion on the future of local government, hoping it would help to reverse the process of centralisation, which has been a feature of the last 40 or so years under various governments.

Local representative democracy must be the basis on which effective and accountable local government can and must be built. There is no alternative if local government is to have the authority of responsibilities that can challenge the process of centralisation.

Centralisation cannot deliver effective government, since it thinks in terms of uniformities, whereas reality consists of diversity. Local government is the government of difference: it can respond to messy reality in ways that reflect the diversity of local circumstances.

Critical requirements to strengthen local representative democracy are for all concerned to recognise its importance and understand that political representation is an active role, involving interaction with the electorate, seeking out its views and ideas, and not merely waiting at surgeries for people’s complaints and specific problems to be aired, important though that is.

Indirect election and special majorities should be eradicated, as should the focus on single individuals as directly-elected mayors. Councils should be recognised as the supreme body locally and not regarded as requiring mechanisms to constrain its operations.

One basic constitutional change is needed to strengthen local representative democracy, ensuring it is truly representative, and that is to introduce proportional representation into local elections. The case for local government proportional representation is stronger than for Parliamentary elections, and it grows stronger in an increasingly multi-party society.

These ideas and more are set out in a book written in collaboration with Professor Steve Leach of De Montfort University, entitled Centralisation, Devolution and the Future of Local Government in England (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017).

John Stewart is emeritus professor of local government at the University of Birmingham. George Jones, emeritus professor of government at the London School of Economics, died last month, shortly after writing this article

A tribute to George Jones, originally published in The MJ, can be viewed here

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Government in a drive for housing, but only of a certain type it seems

UK councils ‘increasingly unable’ to meet affordable housing demands

23rd May, 2017

The report, published by the Association for Public Service Excellence, and researched and written by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), considers 166 local authorities in Britain. It suggests that just 1 per cent of councils rate their need for affordable homes as not substantial.

Building Homes, Creating Communities notes the pressure on councils to meet the growing demand for affordable housing because of a lack of new homes being built, and that those that are being built are not affordable to those in need.

It looks at how the cumulative impact of existing housing and planning policies in England – such as the “continued deregulation and reform of the planning system” – has reduced the ability of councils to secure “genuinely affordable homes” for social rent.

Kate Henderson, chief executive at the TCPA, said the incoming government must make tackling the housing crisis a priority.

“An ambition to increase housing numbers is not enough; we need to ensure that the homes that are built are affordable and well designed.”

The study looks at how local authorities are taking a more active role in housing delivery through entrepreneurial approaches, such as setting up local housing.

Paul O’Brien, chief executive of APSE, said more council homes would help to support local economic growth, jobs and skills in the economy.

“Housing could be an effective driver for a renewed industrial strategy, but to achieve this we need to place local councils at the heart of delivery on housing need. That means the future government of whatever political make-up must provide the financial freedoms and flexibility for councils to deliver solutions to our chronic housing shortage.”

copied from Planning Portal website

 

 

How PiP differs from Outline Planning Permission & How LPAs can ensure the form of Development is Acceptable

Bit dry and uninteresting for many, but fascinating stuff to me 😎

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

A reserved matter to an outline planning permission is not a planning application but an application to discharge a planning condition on specified reserved matters.  The LPA has the power under the GPDO to refuse to determine the application without sufficient details (T&CP (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order, article 7 and the DMO (Wales) Order 2012, article 3).

One common issue is the means of access.  Highways authorities often refuse to determine applications without sitelines and a plan of the access point – so this is often included in applications with all other matters reserved.

Scale is one of the reserved matters.  However under well established principles of planning law reserved matters cannot abrogate the terms of the outline permission.  So if a description of development is ‘5 bungalows’ you have permission for 5 bungalows not 6 and not for two story houses.

