Ideas for using the Sustainable Communities Act in Leicester

The city council have recently pledged to consider opting in to the Sustainable Communities Act, and if they did, this would give people in Leicester a chance to locally decide upon central Government support to improve the sustainability of our local community.

Over the next few weeks they should be considering what proposals could be put forward to use the act, so there’s a short window where we can contribute some ideas from Transition towards this process – hence this thread on our blog.

To give some background, the Act defines the promotion of sustainable communities as any of the following 4 things, all of which fit well with Transition’s goals:
1. Environmental, e.g. promoting local renewable energy, increasing recycling and protecting green spaces
2. Local economies, e.g. promoting local shops, local businesses and local jobs
3. Social inclusion, e.g. protecting local public services and alleviating fuel poverty and food poverty
4. Democratic involvement, e.g. increasing the ways local people can participate in local decision making and promoting new ways in which people can influence what happens locally

You can read more about all this on the Local Works website (http://www.localworks.org).

There’s a bit more detail (taken from the act) below about the kinds of proposals that can be put forward. The question is how could we use this to improve Leicester? Any ideas must be related to issues where central Government policies or regulations are preventing local action, so keep that in mind when responding…

******************************************************

MATTERS TO WHICH LOCAL AUTHORITIES MUST HAVE REGARD

1. The matters referred to in section 2 are –

(a) the provision of local services,

(b) the extent to which the volume and value of goods and services that are –

(i) Offered for sale; or

(ii) Procured by public bodies

and are produced within 30 miles (or any lesser distance as may be specified by a local authority in respect of its area) of their place of sale or of the boundary of the public body,

(c) the rate of increase in the growth and marketing of organic forms of food production and the local food economy,

(d) measures to promote reasonable access by all local people to a supply of food that is adequate in terms of both amount and nutritional value,

(e) the number of local jobs,

(f) measures to conserve energy and increase the quantity of energy supplies which are produced from sustainable sources with a 30 mile radius of the region in which they are consumed,

(g) measures taken to reduce the level of road traffic including, but not restricted to, local public transport provision, measures to promote walking and cycling and measures to decrease the amount of product miles,

(h) the increase in social inclusion, including an increase in involvement in local democracy,

(i) measures to increase mutual aid and other community projects,

(j) measures designed to decrease emissions of greenhouse gases,

(k) measures designed to increase community health and well being,

(l) planning policies which would assist with the purposes of this Act, including new arrangements for the provision of affordable housing, and

(m) measures to increase the use of local waste materials for the benefit of the community.

4 responses to “Ideas for using the Sustainable Communities Act in Leicester

  1. Andrew Reeves

    We’ll be meeting up on Tuesday 17th March to brainstorm some ideas: from 8.15pm – 9pm at the Adult Education Centre on Wellington Street (during Leicester Friends of the Earth’s monthly meeting).

    Just to add further food for thought, here are some ideas for what the act could be used for taken from http://www.localworks.org/files/localworks.org/sc_act_4pg_briefing_for_cllrs_and_officers.doc

    Here are just a few examples of what councils could propose and gain by using the Act:

    • That government change the planning system so that developers can not appeal to central government to overturn a local planning decision.

    • That government reduce the restrictions on councils regarding how they spend granted money so that they can choose to spend it on locally decided priorities, e.g. Post Offices and other public services provision.

    • That government give councils the power to retain revenue from business rates to be spent on locally decided priorities.

    • That government give councils the power to levy non domestic rates on the car parking spaces of out of town superstores, and that the revenue be held locally by councils and spent on locally decided priorities.

    • That government give councils the power to use the planning system to stop developers from demolishing public services (for example public houses) that they own so that they can then apply for planning permission to develop the site.

    • That government give councils the power (e.g. via the planning system or via penal council tax) to reduce the growth in second homes, thus making more local housing available for permanent residents.

    • That government give councils the power to create a separate fund for the revenue raised from council tax on second homes to be used for reinvestment in local affordable housing needs.

    • That government give councils the power and resources to refurbish existing housing in the council’s area to reduce its environmental impact (e.g. by fitting insulation).

    • That government allow councils to keep all the rent collected on council properties to be spent on improving council housing, reducing those houses environmental impact and investing in new affordable housing.

    • That government give councils new powers to allow the increase of local allotment provision.

    • That government give councils the power and resources to increase local recycling and/or the amount of recycling that is processed locally.

    • That government give councils the power to decide how to spend central agency money (e.g. Business Link money) already being spent in the area.

    • That government give councils the power to enforce congestion charging.

    • That government give councils the power to ban single occupancy cars from certain routes at certain times.

    • That government give councils greater powers over local bus company operators.

