Communities Minister Don Foster is today announcing new measures to bring parish powers back to the towns and cities of England so more people can run local services and take decisions that affect their area.
Although there are almost 10,000 parish councils in England, only a handful are to be found in urban areas. For example Birmingham has just one (New Frankley) and Queen’s Park Community Council in Westminster will be the first in London for nearly fifty years when elected next year.
So, while almost all of the country is covered by parishes geographically, only around a third of the population is represented by one.
Town and parish councils can directly run local facilities such as leisure centres and theatres, manage parks, establish bylaws, run job clubs, fund community groups and use the community rights and help stop the clock on the sale of important local assets such as pubs and green space.
Today’s announcement will make it easier to create a parish council by:
• Cutting by a quarter the number of petition signatures needed to start the new parish creation process – from 10% of the local population to 7.5%.
• Reducing the time local authorities can take to decide on parish council applications to a maximum of a year.
• Making it easier for community groups that have created a ‘neighbourhood plan’ to kick-start the process - removing the need for them to produce a petition.
• The Department for Communities and Local Government will also be supporting the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) and County Associations of Local Councils to help campaigns for new town and parish councils and provide them with resources.
Local Government Minister Don Foster said:
“Parish councils are a fundamental part of our local democracy, giving the people who live within a community, direct powers to run their local services. For too long the power of the parishioner has only been exercised by people who live in the countryside.
“Many of our bustling towns and cities would benefit from the neighbourliness and local insight of the parish perspective so today I’m making it easier for people, wherever they live, to close up the democratic gap in their own community by creating their own parish council.”
The process for creating parishes will continue to be robust, with the local authority retaining the power to decide whether a new parish should be set up. The difference for campaigners and local councils will be a far easier, quicker and more democratic process.
Neighbourhood Manager for Queen’s Park Fabian Sharp said:
“This is great news. We recently campaigned successfully for a new Community Council in central London under the old system – some might say “the hard way”. These measures will make it easier for other aspiring neighbourhoods to embrace grass-roots democracy. Doing so, puts the community in the driving seat, in charge of local spending and free to do what local people think is best for their area. More is needed to capitalise on the energy in our communities, but this is a welcome move in that direction.
I particularly welcome the move to make it easier for areas with an agreed Neighbourhood Plan to short-cut the process, and I am delighted that the Government has allocated significant resources to support community groups who come forward in the next 18 months.”
Cllr Ken Browse, chairman of the National Association of Local Councils, said:
“As champions for local councils and communities, we are delighted to support the positive steps in the direction of the government’s response on making it easier to create new local (community, parish, neighbourhood or town) councils – in previously un-parished areas. We believe that this is right considering the overwhelming response from people, communities, and local government to make the process of creating new local councils quicker, easier to understand and initiate. We particularly note and welcome the Government’s focus on supporting the creation of new parish councils in previously un-parished urban areas.”