George writes to councils on rebalancing town and country communities

Andrew’s letter:-

STRENGTHENING LOCAL DECISION-MAKING

I attach a copy of a briefing paper prepared by Local Works – the campaign to implement the Sustainable Communities Act – which I hope you will find useful.

There are three specific initiatives which I have been discussing with Local Works and which I am now seeking the support of parish and town councils, Cornwall Council and to strengthen our campaign for additional powers, with other localities. The specific proposals are as follows:

1. Planning-right of appeal for town and parish councils

As you are aware, applicants for planning permission have a right of appeal against the decision of a planning authority to reject such applications whereas a third party who may be affected by the proposal does not have such a right of appeal. Whilst it remains my view that such third parties should be given the right of an appeal against a decision to permit development (in limited circumstances where, for example, it clearly contravenes a local planning policy, is contrary to officer recommendations, would set a precedent, etc) an alternative is to provide those powers to parish and town councils. It is proposed that this would apply in circumstances where the parish/town council has reasonably objected to a planning application which is then granted by the local authority.

As you know, whilst parish and town councils have an expectation to be consulted on planning matters they have no formal statutory role as such. Such a parish/town council right of appeal power would have the effect of significantly enhancing the status of the parish and town councils and encourage the local planning authority and its planning committee members to take more notice of the comments and concerns of the parish and town council as the locally elected representative body.

2. Planning – additional new ‘Use Class’ for non-permanent residence (second homes)

I have long argued that local authorities should be given greater powers to manage the extent of second and holiday home ownership in particular localities; where their numbers have an impact on the housing opportunities of local people and upon community life and services.

The introduction of a new Use Class in the planning Use Classes order which would require a planning application to be made for new applications to convert a residence into a ‘non-permanent residence’ would give the planning authority the opportunity to manage the numbers and proportions of second and holiday homes. Where permissions are granted it is intended that these would apply for the lifetime of that occupancy and would revert to permanent residence on resale/reoccupation, unless a fresh planning application / renewal of the entitlement was successful.

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I appreciate that such a power may not necessarily be appropriate in all areas, but where this has the strong support of parish and town councils and could be adopted to be used within the locality this may be a useful additional tool to help the local community.

3. Better managing the impact of out-of-town retail parks

The Sustainable Communities Act also appears to be the most appropriate vehicle in the present climate to secure a power for local authorities to levy a supplementary business rate on out-of-town retailers/supermarkets who enjoy the (still, in my view, insufficient business rated) free car parking which places out-of-town retailers at a significant advantage over their struggling in-town competitors.

Like the other options above, I have a great deal more briefing and material on this proposal than I will weigh you down with at this stage, but suffice it to say that the purpose of the supplementary business rate is to rebalance an uneven playing field such that the monies raised from out-of-town retailers would then be used to assist in helping to make town centres more competitive (through either greater subsidy for cheaper car parking, better town facilities, public conveniences, amenity areas, etc).

If you are keen to follow up any of these proposals and to use the opportunities of the Sustainable Communities Act then please contact me for further details and discussion.

NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING, BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICTS AND OTHER MATTERS

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage those parish and town councils that haven’t yet already commenced the process of creating their own local neighbourhood plan to do so. A number have already and I congratulate the excellent efforts being made in St Ives, Helston and elsewhere.

Some parish and town councils are also heavily engaged in the discussion and debate on the future shape of Cornwall’s own ‘Local Plan’. Likewise, good progress is being made in some towns with the creation of Business Improvement Districts. I am keen to make sure that Government Ministers are fully aware of the success which local communities are making of these opportunities and if there are any questions or concerns then please contact me.

I have spoken to some parish councils about a project on which I am jointly working with the Zoological Society of London – namely a Penwith-wide project to control the impact of Bovine Tuberculosis on the farm livestock sector through a badger vaccination programme. If others wish to have a similar briefing on this then please get in contact. I have spoken to a number of farmers groups and further information on this project will be posted in the coming months.

Finally, I have received representations from the Cornwall Association of Local Councils regarding concerns about Government proposals to cap the income/expenditure of parish and town councils. This is of understandable and particular concern in Cornwall where some parish/town councils are taking on greater functions from the local authority. There is an understandable fear amongst this the first tier of Government that this would constrain their ability to do this. I have written to the Local Government Minister to support the Association of Local Councils and those parish and town councils who fear that they may be affected by such a policy of ‘capping’.

If you have any questions or queries about any matter raised in this letter then please do not hesitate to contact me.

With good wishes.

Yours sincerely,