Headlines: August 10th, 2010

Following Communities Secretary Eric Pickles’ support for place based or community budgets and for total place, the Royal Town Planning Institute has warned that the localism agenda must not miss the bigger picture on planning.

A wide-ranging group of 29 national bodies have written to Eric Pickles to urge national and local government to work with them to ensure that strategic planning – planning at the ‘larger-than-local level’ – is embedded in any reform of the planning system under the new agenda for localism.

Ann Skippers, President of the Royal Town Planning Institute said: “Ministers need to be very careful not to miss the bigger picture as the localism agenda gathers pace. Communities need some level of strategic thinking beyond the local level to deliver many of the things they want, such as hospitals, transport links, waste management and flood protection. The most pressing issues facing the nation, for example, such as the housing crisis, economic recovery, climate change and biodiversity loss, cannot be dealt with solely at a local level.”

She added: “We have come together to offer to work with the Coalition Government and local authorities to help to develop thinking, policies and systems for planning to encourage and support joint planning across local authority boundaries so that the localism agenda may be used to enable democratic strategic planning to take place”.

An article to be published in the MJ highlights that Treasury officials have warmed to the idea of merging public services budgets across a locality – such as council, health and criminal justice spending – into a single pot, and devolving decision-making over how cash is spent, and services prioritised, to local managers. But the article warns that there has been little discussion of the ‘significant variation in capability across local government and that not every large local authority has the capability and confidence to take on these new spending powers.

It is believed that discussion of the issue in Whitehall has moved on from the merits of community budgets, to whether it is preferable to run trials or to go for a national roll out.