- Does "Localism" stop with the District Council? - Mercury April 2012 

The Government is keen to promote “localism”. The intention is that local communities should be able to determine their future. To this end they are encouraging cities to elect mayors who will not just represent the city council on civic occasions, but also have a budget and executive powers. Just how this will work out in practice will be interesting. If the mayor combines the tasks of Council leader and council chief executive and directly controls the Council’s officers, this would not be a bad idea, but if the intention is to give one person autocratic power to over-ride the elected members of the Council, this is not the British tradition, and I can see difficulties.


Another aspect of “localism” concerns “neighbourhood plans”. The intention is to give local communities the opportunity to prescribe the planning policies which will apply to them. Neighbourhood Plans will have to comply with the District Council’s plan. A neighbourhood plan does not get automatically cancelled if the district planning authority progresses a new district plan which has policies which conflict with the Neighbourhood Plan. Both plans would then have to be considered by an impartial and independent government inspector at a public examination.


This is precisely the situation with the Interim Malton and Norton Neighbourhood Plan. This has been prepared by local people, including town councillors, and put out to public consultation by both Malton and Norton Town Councils, and both town Councils have adopted it with amendments made following the public consultation.


This Neighbourhood Plan differs from the new draft district plan in certain important respects. For example, the town councils want to limit new housing in the two towns to 1,000, whereas Ryedale wants to see 2,000 new houses (1,500 plus the 500 which have already been permitted but not yet built). Similarly, the Neighbourhood Plan rejects all proposals to redevelop Wentworth Street Car Park with a massive superstore, but supports a retail development on the Cattle Market with a very much smaller food hall.


The public examination into the draft Ryedale Plan is expected to take place before Christmas this year. However, Ryedale are doing the utmost to pre-empt this, clearly because it is in their vested financial interest to do so. That is why they rushed to sell Wentworth Street Car Park and have granted it planning permission now instead of waiting for the examination in public.


Fortunately, this decision has to be referred to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State can “call this matter in” and order a public enquiry. It will be interesting to see what he does. On the one hand, the “localism” policy means more power to district councils and less interference from national government. On this basis, the chances of call-in might not be good. On the other hand, the town councils have provided their own vision of the future in the form of the Neighbourhood Plan. So the issue before the Secretary of State is whether “localism” means that National Government should abdicate responsibility for this decision and leave it in the hands of Ryedale, or should give the local community the opportunity to be heard at a public enquiry.


The question is: where does “localism” stop? Does it stop with the District or with the local community? If with the local community, how is National Government going to enforce “localism”?   



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