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The Localism Act was introduced to Parliament in November 2011. This Act will shift power from central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils.

The government want to see a radical shift in the balance of power and to decentralise power as far as possible. Localism isn't simply about giving power back to local government. This Government trusts people to take charge of their lives and we will push power downwards and outwards to the lowest possible level, including individuals, neighbourhoods, professionals and communities as well as local councils and other local institutions.

  • for services which are used individually, this means putting power in the hands of individuals themselves
  • where services are enjoyed collectively, they should be delivered by accountable community groups
  • where the scale is too large or those using a service are too dispersed, they should be delivered by local institutions, subject to democratic checks and balances, enabled by full transparency.

The Localism Bill includes five key measures that underpin the Government's approach to decentralisation.

  • Community rights
  • Neighbourhood planning
  • Housing
  • General power of competence
  • Empowering cities and other local areas

More information is available on these measures is available from Communities and Local Government

The five key measures in the Localism Act

The Localism Act takes power from central government and hands it back to local authorities and communities - giving them the freedom and flexibility to achieve their own ambitions.

Different parts of the Act will come into effect at different times.

1. Community rights

New community rights will ensure that community organisations have a fair chance to bid to take over land and buildings that are important to them.

Every town, village or neighbourhood has buildings that play a vital role in local life. Using new community rights, local community and voluntary bodies, and parish councils, will be able to identify land and buildings that are important to them, such as a:

  • village shop
  • local pub
  • community centre
  • library

They can then nominate them for inclusion on a list of assets maintained by the local authority. If an asset on the list comes up for sale, communities will be able to trigger a pause for up to six months, in order to raise capital and bid to purchase the asset before it goes on the open market.

This will help local communities keep much-loved sites in public use and part of local life.

2. Neighbourhood planning

New rights will allow local communities to shape new development by coming together to prepare neighbourhood plans.

As it currently stands, the planning system doesn't give local communities enough influence over decisions that make a big difference to their lives. New rights in the Localism Act will mean local people can decide:

  • where new homes and businesses should go
  • what they should look like

Parish and town councils or, where they exist, neighbourhood forums will lead the creation of neighbourhood plans, supported by the local planning authority. Once written the plan will be independently examined and put to a referendum of local people for approval.

Neighbourhood plans will enable local people to ensure there are enough homes in their area by providing planning permission for homes in community ownership (particularly through the Community Right to Build). Town centre revitalisation, protection of green spaces, and regeneration through neighbourhood planning - local people will have genuine opportunities to influence the future of where they live.

3. Housing

The Localism Act will mean that more decisions about housing are taken locally, and the system is fairer and more effective.

Councils will get the flexibility to better manage their housing stock by adapting to meet local needs. Giving councils more discretion will create better long term outcomes for social tenants and the wider community.

The Localism Act will let councils decide:

  • how best to help homeless people
  • how to manage their housing waiting lists
  • the length of tenancy that best fits a household's needs

The Act will change the way social housing is funded to pass more power to a local level. Councils also will get back the control of the revenue raised by council rent. This more predictable and stable basis will enable them to plan long term investment and decide how best to spend the money in their area.

4. General power of competence

The general power of competence will give councils the green light to work in innovative ways.

Sometimes councils are wary of doing something new because they're not sure the law allows them to - even if they think it might be a good idea.

The Localism Act includes a 'general power of competence'. This gives local authorities the legal capacity to do anything an individual can do that isn't specifically prohibited; they will not, for example, be able to impose new taxes, as an individual has no power to tax.

Councils will be able to take action and get on with things they think will benefit their local area. The new power will give councils the freedom to:

  • work together to improve services
  • drive down costs
  • enhance their local area

Councils will be able to work creatively to meet local needs, without having to wait for agreement from the centre to get things done.

5. Empowering cities and other local areas

The Localism Act enables Ministers to transfer public functions to local authorities in order to improve local accountability or promote economic growth.

Our major cities need new powers to thrive. The Localism Act empowers major cities and other local authorities to:

  • develop their areas
  • improve local services
  • increase their competitiveness

These new powers were included in the Act at the request of the Core Cities group, representing the largest cities in England outside London (Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield).

We expect the powers to commence by April 2012, with different places accessing the powers over different timescales. Over the coming months, we imagine local partners will come up with innovative proposals for doing things differently, eg, in support of local enterprise partnerships. The Government has committed to listening to these proposals and, where appropriate, allowing use of the new powers to turn ideas into practical reality.

Note: This information is from the Communities and Local Government website.