How to get ‘localism’ here


The Localism Act was introduced to parliament by Eric Pickles in December of 2010 and became law on November 15, 2011. The aim of the act was to facilitate the devolution of decision making powers from central Government control to local communities. It led to the introduction of a new power for local Councils called the “general power of competence“. This means local councils can do “anything that individuals generally may do”. Rye Town Council now has this power.

The Government, recognising that the current planning system was too centralised and bureaucratic, also included in the Localism Act the right for communities to prepare their own Neighbourhood Plans. Once adopted after a local referendum these plans have real power to influence local planning decisions. The Act also gave more protection to “assets of community value” and made the financial contributions normally required from developers more flexible and useful through the “Community Infrastructure Levy”.

The main thrust of the Bill was devolution of powers from central government and strengthening of local democracy, and reform of the planning system. Has it worked so far?  Since the Localism Bill was first published, Government funding for local councils has been savagely cut and this has hit front line services. The Localism Act has offered some possible local solutions but in the face of these cuts there are many unanswered questions about the future of local government.

Certainly the Neighbourhood Plan will bring more power to Rye when considering the town’s development, but to have greater autonomy we need to consider the services which affect our community. The public conveniences, schools, care for the elderly, library, general upkeep of our roads, footpaths and open spaces are examples. Rye Town Council is limited by what it could take on even in a limited way simply due to lack of finance.

Rother District Council is becoming strapped for cash as it seeks ways to become more efficient and save more money. As a result it has become difficult for them to maintain many important services. There was a time when the Campaign for a Democratic Rye thought it had the answer by seeking an Area Committee structure for the District where power would be devolved to specific areas to enable them to have financial autonomy and control.

This great idea depended on the co-operation of Rother and the support of the surrounding parishes. None of them were keen to depart from the status quo, and Rother had no wish to lose control. So some of the support for the Campaign for Democratic Rye started to fall away as the development of the Neighbourhood Plan became the focus for those seeking more powers for Rye.

We still need to make our local government work better and I believe one way forward may be for Rother District Council and East Sussex County Council to merge to form a Unitary Authority. Surely that would save much money and in the process set the ball rolling again for some real devolution to Town and Parish Councils. There is still a burning need for greater devolution of powers to Rye, and perhaps such a reorganisation could make it happen.

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