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Town and Parish Councils

Volume 594: debated on Wednesday 11 March 2015

The Government believe that neighbourhoods, and the communities that live in them, are the most fundamental element of localism. Neighbourhoods are where local democracy begins and where people are often most ready to get involved. Working at the neighbourhood level can transform local services, with better collaboration between agencies and services more flexible and responsive to local need. We want to see communities more in control of the decisions, assets and services that affect them; to build different relationships between people and services—with interaction, engagement and ownership accepted as the norm; and for people to have an understanding of how they can make a difference. Our support for neighbourhood planning is helping over 1,400 communities shape the future development of their area; the delivering differently in neighbourhoods programme is helping local authorities redesign services around the neighbourhood level; and we have supported 100 areas in using the our place approach to enable communities to have a greater say in how services are delivered in their area. On 17 February 2015 I announced a £6 million funding boost to the community rights programme for 2015-16, to help give even more people greater control and influence over what happens locally.

Parish councils are a vital part of this picture, as the tier of local government closest to their communities. Parish councils provide communities with a democratically accountable voice and a structure for taking community action. Currently only around two fifths of the population is covered by a parish council, so the Government want to make it easier to set up new town and parish councils by changing the rules around how community governance reviews are triggered and carried out.

The draft Legislative Reform (Community Governance Reviews) Order 2015 was laid before Parliament on 11 December 2014. The order aims to make it easier to set up new town and parish councils by proposing a reduction in the percentage of local government electors required to sign a community governance petition, to trigger a review, from 10% to 7.5% in larger electorates—the proportions required for smaller electorates would be reduced in line with that change. It also proposes a reduction in the period for the relevant local authority to conclude a community governance review, from 12 months from the date the review begins, to 12 months from the date of receipt of the petition or application. Finally, it proposes that those neighbourhood forums which have a neighbourhood development plan that has passed a referendum should be given the right to trigger a community governance review without the need for a petition.

The House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended, in its 15th report, that the order follow the super-affirmative procedure and sought some additional information about the nature of the burdens in relation to the changes to reduce the time period for a community governance review and to give neighbourhood forums the right to trigger a community governance review. The Committee also raised the issue of the proportionality of the changes proposed. Following consideration of additional information provided by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Committee has reported, in its 19th report, published on 6 March, that it is now satisfied that the order meets the tests set out in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 and is not otherwise inappropriate for the Legislative Reform Order procedure. (The correspondence between the Committee and the Secretary of State is published in its 19th report.)

The House of Commons Regulatory Reform Committee recommended that the draft order be approved subject to the outcome of the further deliberations of the Lords Committee.

No other representations have been made to the Department for Communities and Local Government in connection with this order. I therefore propose to proceed with the draft order without any revisions.