Has your Council ‘opted in’ yet?
Several local Councils have already signed up to a very welcome law, the Sustainable Communities Act; designed to enable people enhance their local environment, their local shops, communities and services – and create a thriving place to live.
The Sustainable Communities Act became law in England in 2007, after a long-running campaign from a coalition of diverse national and grassroots organisations, called Local Works, of which the Woodland Trust is an active member. We believe this Act offers significant opportunity for people to engage in local democracy and influence planning and decision-making in their own areas. For example it could help local people highlight the importance of protection for precious ancient woodland; increase a voice for the environment in planning decisions; or call for the creation of new woodland for generations to enjoy. Essentially, it puts the community in the driving seat with regards to the help and assistance (including money) Councils can request from central government.
This (briefly) is how the Act is intended to operate:
- Last October, Councils were invited by the Secretary of State to choose to make proposals (i.e. ‘opt-in’), on how they consider central government can help promote local sustainability.
- Opting in means that Councils can then set up citizens’ panels to consult on proposals to benefit their communities – they have a duty to reach agreement together. These proposals are then submitted to government (deadline for submissions is July this year).
- All proposals will be considered by the Local Government Association (LGA), appointed as the “selector”. As there may be thousands of proposals (and likely many similar proposals that can be merged) a short-list of proposals will then be drawn up by the LGA.
- Central government then has a duty to ‘co-operate and try to reach agreement’ with the LGA on acting on those proposals put forward.
Their final decision will result in an action plan from central government, which is presented before Parliament.
- Government then begins to act, assisting communities and councils based on the proposals that were accepted. It must also publish the reasons why any proposals were not finally taken up.
- More details are available here.
Proposals should be for something that central government can do (and is not doing already) to promote sustainable communities – but this is not merely ‘another consultation’. As LocalWorks says:
“it is governance by dialogue and reaching agreement… This is radical – we have never before had a law like this “.
It’s important that Councils recognise their residents want to see the Act brought into their area and so choose to ‘opt in’. LocalWorks have several public meetings planned across England to help people understand how the Sustainable Communities Act works and how you can put pressure on your Council to ‘opt in’ –the next one is in London on 10th February. A big turnout at these events will really show councils that their residents want them to unlock these new powers for communities!
We are hoping that YOU can take this opportunity to encourage your local authority to let communities shape decision-making more in your town or city. LocalWorks have a map of all the Councils which have so far opted-in: is your Council on there?