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LATEST EVENTS MEMBERS ARCHIVE JOURNALS SERVICES ABOUT
Civic Voice - talking civic sense

civic sense

www.civicvoice.org.uk | 0151 708 9920 | info@civicvoice.org.uk | @civic_voice

Welcome

Welcome to another civic sense with updates and information on public policy, planning and politics and Civic Voice’s campaigns.

  • Action Checklist
  • Whitehall Watch
  • Government and Politics
  • Planning and Transport
  • Conservation
  • Research, reports and campaigns

    ACTION CHECKLIST

    civic sense includes a number of suggestions for things civic societies and other local groups can do:

    1. vote in our online poll about the key issues for the civic movement here
    2. meet other groups, hear Griff Rhys Jones and get feedback from Planning Minister Greg Clark at one of our Spring Network events in Manchester (19 March) or Reading (26th March) here
    3. send us your questions on the Localism Bill for Minister Greg Clark to reply here
    4. influence the future of the Heritage Lottery Fund by responding to its strategy review here
    5. tell us which development should require consultation with the community before a planning application is submitted
    6. feed back on English Heritage’s draft guide on local listing here
    7. join a civic society tour of high speed rail through Kent here
    8. tell the Government that the local environment is crucial to the wellbeing of the country here
    9. let us know examples of where broadband boxes or yellow lines are being insensitively introduced in your streets here

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    Whitehall Watch

    Localism Bill

    The Localism Bill is proceeding rapidly through Parliament and still on course to come into force next year.

    Civic Voice has been very active in shaping the Bill and we are grateful to all those civic societies which have raised our issues and concerns with their local MPs. We may well call on you all again with important debates still to be had in the next few months. We have met regularly with civil servants and with Minister Greg Clark. We also organised a day long workshop for ten civic volunteers in Kent to make a presentation to Greg Clark in his Tunbridge Wells constituency. . Read a copy of our report Civic societies and localism from the workshop of Kent groups with Greg Clark here

    Our views on the Bill are summarised in a briefing for MPs here and a large number of civic societies have used this to send to their own local MP. Lancaster Civic Society has been able to set up a meeting with its local MP using this briefing.

    We are in touch with MPs about making important changes to the Bill and anticipate putting forward amendments which will:

    1. Protect local services like pubs and shops by requiring planning permission for a change of use
    2. Strengthen the requirement on local authorities to support civic societies, parish councils and other community groups when preparing neighbourhood plans
    3. Enable neighbourhood plans to be prepared for areas which cross local authority boundaries
    4. Extend the right to nominate buildings and land of community value to include civic societies
    5. Tackle the continuing threat from developments which cut across agreed Local Plans or Neighbourhood Plans
    6. Require developers to consult communities before submitting planning applications on many more developments than currently proposed (see here and let us have your reactions)
    7. Introduce a presumption to sell valued community assets to communities first before they are put on the open market

    We have been pleased that the Government responded to our calls for a simple explanation of the Bill by publishing a Plain English Guide which can be read here

    Have you got any questions about the Localism Bill? Minister Greg Clark has promised to respond to those selected by Civic Voice – so what should we ask him? Let us know at info@civicvoice.org.uk

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    Campaign success on heritage

    We are pleased to report success in our campaign to avoid the Localism Bill weakening protection for conservation areas and listed buildings. This was raised as an issue by a large number of civic groups. In response to our lobbying and an amendment proposed to the Bill the Minister Greg Clark has told MPs that:

    "It is certainly not the Government’s intention to weaken the protection for heritage assets…..the Bill gives rise to understandable concerns on the part of the heritage community".

    and has promised to amend the Bill accordingly.

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    Whither the Big Society?

    There has been a lot of media debate about the Big Society in recent weeks, linked to the debate about the impact of large cuts in public expenditure and pressures on voluntary groups and charities. Many express uncertainty about what the Big Society means while others support its ambitions to give communities a stronger voice.

    Prime Minister David Cameron set out his views in an important speech in mid February and explains what the Big Society means to him here

    In a flurry of Big Society announcements, the details have been announced of who is running the programme to set up 5,000 community organisers to support people to take advantage of their new rights and play a more active role in their area. This is being taken on by Locality – a new organisation which has come from the merger of the Development Trusts Association and Bassac (the umbrella for the settlement movement). Where community organisers are being set up then civic societies may well want to get involved.

