Localism Act 2012 — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:52 pm on 29th July 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative 2:52 pm, 29th July 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that local people are aware of, and are using, the new community rights created under the Localism Act 2012.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her Question. We have put over 2,000 uses of community rights into place. We have put in place a £50 million support programme, which includes a helpline, online tools and resources, and specialist support and grants. We also continue to promote take-up of the rights through local, national and consumer press, the broadcast media, ministerial visits and conferences and are working with people such as CAMRA and Supporters Direct.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He will recall that there are a number of community rights within the Localism Act. May I refer particularly to community assets and the acquisition of those and ask my noble friend what progress is being made and whether he has any examples of good practice that could be passed on to others?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

First, I pay tribute to my noble friend for her sterling work in negotiating the Localism Bill through your Lordships’ House. With her experience, she is well placed to talk about community rights. I can inform my noble friend that there are now 900 neighbourhood planning areas in place. Twenty-eight referenda were held; all voted yes. Some 1,200 community assets have now been listed for community bids, including football grounds, pubs, allotments, piers and village halls. Eight assets have now been bought and the Government have allocated a further £25 million to the community shares issue.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Labour

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Lewisham Council. I am delighted that early this month the ward I represent established the first neighbourhood planning forum in the borough—that was great news. Will the noble Lord agree to bring to the attention of the Mayor of London the Localism Act and what it underpins? In Lewisham we have seen that he pushed out local people, pushed out the local community, pushed out the local council and took over the determination of the Convoys Wharf development, which is the site of Henry VIII’s Royal Dockyard. The only “local” there was the anger of local people, who were excluded from the development.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

The description of my friend, the Mayor of London, is not one that I relate to—certainly not the description given by the noble Lord. The important thing here is the Government’s commitment to localism. I have already alluded to some of the steps we are taking. It is notable that many schemes are taking place locally, where local communities, the voluntary sector, the private sector and, indeed, the local council are active. I know this from my own life. In Wimbledon Park, one of my old stamping grounds, Wimbledon Park Hall, which I was delighted to open recently, is a great example of a developer, a local authority and the residents’ association working together to deliver a lasting community asset for local people.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

During the passage of the Localism Bill in your Lordships’ House some three years ago it was said that the word “localism” did not appear in any dictionary, which might explain why different government departments seem to interpret its meaning in different ways. For the avoidance of doubt, will the Minister give the Government’s definition of localism?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

I think that my noble friend is well versed in what localism means—it means the empowerment of local people. It is quite simple: it does what it says on the tin.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I would like to ask the Minister about the community right to build. We have seen a plethora of failed initiatives to try to get more homes built, with this Government having presided over the lowest level of housing completions since the 1920s and the NAO finding that the flagship new homes bonus has done little to encourage new homes but has shifted resources from poor northern councils to better off southern councils. Have any affordable homes been started to date under the community right to build? Are any referendums under way to obtain support for community right to build orders and, if so, how many?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

The noble Lord is correct—the community right to build was part of the Act and there has been a lot of community interest in it. Over the last two years, there have been more than 14,000 inquiries relating to the right to build. Eight applications for funding for community right to build orders have been made to the Homes and Communities Agency and the GLA. So far, two community groups have also submitted a total of four orders to their local planning authority for independent examination.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, if localism does mean empowerment of local people, what can be done to help the villagers in the area around Nocton Fen in Lincoln, where there is a proposal to build 24 149.5-metre wind turbines, which would be twice as high as Lincoln Cathedral and would absolutely destroy one of the finest views in the county? Will the local people be assisted through the provisions of the Localism Act?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My noble friend has great knowledge of that area and brought this matter to our attention during our debate on the role of English parish councils. The Government are totally committed to ensuring that parish councils and our great cathedrals around the country are protected and the local environment is part of that. It is appropriate that local people are able to protect local heritage sites through local planning laws and the activism and power that we provided in the Localism Act. I hope that, as planning permission is granted or reviewed at a local level, local authorities will keep local heritage sites in mind.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Labour

My Lords, am I correct in thinking that the Minister’s answer to my noble friend Lord McKenzie could have been put more briefly as “None”?