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Sustainable Communities Act

Page history last edited by Hugh 12 years, 8 months ago

See also

 

The Sustainable Communities Bill was introduced to Parliament as a Private Members Bill. It is the result of a five year campaign led by a coalition of organisations under the banner Local Works. Local Works name 85 national supporting organisations reflecting a very wide constituency.

 

The Sustainable Communities Act aims to promote the sustainability of local communities. It begins from the principle that local people know best what needs to be done to promote the sustainability of their area, but that sometimes they need central government to act to enable them to do so. It provides a channel for local people to ask central government to take such action. It is also a new way for local authorities to ask central government to take action which they believe would better enable them to improve the economic, social or environmental well-being of their area. This could include a proposal to transfer the functions of one public body to another.

 

The scope of the Act is very broad, covering economic, social and environmental issues. It does not limit the type of action that could be put forward, provided the action is within that broad scope. It is for local people to decide what they think needs to be done to promote the sustainability of their area.

 

The Act is designed to strengthen the role of communities. It provides a simple process by which the ideas generated by local communities are fed through their local authority and a body known as the “selector” (which we envisage will be the LGA) to central government. As it will not be possible for all suggestions to be put direct to central government, local authorities and the selector will have a “short-listing” role. The government will consult the selector and try to reach agreement on which of the proposals on the short-list should be implemented. The government will respond to all of the suggestions that are short-listed by the selector and will publish an action plan setting out how it will take forward the suggestions that it adopts.

 

As well as enabling local communities and local authorities to make suggestions for government action, the Sustainable Communities Act also ensures that communities are better informed about the public funding that is spent in their area. New “Local Spending Reports” will provide quick and easy access to information about where public money is spent. This will enable local authorities, their partners and communities to take better informed decisions about the priorities they choose to pursue to promote the sustainability of their local community.

 

(Act discussed here on Harringay Online).

 

The Contents below are copied from localworks.org

 

Introduction

 

On 23rd October 2007 the Sustainable Communities Act became law with full cross party support. Local Works,  a coalition of over 90 national organisations, had campaigned for 5 years to see this happen. This was a great victory and provides significant new opportunities for communities and their councils.

 

The Act sets up a new process where local communities and their local authorities (including county councils) can drive central government policy and action on reversing community decline and promoting local sustainability. So it is NOT another meaningless consultation exercise.

 

The Act also requires central government to publish local spending reports which will be a breakdown of all public money spent (local and national) by local area. Local authorities (including county councils) then have the power to argue for a transfer of specific monies and function from central to local control.

 

How the Act Works

 

The Act impacts on central government. The aim of the process is to make government do more to help promote sustainable communities. Sustainable communities are defined in that Act as having 4 categories:

1. local economies, e.g. promoting local shops, local businesses, local public services and local jobs

2. environment, e.g. promoting local renewable energy, protecting green spaces

3. social inclusion, e.g. protecting local public services and alleviating fuel poverty and food poverty

4. democratic involvement, e.g. promoting local people participating in local decision making

 

So, relevant proposals made by a community or a local authority are ones that a) fall under one of the above 4 categories, and b)  are areas in which central government can help.

 

Note: in the Act ‘local authorities’ includes county councils

 

 

Double Devolution

The Act sets up what is called a ‘double devolution’ process so that local people can drive central government action to promote sustainable communities. This means that:

 

1. The Act gives the government a legal duty to ‘assist local authorities in promoting the sustainability of local communities’. Councils will be invited to make proposals to central government as to how it can help them promote the sustainability of local communities. So it is local authorities, not the government, that are in the driving seat as to what the government must do.

 

2. The Act specifies that local authorities cannot make suggestions to central government without involving ‘local people’. Councils must set up (or recognise if they already exist) ‘panels of representatives of local people’ – which must include people from usually under-represented groups: ethnic minorities, young people, older people, tenants etc.

 

Why this is NOT consultation

The new process in the Act is NOT just another meaningless consultation exercise. The Act sets up a double devolution process where local authorities must ‘reach agreement’ with proposals made by their communities via the citizens’ panels. Government must ‘co-operate’ and ‘reach agreement’ with the Local Government Association who will represent all the proposals that are made by local authorities. This form of decision-making is new and unprecedented in law and is why the Act has real teeth. So please get involved, see how below.