    More details on the community organiser initiative are available here

    Local government is also getting in on the Big Society and a helpful collection of contributions has been drawn together by the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives here

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    Government and Politics

    New community rights – what do you think?

    The Localism Bill includes measures to give communities the right to take on services and nominate important community assets so they can’t be sold off without a community proposal for their future use being developed. A number of civic societies are already involved in debates over the future of civic buildings, local museums and libraries and the future of shops and pubs.

    The details of how these new rights will work is the subject of consultation and the Government is running a series of workshops around the country:

    1. 22 March, Bristol
    2. 31 March, Birmingham
    3. 13 April, London

    Find out more information here

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    Tackling alcohol licensing

    Civic Voice's influence on the Government’s decision to give communities a stronger say on alcohol licenses has borne fruit with a welcome confirmation of the plans for extra controls. This was undertaken with the Open All Hours? network of civic societies and residents groups and the Institute of Alcohol Studies. The new measures are being taken forward in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

    Learn more about the new laws on alcohol licensing here

    Learn more and join up to our campaign here

    Register with the Open All Hours? network if you want to share experience with other civic societies and make an impact on licensing laws by contacting its Chairman Matthew Bennett on matthewbennett27@btinternet.com

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    Flurry of speeches on planning

    The Localism Bill has prompted a flurry of speeches by Ministers on their views on planning, especially from Localism Minister Greg Clark.

    Read Greg Clark’s speech to Localis in which he describes planning as an “awesome responsibility” and compares Regional Planning to advice provided to Catherine the Great in 18thcentury Russia here

    Read Greg Clark’s speech to the Planning Officers Society in which he identifies the “brass band problem” of choosing between which community groups to prepare a neighbourhood plan here

    Read Greg Clark’s speech to the Adam Smith Institute in which he says the Bill gives communities the chance to “wield real power” here

    Read Greg Clark’s speech to CPRE in which he cites Civic Voice here

    Read Eric Pickles speech to the Association of Convenience Stores where he confirms continuation of the “town centres first” policy for locating development here

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    Sustainable development and wellbeing

    Sustainable development is one of those slippery concepts that can be interpreted differently depending on who is using it and what they want. It has roots going back to the 1980s and started to feature in Government policy after the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.

    There has been a notable silence since the General Election as the Coalition Government has worked out its views on the best approach. The Environment Department has now published its “vision” for sustainable development and plans for making this the “greenest government ever” (echoing similar claims made after Labour came to power in 1997).

    The vision includes an important new emphasis on “wellbeing”:

    Our long term economic growth relies on protecting and enhancing the environmental resources that underpin it, and paying due regard to social needs. As part of our commitment to enhance wellbeing, we will start measuring our progress as a country, not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving; not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life.”

    One of the first applications will be to the planning system – where the Government is to introduce a presumption in favour of sustainable development. This may even appear in law as a change to the Localism Bill and will be included in the National Planning Policy Framework.

    The Government’s vision for sustainable development can be viewed here

    There is more information on the Government’s sustainable development agenda here

    A set of “wellbeing” indicators is being developed as part of the new approach to sustainable development with a view to these sitting alongside measures such as GDP in judging national progress. Civic Voice has already fed in the results of our Love Local campaign (see here) emphasising the importance of issues such as civic pride and what makes places attractive, enjoyable and distinctive.

    The Government is running a series of public events and inviting views online. Over 5,000 responses have already been made emphasising:

    1. children and the future, people are concerned about the quality of life their children will have in adulthood
    2. freedom
    3. equality and fairness
    4. health
    5. job security (not necessarily wealth)
    6. spirituality/faith/religion
    7. the importance of a good quality local environment, especially having access to green spaces.

    It is important that the importance of the local environment remains high by the time the debate closes at the end of April. Why not contribute your views?

    Find out more, join an event and contribute your views online to the wellbeing debate here

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    Future forestry

    It isn’t often a Government consultation is floated, begins and ends between issues of civic sense but this was the fate of the Government’s proposals to replace the Forestry Commission as the manager of the country’s public woods and forests. The public debate has focused on the potential sale of forests to commercial interests and the role of the National Trust and Woodland Trust in taking on “heritage forests” such as the Forest of Dean. There have also been proposals for community groups to take on local woodlands and this is of interest to a number of civic societies.

