Bound for scrutiny in the Lords andpossibly due for Royal Assent this year, one of the coalition’s flagship policies, the Localism Bill, is on its way to giving Eric Pickles andGreg Clark at Whitehall an important policy victory. The Bill’s central themes of power devolution to local councils and local community empowerment are intended to give local communities greater control over housing and planning decisions and fix the current planning system that has been labelled as ‘too centralised’ and ‘bureaucratic’. Big aims for the Government’s Big Society.
However, scrutiny in the House of Commons sought to ground the Localism objectives in practical reality and exposed a number of issues that suggest the path to Royal Assent will not be without its share of problems. Initial concerns for the protection of the nation’s heritage were raised by English Heritage when Schedule 12 of the Bill disapplied the provisions of Sections 66 and 72 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and Sections 12 and 13 of the Ancient Monument and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. These provisions have since been re-instated and the Bill amended, but they highlight concerns that the Bill has not been thoroughly thought through.
In theory the value local communities place on their heritage should ensure a strong position for the historic environment in the Localism agenda. Neighbourhood Plans offer the opportunity for charities and advisory bodies to engage and support local communities to promote and utilise their heritage. Local Authorities will be under a duty to provide support for communities who want to produce Neighbourhood Plans and the Government intend to provide funds over the next two years for charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to provide independent advice. However, provisions for the historic environment continue to be under-resourced and are unlikely to prosper in times of public sector austerity.
Edward Youngson, Planning Archaeologist