Telegraph writer gets Localism Bill wrong

Saturday’s Telegraph readers of the Property section will need to take a large pinch of salt when reading an article written by the Telegraph’s supposed awarding writer, Ian Cowie.

Mr Cowie suggests that last week’s Budget is on the whole beneficial to home owners.  This may well be true, but what isn’t true ,is what he has to say about the new powers the Localism Bill will give to those home owners.

He claims that, ‘……..the Localism Bill should give residents greater power to decide whether or not more fields and woods are bricked over to build new housing,……’  . 

Now I’m not sure what this chap got his award for, but it wasn’t for demonstrating any expert knowledge of what the government’s ambitions are when it comes to the planning system in this country – ambitions that don’t involve preventing house building!

Ian Cowie appears to have missed the bit in the Budget about the planning system being changed to encourage economic growth.  That encouragement will take the form of, as various government minister have taken pleasure in saying over the last 12 months, simplifying the system so as to make it far easier to build things.

So, whilst localism will give local people a say on the types of development that take place in their area, it will definately not give them any powers to prevent development if it has already been included in the council’s development plan for the area.  Nor will communites be able to stop development, and this is the worrying bit, because it has yet to be defined in any useable way, if it is considered sustainable.

Don’t just take my word for it, read the Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) response to the budget.  http://www.rtpi.org.uk/item/4477/23/5/3

Localism Bill – anything goes!

Personally, I’m still undecided about what benefits (if any) the Localism Bill will bring, especially given its inherent criticism of elected members.  How else are we to view the drive to introduce ‘local’ representation and neighbourhood forums populated by those who will not of stood for any form of election?

There is however, one bit of the bill that appears to be some sort of sop to those elected members who seem unable to present the views of their electorate without actually making those views their own.  I quote the text below.

Predetermination  

Clause 13  

(2) A decision-maker is not to be taken to have had, or to have appeared to have had, a closed mind when making the decision just because

(a) the decision-maker had previously done anything that directly or indirectly indicated  what view the decisionmaker took, or would or might take, in relation to a matter, and

(b) the matter was relevant to the decision.  This Clause needs to be read in conjunction with a statement issued by DCLG (http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/corporate/1768609) which says that:

These proposed legislative changes will mean councillors can be very clear and discuss freely their view and voting intention and publicise their views as they see fit.  However, councillors must be prepared to listen to arguments and evidence before making their decision.  These changes will reduce the threat of challenge.

I’ve no doubt some very clever lawyers at DCLG have drafted this clause to do exactly what the minister wanted it to – allow members to shoot their mouths off and get away with it!

Yes, very occasionally there will be issues that a person got themselves elected on and that it would be ludicrous to then exclude them from being involved in when it came to the debate and the subsequent voting process.  However, to suggest that, by simply producing the text above and make it the ‘law’, this changes completely the status of that members words in respect of pre-determination, is an insult to anybody who thinks they understand the English language.

The last paragraph especially demonstrates the nonsensical nature of this clause.

‘…….mean councillors can be very clear and discuss freely their view and voting intention and publicise their views……’

But then having done all of the above, ‘…..councillors must be prepared to listen to arguments and evidence before making their decision.’

I think they should change the word ‘prepared’ to pretend, because that it what somebody who has discussed and publicised freely, their view and voting intentions, will really be doing.

Worse still and hopefully an unintended negative effect of this clause, will be the pressure members will now come under to declare their view on an issue. It will no longer be acceptable to keep an open mind, listen to all the evidence, and maybe even put the case for those who have asked for your help, but then vote with your conscientious.  The public will now have the right to expect you to take a position or suffer the consequences.