    The Government’s proposals have now been halted and a “panel” will be set up to find a different way forward.

    Read about the Government U-turn on forests here

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    Planning and Transport

    Planning policy review

    The Government is moving forward with a major review of national planning policies, with a view to bringing them all together into a single National Planning Policy Framework. Thanks to everyone who participated in our poll on the priorities and fed in views. There was strong support to retain existing policies for the historic environment, design, and protecting town centres. There have been over 3,000 submissions to the Government.

    Read our submission here

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    High Speed rail route published

    The Government’s detailed plans for a high speed rail link between London and Birmingham and then beyond to Leeds and Manchester have been published.

    Civic Voice is working with civic volunteers in Kent to organise a visit for civic societies along the route of HS2 to see HS1 in Kent. This visit will include a trip on the high speed line from London to Ashford. Friday 6th May is the tour date. Places will be limited so let us know if you are interested at info@civicvoice.org.uk.

    We are keen to hear your views – positive or otherwise – on the proposals so we can influence the results. Further details of our campaign are available here and a thread has been started on our discussion forum here. We are particularly keen to get more detail about the local impacts of the proposals.

    A searchable and scaleable map showing the proposed route can be seen here

    A series of regional roadshows have been organised - details here

    Read the press release here and read the Minister’s statement here

    Get more details of the consultation here

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    Official blast against “bog standard” housing design

    Housing Minister Grant Shapps and Planning Minister Greg Clark have launched a strongly worded attack on “bog standard identikit Legoland” new housing and encouraged communities to use neighbourhood plans to demand better. The move comes as the Government’s former design watchdog CABE finds new life as a charity within the Design Council. It will continue to receive some Government funding to undertake design reviews of new development. The Minister’s comments can be used by civic societies in campaigning against poor housing design and commenting on planning applications, as well as providing input to the new proposals for neighbourhood plans now in the Localism Bill.

    Read more on the Ministers’ attack on poor housing design here

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    Localism frees up controls on parking

    Current planning and charging policies which give councils the power to limit parking spaces in new developments and increase parking charges have been scrapped in a joint announcement by the Transport and Communities Departments. This touches on a sensitive issue around new development where planning authorities have sought to reduce the impact of cars by curbing the number of parking spaces made available. It will also encourage a more flexible approach to parking charges which could see reduced prices to attract more cars into town centres. Civic societies will need to be vigilant to ensure the new freedoms work to the advantage and not against the quality of life in their local area.

    Read more here and here

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    Tackling pavement parking

    Remarkably, pavement parking is not subject to a general ban except in London and local controls need to be authorised by the Government. This is set to change following an announcement by Transport Minister Norman Baker which will free up councils to take local action. One potential downside from this is a growth in the number of signs indicating local parking bans.

    Read more details of the announcement on pavement parking here

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    Bringing “shared space” to life

    An interesting video of a presentation by Ben Hamilton-Baillie of the potential and benefits of “shared space” has been made available by RUDI. Drawing on the exemplar of the Ashford Ring Road it shows what opportunities there are to encourage the spread of this approach where equal priority is given to all users of road space.

    Watch the half hour video presentation online here

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    Attending council meetings

    Blogging, tweeting and filming in council meetings are all being officially encouraged as part of efforts to boost public engagement and encourage lively debate in social media and on local websites. This is good news for the growing number of civic societies on Twitter.

    Read more here

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    Local Transport White Paper tackles street clutter

    The Government’s approach to localism has been developed for local transport in a new White Paper which sets new ground rules for local authorities and transport providers.

    The White Paper includes a helpful emphasis on local trips and the public realm. The Minister, Norman Baker, recognises in his statement that:

    “Shorter trips are important - two-thirds of all journeys are under five miles. Walking, cycling and public transport are all real, greener alternatives for such trips.

    What’s more, we know that people who travel to the shops on foot, by bicycle or by public transport can spend more per head than those who travel by car – and research shows that improvements to the public realm can increase turnover in the high street by 5 to 15%.”

    There is also a helpful emphasis on reducing street clutter in response to Civic Voice’s campaign:

    “Better design and management of local roads, including improvements in signalling and removing clutter caused by unnecessary signs, can improve traffic flow, as well as improving the attractiveness of the local environment. The Government’s traffic signs review will support this by reducing the need for central government approvals and giving more flexibility to local authorities to tackle traffic problems..."