Local Spending Reports

Government must publish local spending reports that will provide a breakdown by local area of all public spending (i.e. central and local). This ‘opening of the books’ has never been done before and is likely to generate much debate as central agencies and quangos have to show how their money is spent locally.

Local authorities can use these spending reports to then argue for the transfer of specific monies and their related functions from central to local control. Once under local control these new resources and powers could be used to promote local shops, local jobs, local services like Post Offices, local food etc.

 

Timescale

 

October 2008: Central government invites local authorities (district, borough, city, unitary and county) to ‘opt in’ to make proposals on how central government can help promote local sustainability.

 

Councils that do opt in must then set up citizens’ panels and must ‘reach agreement’ (again, this is NOT just another consultation exercise) with local people, regarding the proposals on promoting local sustainability that local authorities will ultimately submit to central government. This is the point where proposals on e.g. defending Post Offices and other local services, promoting local jobs and businesses can be made by communities.

 

April 2009: Central government must publish the local spending reports containing detailed accounts of all public money spent (by local and central government), broken down by local area.

 

October 2009: The whole process is expected to re-occur on an annual basis. Councils that did not opt in to the first round will now have a chance to do so.

 

 

Things the Act could help communities achieve

 

Here are some examples of what the Act could be used to help communities achieve:

 

  • Keeping essential community services like Post Offices open.
  • Promoting small businesses by increasing the rate relief they receive.
  • Forcing large out of town superstores to pay local domestic rates on their huge car parks.
  • Promoting local renewable energy, e.g. by removing the restrictive barriers relating to the local grid.
  • Promoting local food and other products, e.g. by giving rate relief to businesses that earn 50% of their turnover from selling local food and goods.

 

Action! – please get involved

 

1. Lobby your council to opt in. It is absolutely crucial that councils hear loud and clear from their communities that they should choose to opt in to this new process. So please write to your councillors asking them to “please opt in to the new Sustainable Communities Act process when invited by Government to do so in October”, so that they and your community can make the most of the opportunities created by this Act. If you can write to the leader and deputy leader of your council asking them the same thing that would be great

 

(Note: you can find out who your council leaders and councillors are by calling your council or checking on your local authority website.)

 

2. Make this public! – write to your local paper, local newsletters, tell friends and colleagues about this new Act and urge them to also write to their councillors in the same way as above asking them to choose to opt in.

 

3. Help spread the word - Please contact Local Works if you can help distribute leaflets on the Act or help organise a promotional meeting in your area.

 

4. Get involved in your citizens’ panel that your council must set up when it decides to opt in (October 2008). You can:

a)       Be a representative on the citizens’ panel (you will have a better chance if you get other people and organisations to nominate you), or

b)       Put forward proposals to the citizens’ panel on what central government can do to promote local sustainability (as defined in the Act).

Note: details on how to apply to be a panel representative and how to put proposals to your citizens’ panel will be available from your council once they choose to ‘opt in’.

How to Guide

 

Part 1. Worried about...

 

WORRIED ABOUT:

NO LOCAL JOBS OR BUSINESSES?

NO AFFORDABLE HOUSING?

YOUR POST OFFICE CLOSING?

NO LOCAL POLICE STATION?

LOCAL SHOPS AND PUBS CLOSING?

TRAFFIC WRECKING QUIET STREETS?

POLLUTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE?

LACK OF LOCAL HEALTHY FOOD?

NO BUSES / OLDER PEOPLE ABANDONED?

DOCTORS, DENTISTS & HOLSPITALS CLOSING?

NOW YOU CAN FIGHT BACK!

 

A new law gives you, your neighbours and friends power to tell Government how to help you stop your community declining.

The 3 MPs, David Drew (Labour), Nick Hurd (Conservative) and Julia Goldsworthy (Lib Dem) that lead the cross party campaign for the Act in Parliament have said:

This is not just another consultation. This Act gives you power to protect and enhance your community, we urge you to use it.

