The Localism Act
1. The Localism Bill went through many stages and was subject to many amendments but was eventually passed in November 2011. We will discuss certain aspects of this and its implications in later chapters, but briefly, the key elements were as follows:
Abolition of any form of regional spatial strategies – the Minister was already entitled to revoke existing strategies from 2012 under the Planning Act 2008.
2. Abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (a quango) so that decisions on major infrastructure proposals would in future be taken by Ministers and national policy statements would have to be approved by Parliament.
3. Local authorities were to be obliged to prepare and publish details of local development schemes, as well as annual reports on land supply and other targets.
4. Town and Parish Councils and local community groups could prepare neighbourhood development plans setting out policies for individual areas. These Councils could apply neighbourhood development orders which grant planning permission, or in their absence, local community groups could do the same.
5. Developers must consult on their proposals with those who live or occupy premises in the vicinity, and must then show in their applications how they have taken account of the views they receive.
6. Residents in a local area could promote referenda on social or environmental topics or issues if 50 per cent of the local population agrees, and the results would then have to be considered by the local authorities.
7. Increases in Council Tax above a ceiling set by the national government would have to be approved by a referendum of all voters in the relevant area. Residents or Community Councils could also apply for buildings of community value to be listed for protection to prevent their sale without agreement by the Council.
8. Mayors were to be given powers to create development corporations in 12 city areas in the north and midlands of England.
9. Council Leaders were to become 'shadow' Mayors, and a referendum in 2012 would decide whether the voters agree with their nomination.
Cities as Engines of Growth
Following on from the Localism Act's proposals for city development corporations and 'city mayors,' Nick Clegg's paper 'Unlocking Growth in Cities' (Clegg, 2011) was also concerned with devolving powers; this time to the largest cities. He envisaged cities as being 'major engines for growth' once the government could 'unlock their full potential' through 'a major shift in the powers available to local leaders and businesses to drive economic growth … and boost entire regions'. Greg Clark (DCLG junior minister,) described it as the basis of a new relationship between 'our largest cities and central Government' through a series of 'binding agreements which enable cities to negotiate the devolution of specific powers, resources and responsibilities required to meet locally-determined economic and social objectives' (Clark, Press Release, 2011).
The distinctiveness of the new Coalition Government's approach remained Localism, and a rejection of the central imposition of policy. One might be forgiven
for thinking the rhetoric is not unlike that of New Labour and its City Regions. City regions had originally been adopted by the Labour Government even though they had only agreed to the creation of two such regions in Greater Manchester and Leeds by the time they lost power. New Labour was heavily criticised for its over-reliance on central targets, and Clegg stressed that 'Every city is different', moving away from 'a one-size-fits-all model towards individual city deals.' In fact, Clegg's paper (Clegg, 2011) is only one of several Coalition policies for cities. It also refers to the Localism Act's possibility of creating directly elected mayors as the best form of leadership; another New Labour policy initiated in legislation in 2008. Marlow (2012) again points out that this possibility is in no way confined to the Core Cities group. Indeed, 'Leicester has already moved to an elected Mayor; Coventry will have a referendum; Leeds City Region could end up with up to three Mayors (Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield), or none.' Furthermore, Sunderland, although a similar size, was excluded from the initial process on what he regarded as spurious grounds.