Localism has gone quiet of late. Eric Pickles has made few provocative statements about NIMBYs recently, and Grant Shapps is infrequently seen on Twitter these days.
Some in the Westminster Village say that is because Localism is on its way - the bill becomes law this year - while others speculate that the stubbornly low number of housing starts and completions (low at least in relation to those that are needed to meet demand) has put the jobs of Pickles and Shapps on the line. The summer reshuffle will show if that latter suggestion has any weight.
But 200 miles from the Houses of Parliament, in a normally-sleepy part of Devon, there is an example of what might happen when the Localism bill becomes law and local referenda may take place to consider whether planning applications are agreed.
In Brixham - it’s a fishing port close to Torquay - a proposed referendum on plans to build a new Tesco store has been scrapped. It was to have taken place in late March and would have cost a cool £10,000 to organise by the local council....with council tax payers footing the bill, naturally.
The poll was abandoned because some residents threatened to take the referendum proposal to judicial review - after all, the Localism bill is not law yet, so this poll was an ‘idea’ rather than a mandatory step in the planning process. But the brouhaha throws up some interesting thoughts which will be relevant when Localism is the law of the land:
- will councils really want to hold referenda if their cost, even in small localities, would be five figures?
- will cash-strapped planning authorities try to get applicants to foot the bill for such polls?
- will the delay inherent in referenda (the Brixham example would have taken three months from start to finish, had it taken place) really help speed planning decisions?
This may be a taste of what is to come under Localism.
Just because the bill becomes law, it does not mean that the controversy over whether it is good or bad, or whether it will help or hinder, the building of more homes, is likely to go on.
It will be interesting to see if that persuades Pickles and Shapps to put their heads back up above the parapet.
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