    “… De-clutteringis a fundamental part of providing high quality public spaces – and one where significant improvements can be achieved at relatively low cost. It involves dispensing with unnecessary signs, traffic signals, road markings and other street furniture to make streets tidier and easier to use. Over-provision of these measures often arises out of a mistaken belief that they are required for safety reasons or they are a legal necessity. In August 2010, the Secretaries of State for Transport and Communities wrote to council leaders highlighting the government’s commitment to reducing street clutter, asking them, as local leaders, to make the same commitment.”

    Read the Local Transport White Paper here and the Minister’s statement here

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    Death throes of regional planning

    The long running legal dispute about whether the Government could simply consign regional strategies to the bin looks as though it has been resolved – with a High Court victory for the Government. This confirms that the Government’s intention to scrap regional strategies is a legitimate “material consideration” and so will undermine efforts to claim policies, such as housing numbers, continue to carry weight in planning decisions. There may still be an appeal!

    Read the outcome here

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    New funds from development

    The Government has published more details of how the new “community infrastructure levy” (CIL) will work. This will replace many of the negotiations over planning gain by requiring businesses to pay up front for parks, roads and other facilities necessary to accommodate their development. The fees will be published in advance and linked to how many houses or how many square feet of retail or office development is being provided.

    Crucially, the Government has promised that a “meaningful proportion” of this funding will go direct to communities to spend on what they consider to be important, and not just be decided by local authorities. This could provide new funds for civic societies and others to improve their area. The details are still being worked out.

    Read the Government’s announcement on CIL here and dig into the detail here

    Much more controversial is an announcement on the New Homes Bonus which CPRE has branded as “cash for sprawl”. The New Homes Bonus will see the Government match the council tax income from new housing for six years. Many fear this “incentive” will encourage local authorities to give planning permission for development which would otherwise be refused.

    Read the Government’s announcement on the New Homes Bonus here

    Read why CPRE is concerned here

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    Action to tackle wasted public sector land

    Housing Minister Grant Shapps has announced a new initiative to tackle the blight of underused public sector land and buildings. It should be possible by the summer to access information on all such assets and ask that it be sold off to bring it into better use. This is being badged as a new “community right to reclaim land."

    Read more here

    The Place Station is a highly relevant new initiative from the Asset Transfer Unit in the Development Trust Association which provides practical advice to communities interested in seeing more done with wasted public assets of buildings and land.

    Find out more about The Place Station here

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    Campaign against insensitive broadband boxes

    The large green street cabinets required to provide broadband continue to cause controversy. Poorly located and insensitively designed boxes are cropping up in their hundreds and with only limited planning controls there are few sanctions for local authorities and civic societies. In one recent example Civic Voice reported boxes been installed in Leamington Spa even before the local authority had given its consent.

    BT’s Openreach has announced a programme to extend broadband to 41 more towns.

    Read details of where broadband is going next here

    Join Civic Voice’s campaign against insensitive broadband boxes here

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    Conservation

  • Future of the Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Local lists
  • Transferring heritage assets
  • Minister supports Civic Voice
  • Narrowing yellow lines
  • Conservation Area case studies
  • Future of the Heritage Lottery Fund

    The Heritage Lottery Fund is expected to have more money over the next five years, making it even more important to the future of our heritage. It is now inviting views on what it should prioritise. Civic Voice will be playing a full part in the debate and we would welcome views on what we should be saying to benefit the civic movement. Civic societies are also encouraged to respond directly to HLF.

    Our research in 2009 showed only 91 civic societies had received funding from HLF in its 15 years and only two awards had been for more that £50,000. Yet the range of activities undertaken by civic societies makes them very eligible for more awards.

    Among other things we are keen to emphasise:

    1. The importance of encouraging more applications from civic societies and other local volunteer-led community groups by simplifying the process and reducing the minimum level of funding (now being proposed to fall to £3,000)
    2. The value of networking and support organisations in helping local groups contribute more to the historic environment, and their need for core support and not just time-limited project funding
    3. The value of local heritage as recognised and defined by communities.

    Find out more about HLF’s review here

    Complete HLF’s online survey here

    Read a copy of the consultation here

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    Local lists

    Civic societies across the country are involved in campaigning for important historic buildings to be locally listed and given extra protection. Many work in partnership with their local authority by providing knowledge and expertise to prepare such lists. The session on local listing was one of the most popular at our AGM in Peterborough last November.

