Localism Act gives residents a voice to shape futureBy Jon Nurse
September 06, 2012
Back in 2010, communities secretary Eric Pickles heralded a ‘ground-breaking shift in power’ as the Localism Act was unveiled.
The landmark bill is designed to give more power to the people –providing them with greater control to have a say on their area’s future.
Reporter JON NURSE investigated what difference theact, which came into force in April,is making for people in Wokingham.
An open meeting discussing the Localism Act was hailed as a shot in the arm for those keen to have a greater role in shaping their community and the services provided.
Wokingham Society chairman Peter Must welcomed the advice on the act from speakers Ian Harvey, the coordinator of charity Civic Voice, and councillor Chris Singleton, Wokingham town and borough councillor for Westcott Ward, at the society’s meeting in July.
Mr Harvey said he believed the act is radical, powerful, flexible and pro-development, giving the community the right to challenge.
He suggested residents could define their neighbourhoods and set up local forums with a specific name, written constitution and membership of at least 21.
Forum proposals could go to a community referendum which would lead to binding legislation.
He also highlighted that communities are now able to have a major input in planning decisions.
Cllr Singleton invited the society to understand the community’s needs and identify what it considers to be community assets, working in partnership with the town and borough councils to develop them.
“The Localism Act is a positive move,” he said. “Sadly we have lost assets from the community. The act offers us a chance to identify assets we would like to keep and gives us a breathing space of six months to look for partners and try to do something with them.”
He highlighted Tudor House Surgery and White House School as locations in the town that could be viewed as assets.
Mr Must said: “It’s the effect of the act that is interesting us the most.
“You just wish this [the act] could have been there 10 to 15 years ago as assets have been lost in that time.”
In November last year The Old School House in Reading Road, one of the last remaining Victorian buildings in Wokingham, was sold at auction to a private bidder.
Mr Must explained: “The town council did try to acquire it but was outbid. We can’t be sure that wouldn’t have happened in any process, but at least bidders can have six months more time now than they did before.”
Welcoming the act’s power to give communities a greater voice in planning decisions, Mr Must added: “We’re not complaining that people are not listening to us now, but we would like to have a greater extent of dialogue on these matters.
“The society will continue to do our best to announce what the community would like when they are not present to express their opinions.”
Cllr Singleton added that the society and councils could also examine ways of improving the delivery of services and enhancing the cultural, recreational and sporting life of the community.
“The question of libraries has come up in the past, so we can ask what can we do locally to improve libraries?” he said. “Or parking, for instance – what can we do to improve that?”