Thursday, June 09, 2011

Localism in Action

There has been a lot of discussion, in political circles anyway, regarding Localism and what it means. A lot of this seems to be an attempt to provide a dictionary definition rather than anything to do with actual policy. From the perspective of a local Councillor, I have already seen the death of a great deal of government oversight and reporting, which frankly was a complete waste of time and money. So, I no longer have to sit and be lectured by government-appointed know-nothings from the Audit Commission on what's wrong with me, while the professional officers from the Council sit around me on overtime courtesy of the Council taxpayer.

However, the real change has been to the planning system. Now, this is a bit of a dry subject, which is why it gets little attention, but it is actually hugely important. Planning defines how communities develop and grow and for a dynamic place like Basildon Borough it is especially important. So, what's changed? Well the Regional Spatial Strategy, where a bunch of people who never set foot in Basildon decided how many homes we had to build, is history. Well, not quite. Some property developers have fought a rearguard action through the courts, but it is still a case of going, going, soon to be gone. Now, we decide how much housebuilding we need, via a streamlined Local Development Framework process. This used to mean sending documents off to the Government Office for the East of England, for another bunch of know-nothings to mark our work and send it back in a seemingly endless cycle of corrections and changes. Now, with Localism, we write the LDF and a central government inspector reviews it. The only result of this can be a yes or no: either it is accepted as a credible piece of work or rejected. This stops a Council producing a work of fantasy, ignoring population growth in order to appease the 'not one brick' brigade for example, but it stops the government from micro-managing local planning. The net effect is to cut years off the LDF process and to save hundreds of thousands of pounds of the Council's money.

Firing the empty suits who used to look over our shoulders must have saved a few bob too.

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