Many ingredients go into making a community a place where people are proud to live and work, so is there a danger of eroding local government’s ability to place-shape effectively as a result of a series of policy decisions and funding cuts?
Previous governments’ strategies for neighbourhood renewal seem a distant memory, alongside the levels of accessible funding that went alongside them. Whilst criticism existed of approaches being overly centralist, ‘funding with strings attached’, local government remains at the mercy of central government policy decisions and delivering budget cuts is the only thing in which it seems to have more freedom.
Local government should have the key role in integrating the soft and hard infrastructure of society that leads to successful moulding of place. The restrictions placed on council’s ability to advance that process are undermining efforts to improve the life chances of local people.
If we consider an issue like housing, so critical to how places feel and work as a community, permitted development, the current viability test and lack of borrowing powers for social and affordable housing are hindering council’s ability to create the right mix of homes people require. Planners are viewed as a bureaucratic hindrance. Fettering the ability of councils to shape local places for the benefit of local communities, denies those communities the local facilities and services that they need to be successful.
The deep cuts to neighbourhood services of roads, parks, leisure and street scene, which are the very fabric of place, are compromising the publics ability to socialise, exercise and do the very things that form a cohesive society. At a time when we want to engage the public in contributing to community wealth-building, the reports of drug and knife crime, combined with stifling poverty, paint a picture of neighbourhoods that are failing.
As council’s shift towards a self-financing future, depending on growing council tax and business rates is this the way to become an attractive location for people to live in and companies to invest?
Government and policy-makers need to think again about the impact of continuous cuts and their interference in policy on place. It’s time to start prioritising powers to local democratic institutions to plan place in a sustainable way, ending reliance on developers who maximise profits at the expense of the community and hinder councils from their core role - that of stewardship of local place.