Government’s Devolution Bill inquiry launched

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Government's Devolution Bill inquiry launched

July 2015

devolution bill inquiry
The Communities and Local Government Committee are to examine a variety of devolution issues, looking at the lessons which can be learned from City Deals, whether the Manchester devolution deal provides a model for other areas, and how the Devolution Bill will build on local accountability. 
 
The bill includes proposals for the reform of combined authorities and local authorities. It would provide the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government with a series of order and regulation making powers, allowing for the devolution of functions currently owned by central government and local public bodies. It is intended as the means of delivering local 'devolution deals', agreed between combined authorities and central government, such as the Greater Manchester Agreement.
 
‘Devolving power to local areas is the right way to help boost economic growth across the country and can potentially deliver more effective and efficient public services,’ said Clive Betts, chair of the CLG Committee.
 
The Committee is calling for evidence on how the devolution of health spending will affect the delivery of local health services, how the Bill will impact on local accountability structures and the current devolution plans for London. The CLG Committee has previously called on the Government to allow local communities in England to take greater control over how money is raised and spent in their areas.
 
The main provisions of the bill are:
 
  • To allow for the devolution of powers from the UK government to some of England's towns, cities and counties.
  • To allow for the introduction of directly elected mayors to combined authorities.
  • To allow directly elected mayors to replace Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in these areas.
  • To remove the current statutory limitation on the functions of these local authorities. (Previously they have been limited to economic development, regeneration, and transport.)
  • To enable local authority governance to be streamlined as agreed by councils.
The provisions in the bill are generic, expected to apply primarily to England's largest city regions (the Core Cities Group of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, and Sheffield; however there could be instances where the devolution of powers could be agreed to “a single county” or other local government area where a combined authority is not in place, provided all the councils in that area are in agreement. Additionally local government reorganisation may be facilitated by the bill if local authorities in an area are willing and the proposal is agreed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
 
Moves to strengthen Greater Manchester by giving the region more freedoms and flexibilities began with the groundbreaking devolution deal signed with government in November 2014. This saw the region take on new powers in transport, policing, planning and housing. From 2017, Greater Manchester is expected to be the first city region to use the legislation to elect a 'metro-mayor', a role similar to that of the Mayor of London. The mayor is to have powers over transport, housing, strategic planning and policing. Powers over strategic planning, include the power to create a statutory spatial framework to identify future housing and land requirements for Greater Manchester.  In May 2015 Tony Lloyd was selected to be interim mayor by the GMCA, with elections expected in 2017.
 
The Strategic Framework will give Greater Manchester an overarching plan within which the 10 local authorities identify and make available land to deliver ambitious strategic priorities. The multi-council plan is believed to be the first of its type in the country and will link appropriately to the 10 councils’ own local plans. Over the next 12 months, options will be developed for the draft Development Plan Document with full consultation planned in 2016, before publication in 2017.  
 
The GMCA will also work with government to create a Greater Manchester Land Commission to develop an overview of all publicly-owned land in the region, including that owned by government and other public sector bodies. It will look at and co-ordinate how that land can be used to support Greater Manchester’s wider ambitions - including the need for 10,000 new homes a year to support its growing economy and communities - and address any barriers to such land being developed. Further powers over planning will help the elected Mayor encourage regeneration and development in Greater Manchester. These include:
 
  • The ability to create Mayoral Development Corporations which can help drive regeneration and advance complex development schemes. Any such development corporations would have to be agreed by the leader of the Greater Manchester local authority in which it would have powers.
  • Compulsory purchase powers for the Mayor, again subject to the agreement of the leader of the local authority in the relevant area.
In June 2015 Leicester’s City Mayor, Leicestershire County Council’s leader and leaders of the seven district councils announced proposals to create a combined authority to work together on major regional issues including economic growth, transport and planning. 
 
The proposal will seek to devolve decision-making powers and funding from London to the Leicester and Leicestershire area, which is home to a million people in total – around 330,000 living in the city, and more than 600,000 across the county.  Planning for major developments such as housing and employment would see the councils working together to agree a clearer, long term framework to meet local needs and growth.  
 
The process of establishing a combined authority is estimated to take about six months and will include discussions between the councils and businesses, MPs and those involved in education, skills and training. Once detailed proposals have been drawn up, there will also be a public consultation process. The full devolution process could take up to twelve months to complete.
 
In July 2015 devolution arrangements for Cornwall were also announced. 
 
Commenting on the proposed changes, Angela Cornell of the Fisher German planning team comments that “the push for an overview into publicly owned land and the delivery of new homes is positive given the significant lack of housing supply. However, comments submitted by major landowners, developers and housebuilders have raised reservations over the proposed housing and economic growth rates. Most consider them to be 'flawed and too low'. Whilst the Framework proposes to provide 10,700 new homes every year, there is broad agreement in the comments that this housing requirement should be increased to around 15,000.
 
There is still a lack of precision about the approach to housing land. It will be essential for the Framework to ensure that there is sufficient deliverable land in locations of high demand to ensure that the homes that are needed can actually be delivered. This will require an overarching assessment of the housing land across the conurbation, including a strategic review of Green Belt boundaries.”
 
If you would like to discuss how these planning reforms may affect your interests, please click here to contact a member of your local planning team.
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