Localism, two years on

Two years ago today, the Localism Act received Royal Assent.  With it came a suite of reforms across the UK purported to empower both local authorities and the communities they serve, ranging from the New Homes Bonus to the General Power of Competence. In London, localism came with particular significance as Mayoral planning, regeneration and housing powers were strengthened under the Act.

When we conducted our Localism in London survey in early 2012, the Capital’s public sector practitioners had mixed beliefs about the potential utility of some measures contained within the package of reforms, illustrated in this graph:

Practitioner survey responses in Spring 2012: How useful will the introduction of the following measures be? (click to expand)

Localism in London survey

Source: Future of London (2012)

Two years later, what has the impact of the Localism Act been in London? Here, we check in on the status of neighbourhood planning across the Capital.

From the onset, there was interest across London in the neighbourhood planning agenda. A handful of areas received early support through the Government’s front runner scheme, whose diversity reflects the range of communities engaged through the reform: from a business-led plan in partnership with local residents for LB Southwark’s Bankside, to a ‘sustainable suburb’ vision in Hackbridge, LB Sutton.

London Communications Agency, in partnership with London First and DCLG, has published a map of London’s Neighbourhood Forums (shown below, download here). It illustrates 74 potential Neighbourhood Forums in London: 23 that have had their area and/or forum formally designated; 19 that have submitted their designation application; and a further 32 who have expressed interest in organising as a Neighbourhood Forum.

London Neighbourhood Forums, November 2013 (click to expand)

Source: London Communications Agency (2013)

Source: London Communications Agency (2013)

 

Looking at the map, a few interesting observations jump out. First and most noticeably is the relative concentration of Neighbourhood Forums (both designated and interested) in Inner London. The concentration of Forums in some boroughs, alongside the absence of even expressed interest in 14 other boroughs, raises questions about the utility of, and capacity for, neighbourhood planning for all types of communities. Considering this map in the context of LCA’s previous editions – from May (PDF) and February (PDF) of this year – suggests that there may be only a modest increase in yet-to-be engaged communities organising as Neighbourhood Forums.

Establishing a Neighbourhood Forum is a key first step to producing neighbourhood plans, but certainly not the only one: preparing the Neighbourhood Plan or Development Order, passing an independent check from an examiner, and succeeding at community referendum can all contribute to making neighbourhood planning a time- and resource-intense process. No neighbourhood plans in London have made it to legal adoption yet, although RB Kensington and Chelsea’s Norland conservation area in Holland Park may become the first to referendum after an examiner gave it a green light subject to modification.

It’s still early to gauge the impact of neighbourhood planning in delivering planning, regeneration and development across the Capital. Seeing neighbourhood plans through from start to finish and beyond – from establishing area boundaries and Forums, to passing at referendum, to how adopted plans interact with Local Plans and community acceptance of development in practice – will provide the biggest evidence for judging the extent to which neighbourhood planning will impact London’s delivery landscape.

As key stakeholders in the process, London boroughs have a clear role to play in building capacity both within the communities they serve and within their own organisations. Similarly, other public organisations have a role in neighbourhood plans, alongside the communities they serve.

Over the next month, we’ll continue to explore the impact of Localism Act reforms across the London. Next up, we’ll consider the role of Mayoral Development Corporations in the Capital.