    English Heritage has just published an important new good practice guide on local lists which is a “must read” for all interested in the issue. It follows on from the excellent guidance provided last year on commemorative (“blue”) plaques. Your views are invited on how to make the guide as useful as possible

    Civic Voice will be helping shape the final guidance and would be interested in your views on the draft, in addition to any comments you send directly to English Heritage before the deadline of 13 May. It would also help to know what support you would find helpful by way of workshops, training or online resources to help make best use of the guide.

    Find a copy of the draft good practice guide here

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    Transferring heritage assets

    English Heritage has produced a helpful guide on how best to manage the transfer of historic buildings and other heritage assets to the community. Civic Voice participated in a workshop during the preparation of this report.

    Read a copy of Pillars of the community here

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    Minister supports Civic Voice

    In a rare foray the Communities Minister Baroness Hanham gave a speech to the Heritage Champions in local government which contains helpful recognition of the importance of the historic environment. In advance of the Localism Bill she also welcomed the arrival of Civic Voice:

    “The rapid emergence of the new national charity for the civic movement, Civic Voice is testament to the strength of interest in and passion for our historic local surroundings. A professional voice is essential to help communities understand and interpret what can often seem complex and impenetrable planning laws and procedures and to make their views heard at the appropriate time and in the right forum.”

    Read Baroness Hanham’s heritage speech here

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    Narrowing yellow lines

    Action by a civic volunteer in Northumberland has helped draw attention to the powers to reduce the normal width of yellow lines in conservation areas. When 100mm double yellow lines started to appear on a newly surfaced road in Corbridge the damaging impact on the historic village and its conservation area was immediately apparent. Despite acknowledging its error, the council refused to reduce the lines to 50mm but a commitment to future controls has been obtained. This confirms that all new yellow lines on roads with a speed limit of 40mph or less should be 75mm wide and in sensitive areas, such as conservation areas, they should be 50mm.

    Do you have experience of good or bad practice on yellow lines? Let us know at info@civicvoice.org.uk

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    Conservation Area case studies

    English Heritage has brought out a helpful new report providing 18 case studies of positive management of conservation areas. It is full of ideas and inspiration which might work in your area and both the Sheffield Civic Trust and Nottingham Civic Society are mentioned.

    Read English Heritage’s Valuing Places: Good Practice in Conservation Areas here

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    Research, reports and campaigns

    Saving libraries

    A number of civic societies have been in touch with Civic Voice about the threats to local libraries from local authority funding cuts. The Library Campaign is a source of excellent advice and information and is supporting a number of campaigns which will be of use.

    Find our more about The Library Campaign here

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    Playing fields protection

    The results of Sport England’s lobbying on planning applications affecting sports facilities have been published and put a rosy picture on the impact – with claims of over 95% of applications improving facilities. Less clear is the impact of development and the loss of playing fields

    Read Sport England’s report here

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    Whitehall Watch

    Localism Bill

    Campaign success on heritage

    Whither the Big Society?

    Government and Politics

    New community rights – what do you think?

    Tackling alcohol licensing

    Flurry of speeches on planning

    Sustainable development and wellbeing

    Future forestry

    Planning and Transport

    Planning policy review

    High Speed rail route published

    Official blast against "bog standard" housing design

    Localism frees up controls on parking

    Tackling pavement parking

    Bringing “shared space” to life

    Attending council meetings

    Local Transport White Paper tackles street clutter

    Death throes of regional planning

    New funds from development

    Action to tackle wasted public sector land

    Campaign against insensitive broadband boxes

    Conservation

    Future of the Heritage Lottery Fund

    Local lists

    Transferring heritage assets

    Minister supports Civic Voice

    Narrowing yellow lines

    Conservation Area case studies

    Research, reports and campaigns

    Saving libraries

    Playing field protection

    Key Links

    The Heritage Alliance promotes the role of the voluntary movement in the heritage sector

    The Heritage Alliance - Heritage Update

    Public Realm advice for civic societies

    The Planning Portal - your one-stop-shop for planning information online

    The Library Campaign – find out more about taking action to save and support local libraries

    The Place Station provides practical advice for communities to get involved in wasted public assets of land and buildings

    Tescopoly – the website for supermarket campaigners




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