I was just looking through the discussion paper recently published by CLG on establishing parish councils. Mindful of a client’s recent comment that the current process is complicated and takes a long time, I am encouraged the paper is entitled “Making it easier to set up new town and parish councils”.
The introduction to the paper says “The Government wants to make it as easy as possible for people to play an active part in society and improve their neighbourhoods”. Parish councils tend to exist in rural areas, leaving many urban communities without a tier of local democracy and service delivery below their district, borough or unitary authority. Simplifying the procedure for establishing new neighbourhood or community councils may lead to more being created, so advancing the big society. (Now that’s a phrase which has fallen out of the Government’s day-to-day parlance, although note that the discussion paper has come out of CLG’s Big Society and Community Rights Division.)
In rural communities, the parish council often provides a lively forum for debate on local issues and has ownership and control of community assets and facilities which have a real, positive impact on village life. Developers of new communities are keen to engage with their local parish councils from the earliest point in planning new developments, often having land assets which are well placed into the hands of the parish council for long term management and enjoyment by the local community. Indeed, some section 106 agreements specifically provide for this. Some new developments may even, over time, give rise to a critical mass of residents sufficient to establish a new parish council, so simplifying procedures for creating these must be welcomed.
As long term estate management strategies feature increasingly high up the agenda in planning applications and planning agreements for new communities, careful consideration should be given to the part the parish councils can play in framing and delivering such strategies.