PiPs have no such power of the…

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Conservative Manifesto Shifts from ‘Protect the Green Belt’ to Protect only ‘designated ..Greenbelt’

I’ve picked out the section below for two reasons. Firstly, the bit about higher density development, is both terrifying and depressing in equal measure.
Terrifying, because just as so much of the NPPF planning guidance we now operate under does , it contradicts the opening statement made at the start of of the paragraph.
Notwithstanding the statement about high quality architects working in this country, the volume builders in this country appear to be incapable of building high quality development and certainly not at high densities.
There are plenty of award winning schemes that have gained plaudits for all sorts of clever innovations, or fancy design ideas.
However, none of them seem to be built for real people, living real and often untidy, disorganised and sometimes slightly chaotic lives.
Neither do they cater for the real world when it comes to access to transport options, refusing to show the reality of housing estates overrun with cars, many of which will be parked with two wheels on the pavement, because all of the roads are too narrow for residents, on both sides, to park outside their properties.
Inside dwellings built in the UK, the story is little better, some of the small room sizes in the western world and certainly the smallest in Europe – the Japanese would be proud of us I’m told. Little or no thought for where people might need to store things and a continued lack of respect for buyers, with show homes that include bedrooms without wardrobes in them.
So, high quality, high density development, where people want to live is the ambition. Sorry, I’ve heard it all before and I haven’t seen it yet.
If all else fails, the developers will always play the viability card to undermine any attempt to require something they don’t want to do.

“More homes will not mean poor quality homes. For too long, careless developers, high land costs and poor planning have conspired to produce housing developments that do not enhance the lives of those living there. We have not provided the infrastructure, parks, quality of space and design that turns housing into community and makes communities prosperous and sustainable. The result is felt by many ordinary, working families. Too often, those renting or buying a home on a modest income have to tolerate substandard developments -some only a few years old -and are denied a decent place in which to live, where they can put down roots and raise children. For a country boasting the finest architects and planners in the world, this is unacceptable. We will build better houses, to match the quality of those we have inherited from previous generations. That means supporting high-quality, high-density housing like mansion blocks, mews houses and terraced streets.”

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Implying of course it can be dedesignated.  The wekaest Conservative Manifesto commitment on this issues since 1979.

Other takeaways

  • Keeping the weak 200,000 homes a year target for housebuilding
  • A new focus on high densities
  • It is clear from the manifesto commitment that the land value capture scheme is not restricted to brownfield – it refers to ‘urban regneration and development’
  • Mention of rebalencing housing growth across the coutry – omitted from Housing White Paper – consider this like the immigration pledge – met someday never without an horizen.

Here

We have not built enough homes in this country for generations, and buying or renting a home has become increasingly unaffordable. If we do not put this right, we will be unable to extend the promise of a decent home, let alone home ownership, to the millions who deserve it. We will fix the dysfunctional housing market so that housing…

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Local Authorities Doing Land Capture – Great but not Easy or Risk Free

Surely it’s never a great idea for such a radical scheme to be used in a piecemeal fashion? Government needs to demonstrates some real leadership and offers some national guidelines and a framework for this. Otherwise, councils are likely to see themselves being shunned by those wishing to develop, but only under the old rules of the game.
Indeed, would it not be better if all development was required to be delivered in this way nationally?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

This election will be the first in which all major parties propose some form of land capture in the housing market.  It is also historic in the sense that the generational interests of boomers owning homes are deemed less important than millennials shut out of the housing market.  The Conservative Party in particular no longer the ‘alliance of landed and business interests’ that Peel founded, landed interests take a back seat.

The Conservative proposal is essentially the same approach adopted in most European Countries such as the Netherlands, France and Germany, as well as in China and Singapore.  Local authorities buy land at close to existing use value, parcel it up some for social housing some for sale to housebuilders.  Housebuilders become more like car builders than land speculators.

Although this, at least in high value areas, can at a stroke resolve and replace the complications of CIL and planning gain…

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May to Use Land Value Capture to Build New Generation of Council Homes

At lat, the powers to do what councils do best, providing housing for those in need.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Sunday Times – Greater Ability to use CPO was included in the Taylor amendment to the Neighbourhood Planning Act – given royal assent just before purchase.  It would be little use however unless the Aquisition of Land Act and the land compensation code was amended to ensure the ‘alliterative scheme’ was at existing use value.  Tellingly there is nothing on value capture in the leaked Labour manifesto.  Over time such a scheme could create a rolling fund effectively paying for itself through reduced housing benefit.  The really radical approach would be to follow the IPPR approach of decentralising housing benefit and letting LAs capitalise future savings to build homes.  If adopted Healy would have nothing to say in terms of how labour would build more homes.

Theresa May will launch an audacious bid to woo Labour voters when she puts plans for a new generation of council homes for the…

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