    • That government give councils the power to designate land for ‘self build’ and for community land trusts.

  2. The first thing that jumps to mind is the pressure from central government for councils to get more housing built, is it required, is it wanted, can it be done better if it needs to be done… I think we all kjnow the answers there.

    HDC has accepted the act and our campaign to buy some land from the council for a community farn is blocked by the councils understanding that it pretty well has to build housed on any land it releases.

  3. Here’s what we offered to the city council after ourselves and members of Leicester Friends of the Earth did some brainstorming.

    (As a quick disclaimer, we’ve realised that in a lot of cases, it’s quite hard for us to know as members of the public whether councils have powers to do what we’re suggesting already, or if what we’re suggesting is actually possible within the terms of the SCA, so bear that in mind when reading our ideas!)

    Local food:

    We’d like to see new powers used to enable more land to be used locally for production of food and other resources, and for maintaining biodiversity. We think that for the sake of food security in a context of fossil fuel prices that are set to rise over the long term (through both the impacts of peak oil and a price being put on carbon to combat climate change) we need to actively avoid development on most local greenfield sites.

    Ideas for driving this through the SCA:

    · Powers to count gardens and allotments as “greenfield” sites instead of brownfield to prevent the loss to infill developments of productive land and green corridors for wildlife.

    · Powers to prevent land-banking practices, and ensure that brownfield sites are brought into use (analogous to the powers to bring empty homes into use) so that genuine brownfield sites can be developed to provide affordable housing.

    · Powers to set housing provision targets locally, so that considerations of the need to preserve productive land (which are not taken sufficiently into account in centrally-imposed house-building targets) can be taken into account in Leicester.

    · Powers to designate land for local food production (such as allotments, or projects created to supply to local food markets (such as Community Supported Agriculture).

    Central Government legislation is also preventing many sustainable practices from being used on small-scale farms, such as feeding food scraps to animals. Powers to set rules locally to permit this in certain circumstances (and to remove any other legislative barriers for small-scale mixed farmers) would be a beneficial step, as this type of agriculture is likely to become increasingly important in coming years.

    Transport

    We’d like to see an integrated local public transport system, as is the case in London, so a single ticketing system (Oyster card or similar) can make public transport more convenient and cost-effective.

    · We don’t know about the exact powers you need to achieve this that you could use the act for – we imagine it would mean requiring the cooperation of local public transport companies in such a scheme as a condition for being allowed to operate locally, or something to that effect..

    Buildings

    We’d like to see the council use its planning powers to drive improvements to existing buildings to the greatest extent possible.

    Ideas for using the SCA to drive this:

    · Where any renovation work is carried out, the building must be brought up to a certain energy performance certificate standard. Where re-roofing is carried out, buildings should have solar panels installed (unless a strong case can be made that they are not appropriate on that site – analogous to requirements to consider CHP in new developments in London). Council should provide grant funding and/or loans to support this work.

    · (If it’s possible within the act) to bring in powers to mandate improvements to local homes/other buildings to minimum energy efficiency standards before they can be resold or re-let.

    · For existing housing, area-based refurbishment to low-carbon standards using central Government funding (at little or no cost to householders) is a commonly advocated approach to eliminating fuel poverty and reducing emissions. If this funding and the powers to carry out this work can be delivered through the SCA, we’d love to see this happen. Another approach to funding could be through powers to locally raise funds for this work (perhaps through an “energy efficiency fund” component of council tax, with rebates on this part of the tax given to efficient homes).

    Raising money for climate change mitigation

    As well as the idea above on powers to raise money for refurbishing housing, it could be useful for the council to have powers to raise revenue locally for climate change mitigation in general. This could be justified in terms of Leicester taking a lead nationally (as “Britain’s Sustainable City”), and to help us meet our more ambitious short term 50% carbon reduction target.

    Ideas for using the act to do this:

    § Powers to create a local carbon tax

    § Powers to create a local fuel tax, covering fuel for vehicles, or electricity and gas (for households, this could involve zero tax for low use, and a higher rate for high use (analogous to income tax))

    Supporting local businesses

    A low-carbon economy will be increasingly reliant on local businesses and services, and we should look to actively support local businesses now so that we are best prepared for the future.

    Through the SCA the council could:

    · Change planning regulations to give greater weight to the interests of local businesses in planning decisions (which are often skewed towards bigger national or international organisations).

    · (If the act is required for this) give preference to local businesses and locally sourced materials (say, within 30 miles of Leicester) in council procurement decisions. (ie: if a local organisation can provide the service to a good standard at reasonable cost, then it would be the first choice)

  4. Oh, and you can read the above in a less-confusingingly formatted way by looking on the Documents page of our website.

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