24 June 2011

What will localism mean?

The Kingston upon Thames Society is interested in all aspects of the physical environment and so it is natural that we would want to consider the impact of the localism bill on planning.

Our knowledgeable guide for the evening was Peter Eversden, Chairman of the London Forum, the umbrella organisation of civic societies in Greater London, who has been involved in the discussions around the bill.

The word localism has entered common usage but its exact meaning has yet to be defined, and the bill does not change that. It merely sets in place a broad framework and the detailed will be added by subsequent regulations.

One of the aims is to delegate planing decisions. This means the abolition of regional development plans, though London will be an exception. One of the unfilled details is how the decision making powers will be shared between the Mayor, Local Authorities and localities.

Localities, whatever they are, will be able to make their own local plans that the Local Authority will have to follow, as long as they are consistent with the LA's plans and are approved in a referendum.

An issue here is the scope of the locality. For example, it could be Kingston Town, North Kingston, Canbury and Riverside or Royal Park Gate, where each one is a subset of the previous.

The balance of proof will move in favour of development, i.e. there will need to be a reason to reject an application rather than a reason to approve it.

This is the sort of thing that makes Kingston Society members uncomfortable. I suspect that most of them (myself included) live in house that we would campaign against being built. In my case I wanted the factory to remain for employment but the big fears now are garden-grabbing and unsympathetic extensions, despite the fact that it is other residents that want these developments and building them boosts both the housing stock and local economy.

I appreciate, and generally agree with, the ideas behind the localism bill but am worried that it will add more tensions to what is already an adversarial process by pitting developers against residents and one locality against another.

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