The Sustainable Communities Act has great potential for parish and town councils. The Act is a radical new “bottom-up” process that allows local people – for the first time in this country’s history – to drive central government action to help their local communities.
Up until now, parish and town councils have been excluded from this process. This was totally unacceptable. Parish and town councils should be at the forefront of driving government action to help communities. Well after successful campaigning by the National Association of Local Councils, County Associations, Local Works and local councils, this has all changed.
The campaign for the Sustainable Communities Act arose out of the very concerning problem of community decline, which can be seen in the national decline of everything from small shops and Post Offices to green spaces and recreational facilities. This decline has huge and worrying social, environmental and democratic implications. People see their community dying around them, feel powerless to do anything about it and so disengage from democracy and their community.
At the heart of the Sustainable Communities Act is this philosophy: citizens and communities are the experts on their problems and the solutions to them. They therefore should drive the help and actions government takes to reverse community decline. The Sustainable Communities Act sets up a ‘bottom up’ process that does just that.
Here’s how it works: the Act allows people – through their councils – to suggest ideas to government and government is obliged not only to respond, but to “reach agreement” with a totally independent panel on which of the ideas that come forward should be implemented. This is a radical idea – it is about turning government upside down and allowing local people to drive the agenda, reversing decades of “Whitehall knows best” dogma.
Since being passed in 2007, the Act has achieved some notable results. In Sheffield for example, the Act has been used to help save post offices from closure and to boost their revenues. The Act has also been used to encourage renewable energy and close a loophole that allowed gardens to be used for development.
Up until now though, parish and town councils have been excluded from the process,
Parish and town councils are the most local part of government and the body most closely connected to the community. Their connection with local people and their knowledge of the local area means you are ideally placed to make use of the Act. No one knows the local community like they do.
There will be issues in your local community that the Act could assist with. Perhaps you want to be able to promote renewable energy schemes in your area but lack the means or knowledge to do so. Or you want to help increase the amount of recycling in your area but there are rules and regulations that prevent you from doing so. Or perhaps you think government should do more to promote woodland and have ideas for how they could do so.