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Tag: planning

Power to the people! The new Localism Bill – will it really empower local communities?

A landmark bill that claims to herald a ground-breaking shift in power to councils and communities overturning decades of central government control was unveiled by Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles today.

Here is the coalition government’s press release in full:

The Localism Bill will put an end to the hoarding of power within central government and top-down control of communities, allowing local people the freedom to run their lives and neighbourhoods in their own way.

The Bill, laid before Parliament today, contains a radical package of reforms that will devolve greater power and freedoms to councils and neighbourhoods, establish powerful new rights for communities, revolutionise the planning system, and give communities control over housing decisions.

The legislation will help build the Big Society by radically transforming the relationships between central government, local government, communities and individuals.

For councils the Bill will fundamentally change their freedom to act in the interest of their local communities through a new general power of competence. Rather than needing to rely on specific powers, the new power will give councils the legal reassurance and confidence to innovate, drive down costs to deliver more efficient services.

Eric Pickles said:

“The Localism Bill will herald a ground-breaking shift in power to councils and communities overturning decades of central government control and starting a new era of people power.

“It is the centrepiece of what this Government is trying to do to fundamentally shake up the balance of power in this country. For too long, everything has been controlled from the centre – and look where it’s got us. Central government has kept local government on a tight leash, strangling the life out of councils in the belief that bureaucrats know best.

“By getting out of the way and letting councils and communities run their own affairs we can restore civic pride, democratic accountability and economic growth – and build a stronger, fairer Britain. It’s the end of the era of big government: laying the foundations for the Big Society.”

The Localism Bill contains further measures to strengthen local democracy by:

  • Devolving significant new powers to councils – In a major transfer of power from Whitehall to town halls, councils will be freed from bureaucratic constraints with new freedoms and flexibilities to act in the best interests of their area. Councillors will have to approve and be required to publish new chief executive pay rules at full Council that management will have to follow. Councillors will no longer be prevented from voting on campaign issues; and there will be a new power to create directly elected mayors in 12 cities giving residents a say in a strong democratically elected leader;
  • Establishing powerful new rights for local people and communities – powers for councils are accompanied by greater powers for local people to hold their local authorities to account. Local people and communities’ will have real power and a bigger say over their area through a new right to challenge to take over services; a new right to bid to buy local assets such as libraries, pubs and shops; the a new right to veto excessive council tax rises through a referendum. Bin tax laws repealed;
  • Radically reforming planning – Ministers believe the current planning system is too centralised and bureaucratic, too adversarial and remote from the communities it affects. The Bill will restore democratic and local control over planning by replacing the Infrastructure Planning Commission with an efficient and democratically accountable system for major infrastructure. The Bill will enable regional planning to be swept away and in its place neighbourhood plans will become the new building blocks of the planning system where communities have the power to grant planning permission if a local majority are in favour;
  • Making housing fairer and more democratic – The Bill will return decision-making powers on housing to local councils and communities through a new Community Right to Build giving communities the freedom they need in order to come together to build new homes & amenities in their towns & villages. Home Information Packs will be formally scrapped. The Bill will put councils in charge of allocation and tenure of social housing, giving councils the flexibility to use their social housing stock to the maximum effect and reduce waiting lists., It will be easier for social tenants to relocate though a new National Homeswap Scheme, and councils will be able to offer flexible solutions to people at risk of homelessness. The Housing Revenue Account Subsidy System will be replaced with a more transparent system that serves local communities. Tenants will be able to scrutinise the services offered by their landlords and hold them to account. The Tenant Services Authority will be abolished but its vital economic regulation functions will be preserved.
  • Creating powerful incentives for economic growth – The Bill will give local government a stronger financial stake in the local economy, helping rebalance the economy, so it is more entrepreneurial and attracts local business by allowing local authorities to grant discretionary business rate discounts; making small business tax breaks easier take advantage of; giving affected businesses a greater say in rate supplements and cancelling certain backdated business rates including port taxes;

Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark said:

“This Bill will provide the enduring legislative foundation for a new, decentralised Britain, where power is returned to the people to which it belongs. We believe that communities should have the freedom to manage their own affairs in their way, and be empowered, not suppressed, by Government. The Bill will enact new rights allowing local people to shape and influence the places where they live, revolutionising the planning process by passing power down to those who know best about their neighbourhoods.”

Housing Minister Grant Shapps added:

“With housebuilding at its lowest peacetime level since 1924, the time is right for radical shake up of the entire system. The Bill will end top-down targets – in their place communities with the vision and drive to build more homes will be given the freedom to achieve their ambitions, and this will be backed up with powerful cash incentives for councils that allow new development in their area.