On 23 October 2007 the Sustainable Communities Act became law. It is a remarkable piece of legislation: for the first time we have an Act of Parliament that discards the usual top-down decision making and also the nonsense that ‘consultation’ by the government is somehow empowering (when the opposite is the case as most people know).

 

This Act is special because it establishes for the first time a co-operative method of decision making, so that all the decisions are no longer made at the centre.

It is an Act that can empower citizens and will give effect to what the sponsors argued for the 5 years of the campaign that:

citizens and councils are the experts on their own problems and the solutions to them

 

It is, as Government Minister Phil Woolas told the House of Commons on 15 June 2007 one of the most important such Acts in the last 40 years because as he said: ‘I genuinely believe that it will change the relationships in British politics’.

The Act gives you power over decisions which affect your life.

This guide explains how it can help you fight back against the problems stated above!

 

Part 2. Sounds too good to be true?

 

People everywhere will know better than us what is needed in their area.

 

Indeed, our philosophy has been that local communities are the experts on their own problems – and the solutions to them. Not central government. It follows, therefore, that we too cannot dictate the solutions.

 

But we can:

- give guidance on the procedure to adopt so that your ideas have the best chance of being implemented (see Part 4)

- indicate some ideas that have come up at the public meetings that we held when campaigning for the Act.

 

These ideas may apply in your area or they may not. They are examples only: You’ll have the best answers.

Below is the 'Schedule' (or 'Section 2') in the Sustainable Communities Act. It contains ideas and suggestions of what local people and councils could ask central government to help promote locally. Remember, the ideas in the Schedule are not prescriptive, they are just suggestions.

 

SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES ACT SCHEDULE

Matters to which Local Authorities must have regard

1 The matters referred to in section 2 are—

(a) the provision of local services,

(b) the extent to which the volume and value of goods and services that are—

(i) offered for sale; or

(ii) procured by public bodies and are produced within 30 miles (or any lesser distance as may be specified by a local authority in respect of its area) of their place of sale or of the boundary of the public body,

(c) the rate of increase in the growth and marketing of organic forms of food production and the local food economy,

(d) measures to promote reasonable access by all local people to a supply of food that is adequate in terms both amount and nutritional value,

(e) the number of local jobs,

(f) measures to conserve energy and increase the quantity of energy supplies which are produced from sustainable sources within a 30 mile radius of the region in which they are consumed,

(g) measures taken to reduce the level of road traffic including, but not restricted to, local public transport provision, measures to promote walking and cycling and measures to decrease the amount of product miles,

(h) the increase in social inclusion, including an increase in involvement in local democracy,

(i) measures to increase mutual aid and other community projects,

(j) measures designed to decrease emissions of greenhouse gases,

(k) measures designed to increase community health and well being,

(l) planning policies which would assist with the purposes of this Act, including new arrangements provision of affordable housing, and

(m) measures to increase the use of local waste materials for the benefit of the community.

2 In this Schedule the following terms shall have the following meanings—

“local services” includes, but is not restricted to, retail outlets, public houses, banks, health facilities, hospitals and pharmacies, legal services, social housing, post offices, schools, public eating places, leisure facilities and open spaces;

“local food economy” means a system of producing, processing and trading primarily organic forms of food production, where the activity is largely contained in the area or region where the food was produced;

“local jobs” mean—

(a) jobs in companies or organisations that in the opinion of the appropriate authority will spend significant proportion of their turnover in the locality of the place of operation; and

(b) jobs which are held by people living within 30 miles of that job;

“mutual aid” means actions or initiatives by people in the community to improve services or provisions themselves and other persons in the community;

“product miles” means the total distance produce is transported from the place of growth or production place of consumption;

“social inclusion” means the opportunity for all people resident in any area to play an equal role social and civic life of the area;

“local democracy” means the ability to participate, by means of voting at elections or otherwise, decision making that is as local as practicable to people’s place of residence;

“community health and well-being” means the degree to which persons resident in an area identify with that area and receive an increased quality of life as a result of the nature and the environment of the area.

 

Part 3. So how can this Act help us?

