Contributed by Dr Angerla Drakakis-Smith
Although it relates directly to communities, most will not have heard of this Act. And perhaps it is as well since it raises false expectation that somehow communities can influence and conduct their own affairs. Possibly they could under different bureaucratic arrangements. So for the time being we have the ‘appearance’ of a new system operating under de facto old and long-established systems of power and control. Indeed, local authorities are tasked by national government to ‘manage’ local expectation.
As part of this Act, local authorities were requested to ‘encourage local communities to come forward with ideas and proposals to promote the sustainability of their local area’. The actual task requested by national government was to invite local communities to suggest changes they would like to see to national policy or new policy which the government could implement in order to help sustain local communities. One might have expected a stampede of ideas battering down the doors of the local council offices, but no! Only two organisations submitted suggestions. Towns in Transition a newly formed group submitted 10 and Thistleberry Residents Association submitted one. Of the ten submitted by Towns in Transition, several were inadmissible because already LAs had the powers to deal with them if they so chose. The full Council (well, fullish) voted on the ones to go forward. These were home composting credits, decentralisation of goods and services and sustainable residential power generation. The Thistleberry Residents Association submission concerned planning and how laws and guidance should be made clearer in order to avoid inappropriate development proposals in the first instance, secondly to ensure more consultation between the developer and the local communities in which development is to take place, planning officers and planning committees at the pre-submission stage again to weed out inappropriate applications. In conjunction with this, a separate unit could be set up, to be self financing, to carry out the report and survey work needed to accompany any planning applications. At the moment the developers commission and pay for these. This suggestion did not get through.
Those suggestions that did will now proceed to the next stage for sifting and choosing. One presumes that finally they will reach national government level – although probably not in real time given the bureaucratic tendency to work in the future imperfect. We wish them Good speed and unlike the Marie Celeste, may they make it to their destination.