“With five million people languishing on social housing waiting lists, social housing is ripe for reform. Councils will now be able to manage social housing in a way that genuinely meets the needs of local people, and will be able to offer fixed tenancies that give people the helping hand they need, for as long as they need it.”

Communities Minister, Andrew Stunell said:

“The Localism Bill will pave the way for the long overdue push of powers out of Whitehall to councils and neighbourhoods across the country, and give local communities real control over housing and planning decisions.

“Local facilities have been closing down all over the country, leaving towns and villages without vital services.

“Small community groups that are willing to take over local assets often find that they lack the time and resources to get a plan together and compete with the might and muscle of big business and developers.

“The powerful new rights in the Bill will put real power in the hands of real people, empowering local communities and putting them at the heart of local decision making.”


1. Ministers have already started giving councils greater financial freedom, by devolving and streamlining £7 billion more of government funding, removing burdens and bureaucratic controls so that they can prioritise budgets to support public services in ways which meet the priorities of local people and communities, helping to manage demand on services so they are more personalised and effective for vulnerable groups thereby reducing costs to society.

2. The Government also wants to create a new era of accountability and openness where bureaucratic accountability is replaced by democratic accountability. Putting more data in the public domain is central in making this happen and will drive smarter spending.

3. Getting council business out in the open will revolutionise local government and help facilitate the Big Society. Councils are now expected to publish all expenditure over £500 online. Local people should be able to hold their council to account. Greater openness and transparency is absolutely critical to root out waste and inefficiency.

4. General Power of Competence: Local Authorities are creatures of statute – they only have the power to do what Parliament has authorised them to do – unlike a natural person that can do anything except where that power to act is curtailed by law. Since local authorities were first incorporated power has been given to them on a piecemeal basis. Now, with General Power of Competence, local authorities can basically act in that same way as a natural person, except where restricted by statute such as creating a new tax.

5. The Government has today also published Decentralisation and the Localism Bill: an essential guide. Its sets out six actions central government will need to take to achieve and maintain the radical shift in power, – in behaviour, expectation, and culture – which must go alongside the changes in law proposed in the Bill. The guide to can be found at:

6. Additional detail on specific Bill measures can be found at: (Word, 67kb).

New Wells Park Youth Club – funding gets the green light!

Welcome news – funding for the proposed youth and community centre is confirmed. A planning application has been lodged with Lewisham Planning to demolish the church hall in Wells Park Road and construct a three storey building.

The proposed youth club, which will contain a large multi-use hall with theatre, a cafe, climbing wall, IT/education studio, recording studio and multi-use games area, is expected to go before a planning committee in spring 2011 and be completed by spring 2013.  

For more detail click on the link below:

Planning revolution – now you decide what’s built in your neighbourhood

The government’s new Localism Bill  giving planning powers to new neighborhood councils is about to be published. Here Civic Voice explains what this new radical measure means:

Radical new planning reforms were announced today to hand powers down from Whitehall bureaucrats and down from Town Hall officials to communities so local people shape the character of the neighbourhood in which they live.

In what are being labelled the building blocks of the Big Society, bold changes are being revealed to galvanise local democracy and help build new homes and plan new development with local support, and reward – not punish – those who want to grow and enhance their neighbourhood.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Planning Minister Greg Clark today outlined proposals to decentralise and streamline the planning system, ahead of the publication of the Localism Bill.

  •                 Neighbourhood groups to shape where they live: Communities will be able to come together to decide what their area should look like, where new shops, offices or homes should go and what green spaces should be protected. Parish councils and new neighbourhood forums of local people – rather than town hall officials – will lead the way in shaping their community. If local people then vote in favour of new ‘Neighbourhood Plans’ in local referendums, councils will have to adopt them.


  •                 Direct democracy: This new stimulus will be one of the greatest incentives to get people and communities to come together to take control of planning. The new powers will also allow communities to give planning approval to chosen sites on local land. This will mean that urgent development can go ahead quickly once the plan is adopted, short-circuiting lengthy planning applications and making the system more democratic and efficient.


  •                 Local benefits from local development: At the heart of the new approach will be a package of powerful incentives, such as the New Homes Bonus, that will encourage the right kind of local development and financially reward those councils and communities that deliver new homes and businesses to their area. Reforms to the Community Infrastructure Levy will also see a meaningful proportion of the levy handed over to the local neighbourhoods where the development takes place.


  •                 Vanguards to lead the way: Ministers are calling on communities to get involved now. The Government would like to see about a dozen local areas come forward to act as vanguards that will trial Neighbourhood Plans in their area. This step will help ensure the experience of these ‘Neighbourhood Vanguards’ is taken into account before the legislation comes into force.

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said:

“For far too long local people have had too little say over a planning system that has imposed bureaucratic decisions by distant officials in Whitehall and the town hall. We need to change things so there is more people-planning and less politician-planning, so there is more direct democracy and less bureaucracy in the system. These reforms will become the building blocks of the Big Society.”

