The Government has today published the Localism Bill, which sets out its plans for decentralisation. Key measures of interest to businesses are:
- Reforming the Community Infrastructure Levy to require some funds to be passed to neighbourhoods, enable money to be used for ongoing as well as initial costs of infrastructure, and give local authorities greater control over charging levels;
- Allowing communities to develop neighbourhood plans;
- Confirming abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies;
- Confirming abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission, placing decisions on major infrastructure applications with ministers and ensuring parliamentary approval for National Planning Statements;
- Removing some of the Planning Inspectorate’s powers over local plans;
- Placing a duty to co-operate on planning matters on local authorities and other public bodies;
- Requiring developers to consult on large developments with local communities before submitting a planning application;
- Creating a community right to build, subject to some safeguards and a local referendum;
- Strengthening local planning authorities’ capacity for enforcement;
- Allowing local authorities to grant discretionary business rate discounts;
- Making it easier to take advantage of small business tax breaks;
- Giving businesses a greater say in decisions over business rate supplements;
- Referenda on directly elected mayors for the 12 biggest English cities, including Newcastle. Current council leaders will be designated ‘Shadow Mayors’, with a referendum taking place in May 2012, followed by elections a year later in the event of a ‘yes’ vote;
- General power of competence for local authorities, allowing them to do anything which is not specifically prohibited by law;
- Clarifying rules on ‘predetermination’ to enable councillors to vote on issues (such as planning applications) which they have previously campaigned on.
Fuller details can be seen here.
The changes to powers over business taxation will be welcomed, though it remains to be seen how many councils take up the option of business rate discounts given the financial squeeze they are undergoing. NECC also believes there remains a need to clarify how businesses will be involved in agreeing local Community Infrastructure Levy schemes. We have concerns over the measures on planning, which have the potential to add delay and uncertainty to the system and give succour to NIMBYism (although the Government has acknowledged this concern and believes tax incentives for local areas backing development will help overcome it). NECC will be meeting local planning authorities in January to discuss the potential implications in the North East.
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