SO HOW CAN THIS ACT HELP US PROTECT OUR POST OFFICES, SHOPS, PUBS, LOCAL JOBS, HOUSING AND IMPROVE OUR COMMUNITY?

Local Jobs and Housing: Let’s start with two basic issues that, if dealt with, could generate the local activity needed to keep shops, post offices, pubs and other local facilities open.

Local Jobs and economic activity: How the Act can help:

Here are some ideas you could put to your citizens’ panel.

Somewhere near you there may be a large ‘out of town’ supermarket (or other superstore) with perhaps 1,000 car parking spaces. Did you know that the store does not have to pay non domestic business rates on those spaces? You could compare this with the position faced by local shops of having their trade affected by yellow lines and parking costs. Point out that this is not a level playing field for trade. So why not suggest the following idea to your local panel, urging them to make it one of the suggestions to be put to the Secretary of State (SoS).

That the Secretary of State takes the power (or gives local authorities the power) to levy non domestic rates on all those car parking spaces – with a power for the council to allow discounts (perhaps up to 100%) if the supermarket, or other store, sources a stated percentage of goods for sale locally.

The effect of this could be enormous: a boost for local farms and small businesses creating local jobs and economic activity. If that idea was put to the SoS by a large number of councils the requirement to ‘try to seek agreement’ would make it even more difficult for the Secretary of State to decline to at least reach a compromise position.

Or take the situation faced by the growing number of small brewers, in both rural and urban areas. A nearby pub (say half a mile away), that might wish to buy their products might be owned by a pub company (many are) which might require the beer to be transported 50 miles to a depot before being sent back to the pub. So the beer is travelling 100 miles when it should travel less than one. You could point out that this puts up the price of beer, causes noise and environmental damage because of extra traffic, and restricts the possibility of growth (and so jobs) by the brewery. So why not suggest the following idea to your local panel, urging them to make it one of the suggestions to be put to the SoS.

That the Secretary of State either takes steps to prevent this kind of requirement or gives local authorities the power to take such steps themselves e.g. using planning or by charging the pub company for the environmental damage their practices are causing.

This could lead to easier expansion by small brewers and more local jobs.

Another local job creation (and CO2 reduction!) policy would be to remove the hurdles to local energy generation schemes. Woking Borough Council have managed to do this to an extent – with the result that they have provided cheaper electricity, less CO2 emissions, local jobs and a ‘cash surplus’ that has been invested in local projects. But requirements relating to ‘private wires’ (as distinct from the national grid) still hamper progress. A report (REvision 2020) produced for the south-western government region and regional assembly in 2005 shows that local energy generation could produce 7,000 jobs.

A report (Green Alchemy) produced by the London Development Agency in 2003 showed that local energy generation would produce 7,000 jobs in London. So why not suggest the following idea to your local panel, urging them to make it one of the suggestions to be put to the SoS.

That the SoS develops a strategy to enable councils to promote local energy schemes, and in particular reviews the requirements

regarding private wire systems.

Other ideas, some of which have been suggested by the recent report of the Rural Advocate in 2007, published by the Commission for Rural

Communities, are

· That the Secretary of State should require all Regional Development Agencies to set up a standing recovery fund to help small businesses

· That the ceiling for rate relief for small businesses is raised by increasing the eligible rateable value

· That the Secretary of State should help councils’ local food strategies, in order to encourage the development of local food industries/ agriculture.

· That a ‘jobs from local waste’ strategy should be drawn up by the government in conjunction with local authorities and implemented.

Protecting and creating local housing: How the Act can help.

An idea that came up repeatedly at our public meetings when campaigning for the Act was the issue of second or holiday homes. Time and time again we were told of towns and villages where the high proportion of second homes was destroying their community and causing the decline of local shops, as the areas are, literally, Ghost Towns for most of the year. Indeed this is not only a village or small town problem. A recent survey showed that one fifth of second homes are in London In order to combat this why not suggest the following idea to your local panel, urging them to make it one of the suggestions to be put to the SoS.

That local authorities are given the power (e.g. via the planning system or via penal council tax) to prevent further holiday homes, thus making more local housing available for people to live in 12 months per year.

