CLG Director Richard McCarthy spoke to the Academy of Urbanism end of year review, setting out some of the Coalition government’s thinking behind the Localism Bill that was announced at the beginning of the same week. Clearly not all the processes and criteria are fully thought through yet, with some elements to follow as national policy documents, but a great deal of work has been done in a short time.
As a lifelong supporter of community engagement, it is hard to fault the aspirations of some of the key elements, challenging top-down strategy and default policy culture (not least by civil servants). I even proposed something like the new Neighbourhood Development Orders myself, some years ago, but was considered bonkers.
However, we also need to be honest about the risk scenarios that lie ahead, including the appropriation of such a devolved system by influential anti-change NIMBYs, who often struggle psychologically to appreciate the implications of doing nothing, especially on those less able, or with fewer life choices than themselves. If however, localism means local people and institutions genuinely taking on wider responsibilities for the whole of their community, including in-migrants, the elderly and the young, then things could perhaps improve. Open processes are not enough. Outcomes matter too.
My current worry is that some local groups and institutions have only a limited grasp of the true scale of the housing needs crisis (and the homelessness that is continually building up), and therefore have only minimal drive to forge ahead with the housing that it is acknowledged is required. It will be interesting to observe whether any of the so-called incentives make a difference.
On balance, it is surely not enough to engage communities in the planning, design and development processes; rather it is essential to help educate all on the implications of different decisions, so that we avoid taking decisions from too narrow a perspective.