Tools available in the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 and Localism Act 2011 should be enacted to hand power back to communities, writes Andrew George MP.
The purpose of the sustainable communities debate is to advance the case for more local community and civil society involvement in taking action to improve the environmental, economic and social sustainability of their town, village or area.
Sustainable Communities Act 2007 provides a channel whereby local people, through their local authority, can ask central government to take action which they think will help improve the economic, social or environmental well-being of their area.
However, the regulations necessary to effectively enact this legislation have still not been laid. The primary purpose in calling this debate is to encourage government ministers to publish them so that communities can start looking at the ways of taking advantage of the act.
The Localism Act 2011 sets out measures which are intended to shift power away from central government towards local people. These measures include: new freedoms and flexibilities for local government; new rights and powers for communities and individuals; reform to make the planning system more democratic and more effective, and reform to ensure that decisions about housing are taken locally.
Taken together, the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 and Localism Act 2011 reflect a cross party consensus towards empowering local communities. I am keen to advance the tools available to local people in both these acts through this debate.
I would also like to explore the idea of giving communities the power, if they choose, to levy a supplementary business rate on out-of-town retailer, who have the benefit of large free customer car parks. This would apply in situations where the local community believes that the out-of-town retailers are not rated sufficiently to reflect the market advantage given to them - in contrast with in-town retailers. The income from the supplementary business rate could be hypothecated to provide low or discounted town centre car parking to give in-town retailers a more even playing field when competing with their out-of-town competitors.