Or you could suggest…

· That your local panel suggests in its submission to the SoS that Statutory powers are given to non profit-making Community Land Trusts, which provide low cost housing for local people,

· That the government should remove capital gains tax reduction from the sale of second homes,

· That councils are given the power to create a separate fund for the revenue raised from council tax on second homes to be used for reinvestment in local affordable housing needs.

· That the SoS sets targets for investment in areas where lack of local housing is an issue. The achievement of these targets could be achieved by an increase in the funding allocations made by Regional Housing Boards.

· Your local authority is given extra powers to deal with the problem of lack of local affordable housing, as it sees fit.

· Government action to help housing co-ops, self-build schemes and bringing empty property into use.

 

Part 4. From Ideas to Action

Using the Act to Make Your Ideas Work

In Parts 2 and 3 of this guide we give some examples of the kind of ideas that might enable people to re-invigorate their communities. You’ll have many more. But ideas are not enough. The real issue is – how can you get the government to actually implement the suggestions that you make.

To achieve that, an understanding of the Act is needed. In a nutshell the Act sets up what is called a ‘double devolution’ process. That means that:

-The Act gives the government a legal duty to ‘assist local authorities in promoting the sustainability of local communities’. Local authorities will be invited to make suggestions to the Secretary of State (SoS) – i.e. the government – as to how it can help them. It’s your council that is in the driving seat as to what the government must do.

-The Act specifies that your council cannot make its suggestions to the SoS without involving ‘local people.’ The way this is done is also specified: councils must set up ‘panels of representatives of local people’ – which must include people from usually under-represented groups: ethnic minorities, young people, older people, tenants etc.

Getting your ideas accepted

Step 1. Ensure your council ‘opts in’. As explained councils are ‘invited’ to submit suggestions to central government – not required to, as we did not want to put any further centrally imposed duties on councils.

They should be answerable to local people – YOU – not the government.

So make them answerable – see the article opposite on how to ensure that your council ‘opts in’ to the opportunities created by this Act.

Step 2. So you’ve got an idea? Check that it is covered by the Act. The Act defines promoting the sustainability of local communities as: encouraging the economic, social or environmental wellbeing of an area and social wellbeing is defined to include ‘participation in civic and political activity’.

These 4 limbs of sustainability – economic, social, environmental and participation – give wide scope for ideas. Saving post offices, shops, pubs etc are clearly included; as is promoting local jobs and businesses; reducing pollution and preventing climate change; and alleviating poverty and food or fuel poverty. But so, under ‘participation’, are devolving power to communities and parish councils – and promoting proportional representation!

Step 3. Use the ‘schedule’ for ideas and inspiration. The schedule to the Act (see page 2) ‘fleshes out’ the definition. If you can link your suggestions to a provision in the schedule, then your council has a duty to consider them. But don’t worry if you can’t: the schedule is NOT exclusive. Providing your ideas are covered by one of the ‘four limbs’ in Step 2 you can use the Act to promote them.

Step 4. Drum up support. In your community: The more people and organisations support the idea, the more likely it is to influence the ‘local panels’ (see Step 5 below). Outside your community: If the same idea is put forward by many communities to their own councils it is more likely to be ‘short listed’ for action (see below) and it will be more difficult for the SoS to reject it.

Step 5. Lobby your local panel. For your idea to be one of those put forward to the government. Your council must allow local people to easily access the local panels. In addition you could try to become a member of the local panel. Get other people and organisations to nominate you. Ask your council for details of how to do this.

Why bother? Isn’t this another useless consultation?

NO! The Sustainable Communities Act is not another consultation! It is about a wholly new way of decision-making: co-operation. Councils have a legal duty to ‘try to reach agreement’ with the panels re your ideas.

Note those words – ‘try to reach agreement’: this is NOT consultation in which all decisions are made at the centre: instead councils have a legal duty to co-operate with panels of local people in deciding which suggestions to make to the SoS as to how s/he can help reverse community decline. And don’t worry if your ideas are not included: this is NOT a one-off process. It will be repeated, so try again next time.

What happens next?

