28 February 2011

Some movement on the Sustainable Communities Act

At last there’s been some movement on the UK Sustainability Communities Act. This innovative law was designed to help local people to protect or create truly localised and sustainable communities by unblocking obstacles at central government level . It establishes the right for local people and councils to submit proposals for government action. Government is then required not just to consult, but to try to reach agreement on the implementation of those proposals.

When the campaign to introduce the Act began there was strong opposition from the government. A group called Local Works began organising constituency public meetings with local MPs in support of the Act. Local Works National Coordinator, Steve Shaw, takes up the story: “Turnouts averaged between 150 and 200 people, with some meetings attracting 500. MPs were astonished and murmurs rippled through Parliament. When the Act became law in 2007, it did so with full support from all the political parties in Parliament. This was a great success and a victory for grass-roots citizen action.”

The Act produced a flood of great ideas from local communities. Our personal favourite was one by Sheffield council and local community groups who asked for the right to grow food on any land that was left unused for six months.

The government didn’t accept the Sheffield proposal sadly, but they did accept many others. For example it’s going to become easier to produce green energy because permitted development rights will be introduced for small scale renewable and microgeneration energy. The government has also amended the planning rules to exclude gardens from the classification of ‘previously developed land’.

To suggest a change you have to prove that it would promote at least one of the Act’s four part definition for ‘local sustainability’:

  • Local economies, e.g. promoting local shops, Post Offices, local businesses and local jobs
  • Environmental protection, e.g. promoting local renewable energy, protecting green spaces
  • Social inclusion, e.g. protecting local public services and alleviating fuel poverty
  • Democratic involvement, e.g. promoting local people participating in decision making and democracy

And you have to persuade your local council to submit the request on your behalf which isn’t always easy. See here for a good practice guide on how councils can use the Act written by Local Works.

We urge local community groups to get involved. You can sign up for local updates on what’s happening around the Act in your area via Local Works. You should also write to your council and urge them to resolve to use the Act.