Headlines: February 6th, 2003

Local councils believe sustainable development, housing growth and renewal must be driven by communities and not imposed from the top, according to the Local Government Association in its response to the Communities Plan announced by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott.The 22 billion pound plan includes five billion for more affordable housing, 300 million to encourage modern build housing, £500 million for deserted and rundown housing areas in the North and Midlands, almost three billion to improve social housing and £201 million for improving the local environment.

But, the LGA is warning of the danger that planning legislation currently before Parliament could lead to Whitehall-inspired developments overriding local and regional choice. It is also concerned that proposals in the new plan to create regional housing bodies, mirror the idea of regional planning authorities and contain no mention of local council involvement.

Sir Jeremy Beecham, Local Government Association Chair, said, “The Plan provides a national framework to address real problems of housing hotspots and regional decline and the quality of life. The LGA has worked with the government to set an agenda to address theses issues, and the plan is useful in pulling a lot of this work together with money to match.

“It is the role of government to provide a national lead and address imbalances across the country. But the implementation of change must now be driven democratically from those closest to the problems.”

He said the plan should not be seen as an edict and it was vital that councils be allowed to have a leading role in the debate about the proposals. “Otherwise growth will stall rather than flourish. All that is good in today’s Communities Plan will be lost where popular support is lost,” he warned.

Announcing the plan, Mr. Prescott said, “ This marks a real step change in our approach to communities, a step change that will affect urban and rural, north and south. It will create and maintain places in which people want to live and to which they are proud to belong.”