Localism Bill should give people a stronger voice in shaping their local environment, but there is plenty to debate as it goes through Parliament.
“All politics is local“, said Thomas O’Neill. If so, then the publication of the Localism Bill this week is a significant event indeed. Certainly it will have important implications for the natural environment and that should be so, since few things matter more to people than their local environment.
The Woodland Trust works with communities the length and breadth of Britain to help them defend and improve that local environment. Our experience is that there is a great deal of public enthusiasm and appetite for involvement to tap into. In this context we hope that the provisions of the Bill will act as a catalyst for people becoming more engaged in planting trees and taking action to secure better protection for the green spaces they value most.
On the face of it, there are real positives to welcome in the Bill. We hope that the move to Neighbourhood plans will herald a shift to people being more actively involved in shaping their local environment for the better. Similarly, a duty on local authorities to co-operate is immensely important at a time when regional structures are being dismantled. The natural environment does not respect man made administrative boundaries and if we are to achieve the landscape scale working and securing of ecosystem services that the forthcoming natural environment white paper aspires then such co-operation will be essential. We will be working during the passage of the Bill to ensure those clauses do the job.
On the less promising side at first glance, the lack of a statutory basis for the new national planning framework, limited public right to appeal and a community right to build will come under close scrutiny – both by politicians and by those who want to see protection and enhancement of the environment strongly informing the Bill. The ‘General Power of Competence’ conferred on local authorities to do whatever they wish that is legal, does however send out a clear signal.
For the Woodland Trust this will mean building on its existing work with local authorities to help them realise the unique potential of trees and woods to help them deliver on so many agendas at once at a time when this new empowerment agenda is accompanied by such challenging cuts.
There is much to play for as the Bill begins its passage through Parliament and much which – done right – can help shape a county richer in native woods and trees.
James Cooper, Head of Government Affairs