Nigel Adams: Give residents a greater say in local services

IT is a sad fact that each week across Britain, 39 pubs call time and close their doors for business. Many other local services are also lost forever as we have seen 2,500 post offices close since 2007 and 12,000 independent retailers shut up shop in 2009.

Many of these businesses may not be economically viable or could be badly run and are destined to fail, but not all. Presently, a loophole in planning law allows unlisted or freestanding premises used as local services to be demolished without the need to seek planning permission.

This leaves local councils and residents powerless to save valuable and often well-used local community amenities.

It is entirely possible to convert pubs into restaurants, cafes, betting shops or financial services offices without the need for planning permission, because these are classed in the same planning use bracket.

Unscrupulous developers are also able to react to the refusal of planning permission or the possibility of a historic listing by simply demolishing the building and, therefore, extinguishing the previous "use" of the premise.

Demolition is generally not defined as development and, therefore, does not require planning permission.

It is surely not right that local residents are denied a say over the future of the very areas in which they live and often have lived for generations.

So how can a new MP such as myself go about changing the law?

As is customary at the beginning of a new term of Parliament, I entered my name into the Private Members' Bill ballot and was lucky enough to be one of the 20 MPs to have their name drawn out.

Having been given the opportunity to attempt to create a new law, I was keen for my constituents to have their say and opportunity to propose a new law or a change to an existing one, so I invited suggestions via my website and the local press.

I received an excellent response and, in particular, from members of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), and after several meetings with their officers, earlier this year, with Camra's help, my Protection of Local Services (Planning) Bill had its first brief reading in Parliament.

While I am in no way against development and change, I do believe that neither of these should go ahead without the consent of the people set to be the most affected. Local residents should have a greater say in the fate of their local services, so demolition of these community buildings and change of use should be subject to the same planning legislation as other developments.

Obviously, Camra's interest in the ascension of the Bill is fuelled by its relevance for pubs as a local service, and with my constituency of Selby and Ainsty having several breweries, including John Smith's in Tadcaster, the relevance of the Bill for my constituents was not lost on me.

But the Bill's remit would also include post offices, community buildings, open spaces and local shops as defined in accordance with the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, as well as any other local community facilities.

My Bill also clearly aligns itself with the underlying principles of the localism agenda being championed by the new Government by giving control of their communities back to local people – in this case, a greater control of the planning system. It also fits perfectly with the coalition's Community Right to Buy plans.

The new Government is not keen to create legislation just for the sake of it, so, crucially, there is also an "opt in" element to the Bill, leaving the decision to enact its powers up to individual local councils.

It would be an important piece of legislation because local services play a large part in community cohesion, particularly in smaller communities such as many of the rural villages in my constituency.

Local services can strengthen community life by providing a space for people to meet with others and participate in community events, all of which contribute to healthy, sustainable, prosperous and vibrant local communities.

I believe my Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to radically change planning law and would give local communities the chance to save the services that matter to them.

The Protection of Local Services (Planning) Bill is due to have its second reading in Parliament on January 21. It has received much cross-party support and is also backed by organisations such as Local Works, Living Streets, Community Matters and the football based group Supporters Direct who are all keen to protect the services that they represent.

I have also held several meetings with Government Ministers because I believe the success of my Bill will be reliant on government support, in particular from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Private Members' Bills are notoriously difficult to bring into law so if the Bill cannot ascend alone, then I hope to have the main thrust of it included in the coalition's Decentralisation and Localism Bill. If that was to happen, I think that would be no mean achievement after only a few months in the job.

Conservative MP for Selby and Ainsty

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