The Labour Party and Friends of the Earth have spoken out against the Localism Bill ahead of its second reading in Parliament today.
Caroline Flint, shadow communities and local government minister, branded the Bill a “sham”, advising that ministers would be granted over 100 new powers while local authorities are promised autonomy.
Ms Flint criticised her Conservative adversary, Secretary of State Eric Pickles (pictured) saying: “The Bill places extra burdens on local government when councils up and down the country are already being weighed down with Pickles’ diktats telling them what to do.”
Whitehall may be able to set the date of mayoral elections, shorten mayoral terms and force a local authority to shift its form of government from an executive body to a mayoral system, if the Bill were passed, she added.
Further, she claimed the ‘general power of competence’ intended to “free local authorities from constraints caused by having to rely on specific powers” will in fact grant the Secretary of State powers to reverse any decisions, set the threshold level for a petition calling for a local referendum as well as regulate the definitions of what is classed as a voluntary or community body and neighbourhood forums.
Friends of the Earth joined Flint in criticising the Bill, advising that its ‘neighbourhood plans’ would need “major changes” to ensure people have a “meaningful voice” in new planning proposals.
Friends of the Earth's planning campaigner Naomi Luhde-Thompson said: "We are concerned that local people will be railroaded by planning decisions under this new law - and that it won't protect them from the worst effects of
The neighbourhood plans will form the basis of any planning application through local authorities, but Friends of the Earth believes these will favour richer communities as well as restrict locals’ ability to challenge building proposals. The plans are to be funded by communities, costing anything from £5,000 to £250,000, which Friends of the Earth believes could lead to developer-based funding and bias in areas without such capital.