The coalition government will soon publish its Localism Bill. I hope to see a radical shift in power away from Westminster to local communities. Personally, I want to see local councils given more freedom over their planning policies so that they can shape their communities according to local circumstances, not constrained by a national template.
My experience both as Bristol West’s MP for the last five and a half years and for six previous years as the councillor for Bristol city centre brought home to me again and again how weak local communities can be to either stop inappropriate development or to encourage the building of a needed local facility.
In the last decade we have seen cinemas and pubs closed by national companies. Their owners either stop new management from coming forward to run the site ( a restrictive covenant) or, worse, demolish the facility. The former ABC Cinema on Whiteladies Rd would be an example from a decade ago of the wishes of the local community being frustrated by corporate power. More recently the Ashley Court Hotel (aka Ship Aground) was demolished despite a huge community campaign to save it. In that case the MP and all the local councillors objected but we were powerless to stop the bulldozers.
A Conservative MP (Nigel Adams, Selby) has cross party support for his private member’s Protection of Local Services (Planning) Bill. The four page simple Bill would permit local councils to require planning permission to demolish any building deemed to provide a local service. The Bill may go ahead in its current form or could be the subject of an amendment to the government’s wider Bill.
The Bill has the backing of CAMRA, Local Works (who provided much of the impetus for the Sustainable Communities Act), Living Streets and many other niche campaign groups. I hope the law gets changed soon.