I’m struggling to see any point to the Government’s localisation agenda. For example it makes sense to me for local councils to make planning decisions. They are responsibile for local housing, employment, transport and leisure; they manage the local income and expenditure and they’re democratically accountable – planning is one of the few local issues which can get the voters out.
Who gains by giving smaller, less accountable forums a role? Who pays for local forums and referendums? Where does professional and legal advice come from? What’s the advantage in a more complex and patchy planning system?
The same goes for their housing proposals, particularly the new Flexible Tenancy. We’ll end up with some councils using it and some not. Within council areas some Housing Associations will use it and some won’t. The sector’s incoherent enough without another layer of difference.
Commonly different housing associations own neighbouring properties. Currently the tenants pay somewhat different rent, get a different repairs service, have different transfer opportunities and have head offices in different cities. Soon they may have very different rents, security and right-to-buy. This won’t impresses people when they’re living next door to each other in identical properties allocated to them at the same time for similar reasons by the same council.
I think ‘localisation’ is a cynical approach by the Government. It’s cheap – any costs will be born by local councils. It’ll go through the legislation process because no-one really cares, so they’ll get some token successes. It’s meaningless, so it won’t do much damage.
I do have one serious concern about the planning proposals though. They’re clearly pitched at parish councils, which don’t exist in cities. There’s an obvious risk in rural and semi-rural areas these will decide “no more building EVER!” and kill any chance of desperately needed new social housing.