Greg Clark, Minister for Planning and Decentralisation, added:

“Most people love where they live, yet the planning system has given them almost no say on how their neighbourhood develops. The Coalition Government will revolutionise the planning process by taking power away from officials and putting it into the hands of those who know most about their neighbourhood – local people themselves. This will be a huge opportunity for communities to exercise genuine influence over what their home town should look like in the future. It will create the freedom and the incentives for those places that want to grow, to do so, and to reap the benefits. It’s a reason to say yes.”

Tony Burton, Director of Civic Voice, said:

“Local communities care deeply about where they live and know it better than anyone. Neighbourhood plans will allow civic societies and other community groups to take the lead in setting out what people value, what development is needed and what can change for the better in their area. With the right support, and safeguards to ensure the community voice cannot be ignored, a new era of neighbourhood plans spreading rapidly across the country could transform the ability of people to shape their local area.”


1. Councils for Eden in Cumbria, Sutton in Surrey, West Dorset District Council, Bristol and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead have already shown an interest in working their communities. Ministers will consider proposals to become Neighbourhood Vanguards as they come forward.

Neighbourhood planning
2. As well as streamlining existing processes, the Government will introduce a new right for communities to shape their local areas by creating neighbourhood plans, and introduce powerful new incentives to encourage local communities to approve sustainable development. The new neighbourhood plans will be flexible so communities will be able to determine the issues or areas to cover and what level of detail they want to go into. Importantly it will enable communities (through a new Neighbourhood Development Order) to define specific developments or types of development which will have automatic planning permission without the need for any application to the local authority. For more complex cases they will be able to grant outline permission so that the right to develop would be established and only the details would need to be approved. This provides certainty which is vital for investment and giving communities confidence in the system. Neighbourhoods can also establish general policies that will steer decisions on traditional planning applications.

Defining neighbourhoods
3. Communities will be able to propose the boundaries of their neighbourhood. Neighbourhoods will generally be based on existing parishes and towns but the local council will have a role in mediating and consulting where there are conflicts or no established boundaries. This will provide a stable basis for neighbourhood planning, with local authorities approving appropriate boundaries.

Process for developing neighbourhood plans
4. Plans will be taken forward by Parishes or ‘Neighbourhood Forums’ in places without Parishes. The local council would have a duty to provide support and to ensure compliance with other legal requirements. There will be a light touch examination of the plan by an independent assessor to ensure that it complies with legal requirements and national policy, and is aligned with neighbouring plans and the strategic elements of the council’s plan. A referendum (with a simple majority in favour) would ensure that the final plan had public support.

Neighbourhood plans must work inside some limits. It will not be a means for saying no to important growth. If major infrastructure is needed at a national level, such as a high-speed rail line, or if the strategic local plan calls for a certain number of homes to be built. They would still be required to be consistent with national planning policy and to conform to the strategic elements of local authority plans. The Localism Bill will have safeguards to ensure neighbourhood plans do not override these wider ranging plans. The National Planning Policy Framework will be vital in this respect.

5. The council will have a duty to adopt a legally compliant neighbourhood plan that had been successfully passed by a referendum, giving real power to communities to determine if the plan is acceptable.

Want a new cinema in the area? Crystal Palace has plans for three of them!

After a total absence of cinemas in the area three – yes three – different cinema proposals are now doing the rounds in Crystal Palace. Maybe it’s like waiting for a number 75 bus –  just as you’ve given up hope of one ever arriving, three come along at once!

 1. The Picture Palace Campaign wants to turn the former bingo hall at 25 Church Road, SE19 into an independent cinema. Plans to turn the building into an evangelical church were rejected by Bromley council.

Art Deco former Bingo Hall

2. Future Projections has applied for planning permission to Bromley Council to turn the Grape and Grain pub, 2 Anerley Hill SE19 and the Bigger Picture Gallery (formerly a car showroom) into a two screen cinema. The main cinema would seat 203 people; the smaller cinema would have 51 seats.

Anerley Hill Development

3. Crystal Palace’s Transmitter magazine in its new winter edition has revealed plans for a third cinema, this time located in Victory Square – a new market-square development just off Westow Street opposite the supermarket. Plans include a 4-screen cinema, a glass-covered market, apartments, artists’ studios and a hotel. The scheme by development company the St Aidan’s Group has been at the drawing stage for two years but has yet to be advanced to a full planning proposal.

Happy viewing!

Work starts on another new building on Sydenham Road

This is an exciting new development at 2-4 Trewsbury Road just behind the Mexican restaurant (the old ice cream parlour) on the corner of Sydenham Road and Trewsbury Road. Permission was granted in November 2007 for a 3-storey building plus basement housing commercial space plus 2 x 1 bedroom and 7 x 1 bedroom flats.

