Thursday, 19 September 2013

New Local Councils encouraged by new measures

Communities Minister Don Foster has announced new measures to bring parish powers back to the towns and cities of England so more people can run local services and take decisions that affect their area.

Although there are almost 10,000 parish councils in England, only a handful are to be found in urban areas. For example Birmingham has just one (New Frankley) and Queen's Park Community Council in Westminster will be the first in London for nearly fifty years when elected next year.  Morecambe is another cultural trendsetter, having had a town council since 2009 (its arms are pictured here) and you can check out its activities at http://morecambe.gov.uk/.

Parish and Town Councils have the same powers but the extent to which they use them depends largely on their size and how active they are. Their functions and responsibilities include such things as allotments, bus shelters, amenity lighting, commons, village halls, playing fields and war memorials. They  can directly run local facilities such as leisure centres and theatres, manage parks, establish bylaws, run job clubs, fund community groups and use the community rights and help stop the clock on the sale of important local assets such as pubs and green space.

Almost all of the country is covered by parishes geographically and around a third of the population is represented by a parish council, in addition to their local authority councils.  They are more common in rural areas, and useful in representing the interests and identities of separate villages or suburbs within wider local authorities. Despite the name, they are no longer run by any church.  The term 'parish' refers only to a geographical boundary and other appropriate terms, such as 'Community' Council have also been adopted.

The new rights will be available within the next 12 months and will make it easier to create a parish council by:

• Cutting by a quarter the number of petition signatures needed to start the new parish creation process – from 10% of the local population to 7.5%.
• Reducing the time local authorities can take to decide on parish council applications to a maximum of a year.
• Making it easier for community groups that have created a ‘neighbourhood plan'* to kick-start the process – removing the need for them to produce a petition.
• The Department for Communities and Local Government will also be supporting the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) and County Associations of Local Councils to help campaigns for new town and parish councils and provide them with resources.

Local Government Minister Don Foster said:

“Parish councils are a fundamental part of our local democracy, giving the people who live within a community, direct powers to run their local services. For too long the power of the parishioner has only been exercised by people who live in the countryside. 
“Many of our bustling towns and cities would benefit from the neighbourliness and local insight of the parish perspective so today I’m making it easier for people, wherever they live, to close up the democratic gap in their own community by creating their own parish council.”
The process for creating parishes will continue to be robust, with the local council retaining the power to decide whether a new parish should be set up. The difference for campaigners and local councils will be a far easier, quicker and more democratic process."

Interested campaigners should visit the National Association of Local Councils ‘Create a Council’ website and contact them for further information. See  www.createacouncil.nalc.gov.uk

*The Localism Act 2011 introduced statutory Neighbourhood Planning in England. It enables communities to draw up a Neighbourhood Plan for their area and is intended to give communities more of a say in the development of their local area. These plans are being used by communities to decide the future of the places where new homes, shops and offices to be built, what new buildings should look like and grant planning permission for the new buildings.  

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