Devolution and Localism in London – What next?

Barely a week from the General Election, and as we digest the flurry of policy announcements from all sides, it’s worth reflecting on the localism agenda, one of the big reforms in the first half of the current coalition’s term.

In 2012, Future of London published Localism in London, based on a survey of local authority officers and other relevant practitioners about the likely impact of the Localism Act and National Planning Policy Framework.

Three years on, we are running another survey to see whether that thinking has turned into action, and which powers are having the biggest results. The survey is still open, but the responses to date provide some useful insight. Here are a few tasters:

  • As with the 2012 survey, there is much enthusiasm for Housing Revenue Account (HRA) reform, and three years on, some evidence of borough HRAs being used to fund the building of new homes – in some cases supporting the establishment of council-run development companies. This is clear evidence of how a greater degree of autonomy and financial certainty have real outcomes, with the potential for councils to give new housing supply a much-needed boost.
  • On the community powers side, neighbourhood planning – seen in 2012 as one of the least impactful measures – is progressing, albeit at a snail’s pace. In three years, there have been a handful of designations and approvals, as well as the establishment of Queen’s Park Community Council, London’s first parish council. Camden’s Fortune Green & West Hampstead neighbourhood plan goes to referendum in July 2015, and if successful, will become London’s second adopted neighbourhood plan, joining conservation-focused Norland in Kensington & Chelsea. Whatever the outcome, there appears to be consensus that neighbourhood planning isn’t reducing planning officers’ workloads, due to the amount of support required. This is particularly so in London, where forums usually start from scratch.
  • For the 2015 survey, we have included a question on devolution, reflecting the policy shift from greater local authority control to devolution, growth deals and the rise of city-regions. Those wanting to advance the London Finance Commission’s call for fiscal devolution will be considering which May 2016 London mayoral candidate/s could lead on this. But, as one survey responder reminds us, the distinction between greater fiscal control for the mayor and for the boroughs remains unclear.

Regardless of the General Election outcome next week, all local authorities face another round of sharp cuts. In that light, the potential for fiscal devolution, as well as the revenue-raising or workload-shrinking powers within localism, are all worth considering.

What do you want to see from the localism/devolution agendas in London? If you’re a borough officer or related practitioner, it’s not too late to take part in the survey. Click here to access it.