The building was designed by local archtitects Thomas Ford and mirrors the redeveloped former church hall on the corner opposite.

Full details of the plans can be seen here:

A history of Perry Vale fire station

An application to redevelop Perry Vale fire station into flats has just been received by Lewisham Planning Department.

Local historian, Steve Grindlay,  tells the history of this distinctive building:

Before the opening of Perry Vale Fire Station on 22 March 1902 fire defence in Sydenham and Forest Hill was fairly haphazard.

From the 1860s there was a horse drawn pump based at the Crystal Palace. Beside the Bricklayers Arms there was a fixed hose, attached to a water pipe, by which “any person may direct water in abundance”. There was also a fire escape (a cart with a ladder fixed to it to rescue people from burning buildings) next to the Woodman. In 1872 a volunteer fire service was formed in Forest Hill, but it was severely constrained and constantly in debt because it depended entirely on voluntary contributions.

After its creation in 1889 the London County Council began building fire stations across London. The earlier buildings were Victorian Gothic but by 1900 the Arts and Crafts style predominated. Building began on the Perry Vale fire station in 1901; the foundation stone was laid on 4 July 1901. The architect was most probably Charles Canning Winmill, the LCC Fire Brigade Department’s principal architect. The building is considered a particularly fine example of an early arts and crafts fire station.

From the Times 24 March 1902

The building was designed to house 12 firemen and their families. The 1911 census has 10 firemen, 2 coachmen (who drove the appliances and cared for the horses) and their families, a total of 50 people living in the station. The reason the accommodation was provided was because the firemen were on call 24 hours a day. This system ended in the early 1920s when shift work was introduced and the firemen had a fixed working week.

At the time the Perry Vale station opened there were two basic types of fire appliance: the pump, for extinguishing fires, and the escape with a ladder for rescuing people. The familiar dual-purpose fire engine, with both a pump and ladder, was introduced in 1934, partly for greater efficiency, and partly as an economy (reducing staff numbers).

Perry Vale fire station circa 1906

When the new Forest Hill Fire Station on Stanstead Road opened in 1972 the Perry Vale Fire Station closed. In March 1973, within a year of closure, it was listed Grade II. Since the building closed as a fire station it has been used by the Council as a housing office and for temporary accommodation. In 2008 the Council decided that the building was surplus to its requirements, and put it up for sale.

Nikolaus Pevsner described the Perry Vale Fire Station as “an especially picturesque example of its type”. Recent surveys make it clear that although there have been internal changes, some original features do survive. We must hope that any plans for the future of the building respect its past.

Steve Grindlay

Forest Hill pools – what’s it going to look like?

The exciting new pool development at Forest Hill, due to open in December 2012, is currently going through the planning process. So what new facilities are going to be provided and what does the building look like?

The new pools complex will include the following:

  • a 25m x 13m main pool
  • a 16.7m x 7m learners’ pool
  • a 9m x 8m meeting space/multipurpose room
  • a 11.5m x 15.6m studio
  • a fitness studio, which (judged by the number of equipment “stations”) will be the biggest in the borough
  • a cafe

And here are some external views of the building:

Front view
Area view
Aerial views
Front view

Perry Vale fire station to become a church?

A planning application lodged with Lewisham council appears to open the way for the former fire station building in Perry Vale to be used as a church.

The application is to turn the upper floors of the building into 13 flats (nine x 1 bedroom; two x 2 bedroom and two x 3 bedroom). The planning forms state that  “a further application will be made for the change of use of the ground floor to create a church and ancillary spaces”.  Local gossip that a  Tesco Metro was moving onto the site turned out to be nothing more than an unfounded rumour – and  the listed status of the building would make it very difficult for any retailer to make a success of the site.

Full details of the aplication can be found here:

Planning reform – could it change the face of Sydenham?

Are you dismayed by the prospect of yet another “chicken shop” appearing in Sydenham Road? Or local pubs like the Prince Albert closing down? Or small strips of land which were previously gardens or recreation spaces being grabbed by greedy developers?

Well all that may be about to change.

The coalition government has promised to put forward a new Planning Act which will “radically reform the planning system to give neighbourhoods far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which inhabitants live.”  The proposals would mean “giving local people the power to engage in genuine local planning through collaborative democracy – designing a local plan from the ‘bottom up’, starting with the aspirations of neighbourhoods.”

Here are some of the proposals:

 • Neigbourhood plans to protect local shops and services from being lost and encouraging the types of business locals want to see

 • An end to “garden napping”

 • A community “right of appeal” against planning decisions

 • Stronger enforcement against breaches of planning control  

For more details see the Civic Voice website