Connecting neighbourhoods to power

Posted on the 24th March 2017

Communities Week 2017: The Chair of the National Association of Local Councils, Cllr Sue Baxter, highlights the capability of Parish Councils to help communities take back control from those in power.

Now that we have universal agreement in this country that there is a gap between communities and those in power, it is surely high time to radically alter this situation. Good news is that great work is underway with many communities and local people taking action to have a greater say over how services are being delivered to them.

Communities Week is another great way to highlight and shine a light on how the vacuum between Westminster and local areas are being filled.

In my opinion, 10,000 local (parish and town) councils are one of the best tools with which people can use to help determine what is built, what is delivered locally, how an area can be developed and what local facilities can be saved.

Prime example of this is by using neighbourhood planning, which gives communities a chance to decide how their local area should be designed and what should be built. Local councils are leading 90% of the 2,000 neighbourhood plans in existence. Not only does these put communities more in control over development but also is allowing more houses to be built. In fact there is 10% more being developed in these areas than those without such plans. Braughing Parish Council in Hertfordshire is using its neighbourhood plan to allow for 10% population growth in its site allocation which was not accounted for in the district council’s local plan.

I mentioned earlier about local councils helping to save crucial community facilities. Norton Lindsey Parish Council in Warwickshire was one of the first ever councils to register a pub, New Inn, as an Asset of Community Value. This causes a ‘pause’ to any potential sale of vital community facilities that you care about and gives time for local people to buy it. And this is what is happening here with the New Inn, which is well on the way to being the first co-operatively owned pub in the county.

More and more local councils are moving away from just dealing with their traditional domains of say playgrounds and open spaces management to areas such as health and well-being and supporting social cohesion. Martlock Parish Council in Somerset is tackling these issues head on via Our Place (local area based initiatives to bring about long term sustainable improved services for neighbourhoods). The parish council wanted to create a more cohesive and less socially divided community in which residents are more aware of opportunities to become involved and support each other. The council has recruited two staff members to help foster more social inclusion.

Above we see communities taking more control of the way services are delivered to people. We would like to see this trend made sustainable for the long term and believe that local people creating new local councils in unparished areas can best achieve this.

We’d invite you to explore setting up a local council in your area if there isn’t one already. If you’d like to make this change in your community or want to find out more, join our Create a Council campaign.

It’s not just for rural areas either – there are now new urban local councils in London, Birmingham, York, Leeds, Lowestoft, Bradford and Milton Keynes.

Despite the significant challenges that areas face, there has probably never been a better opportunity to bring about change in communities by decentralising and devolving more power to local councils and people and build a ‘localist powerhouse’ with the capacity, ambition and creativity to transform local areas. Come to our Spring Conference to see and hear more about how this can be achieved.

by Cllr Sue Baxter, Chair of NALC

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