Localism: 2014 And All That

Distaste for the Localism concept has been well-articulated by many developers and property industry consultants, some politicians, and a lot of councillors and council officers. The same arguments are likely to be repeated now we have a Localism Bill.

Assuming the measures become law, however, how might they look in, say, 2014?

I ask the question and use that timeframe, because if Localism does not achieve one of its key objectives - ensuring more homes are built - it is likely to be radically revised in the year leading up to the next general election, probably in 2015.

So how might Localism look by 2014? A few thoughts:

- Parishes and wards, most now electing one to three councillors to district and county authorities, will likely have created their own ‘community’ or parish councils to initiate, agree or respond to others’ suggestions for new homes. There will be elections and councillors;

- Political parties, which hitherto avoided parish councils to concentrate on more powerful district and county authorities, may do a volte-face and get involved at parish level because that is where the decisions are made and elections are held;

- The newly-empowered and possibly highly-political parishes will want experts to give professional, financial and legal advice when decisions are made. Is it not possible the councillors will then employ their own parish council planning and parish finance officers?;

- There might inevitably be rivalry between parishes, even adjoining ones, so these uber-local councils will be reluctant to share administrative teams or professional officers employed as they become larger and busier;

- The old district and county councils, meanwhile, will probably conform with the old adage that work expands to fill a vacuum. So, without districts and counties being abolished, they may remain in place.

You can see where this is leading, but I suspect you might agree that the scenario I spell out is not an impossible one – and probably not even an unlikely one.

If it all comes to fruition we could end up with the following:

- a local voice through parish councils but with a bureaucracy, a party political edge and a rivalry with neighbouring authorities, just as we have today with districts and counties;

- a total of three levels of local authority (parish-district-county) instead of the two which we currently believe to be duplicating and wasteful;

- empires being built by ambitious parish councillors, leading to slow decision-making and flip-flop policies because representatives are worried about their next election, just as district and county councillors are now.

Am I just a cynical hack in painting this picture, disregarding the undoubted enthusiasm of Grant Shapps and others who insist they are determined to avoid the mistakes of the past?

Well, I probably am. But let’s see what’s happening in 2014.

Oh, and let’s see how many new homes have been built.

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