Councils’ suggestions will need to be prioritised; as there could be large numbers (if every council put forward just 5 ideas, there would be nearly 2,000). This will NOT be done by the government but by the body representing all councils – the Local Government Association (LGA) – in co-operation with the government. And, finally, the government has to try to reach agreement with the LGA on the suggestions that will be acted on. Again: note those words – try to reach agreement. Again: the Act provides for bottom-up co-operation not top-down consultation.

Timescale

The first invitation to councils by the SoS will go out in September/October 2008. So you can start lobbying your council to opt in and set up local panels then – or in advance to ensure that they are ready. Good luck!

 

Part 5. Why should councils get involved?

ISN'T IT ALL A HASSLE?

Why should councils get involved?

As explained in earlier parts of this guide, there is no requirement on councils to ‘opt in’ to the processes in the Act. They simply have the power to do so.

So why should they get involved (as we strongly believe they should), when it involves setting up local panels, and then trying to reach agreement with them? Is this not just one more hassle for hard-pressed officers?

Seven reasons why councils should ‘opt in’:

1. Help from government: Community decline is happening everywhere.

This Act gives government a legal duty ‘to assist local authorities in promoting the sustainability of local communities’. So by ‘opting in’ councils are signing up to receive that ‘assistance’.

2. Power to determine that assistance: The Act also gives local authorities (and their representative body, the Local Government

Association) power to determine the nature of the assistance that they receive from government, as explained opposite.

3. New powers for local authorities: The assistance could involve new powers being given to local authorities.

4. Strength in numbers: By opting in, local authorities can act together to put in proposals to government supported by their colleagues elsewhere, so making it harder for the government to refuse to act on them.

5. Transferring functions and money from central to local control:

The Act also enables councils to request the transfer of functions from government or government agencies to themselves. As decisions on these requests must be made by the Local Government Association

(LGA) and the SoS trying to reach agreement, this can be used to regain from government control, powers and spending that affect local areas.

6. Access to spending information: The requirement in the Act for the government to ‘open the books’ re money spent locally by government departments and agencies will mean that councils will know how much extra money they can get if they push for a transfer of functions.

7. Democratic involvement: Politicians talk about lack of public involvement in democracy. The recent Power report showed that the more people think that their involvement matters, the more they are likely to get involved. The very ‘hassle’ required by this Act (reaching agreement with local panels) empowers citizens, and so is a way of increasing citizen involvement.

What if my council decides not to ‘opt in’?

Challenge this. Ask them, for instance, is their refusal because:

There is no community decline in their area? If so – get the evidence and challenge this.

There is community decline but the council does not need help to deal with it. If so – challenge this using the evidence of decline from the past few years. Remind your council that the sustainability of local communities includes rectifying democratic dis-involvement and ask them – ‘are they really happy with the amount of citizen involvement in political activities?’

Because if not, the Act gives them a chance to rectify this.

It’s all too much hassle? Ask them – are rectifying community decline and promoting citizen empowerment simply ‘hassle?’

They don’t believe the Act provides the opportunities that we claim. If so point out that for the first time central government is required by law to ‘co-operate’ and ‘try to reach agreement’ with the LGA; that councils by law have to ‘try to reach agreement’ with local panels. This is NOT the language of consultation – it is entirely new language in law. It gives councils a new opportunity to involve people on a very different basis.

This Act gives citizens the chance to influence government actions to help their communities. Local authorities must not get in the way of that. Point out that the ‘it won’t work; it’s not worth the effort’ approach is a ‘cynics charter’ – whereby nothing new is ever tried. And that by adopting that attitude your council/councillor is part of the problem, not the solution.

Tell them that they can’t have it both ways: either lack of involvement is a problem – and so worth the effort to reverse it: or it is not a problem – and they are content with the current low level of public engagement in democracy (let them dare say that!).

And above all – join with other citizens to say this publicly. For whereas our campaign was sympathetic to the ‘no new centrally-imposed duties’ views of councils, we are NOT sympathetic to inaction re involving local people.

If your Council or councillor wants to be inactive

– MAKE THEM ANSWERABLE LOCALY!

 

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