Consultants ready and able to take forward localism initiative

The localism bill now about to embark on its parliamentary passage looks set to be one of the most contentious and complex legislative packages of recent times.

There will be occasions over the next few months when it descends into trench warfare. Yet there are signs that the battle to get hearts and minds behind the concept of localism has been won in at least one key forum.

Much of the comment offered for this week's Planning Consultancy Survey points to increasing acceptance among development interests as well as their advisers that the case for a more co-operative style of planning has been made.

After a six-month hiatus waiting in vain for a clear lead on what happens next from the centre, the smoke signals indicate a recognition that all sides must buckle down sooner rather than later to the task of pulling the planning system off the ropes.

Much remains at stake. In particular, parliamentarians face crunch decisions on the thorny issues of how individual initiatives can be knitted together at the larger than local level and how clashes between national priorities and local interests will be resolved - as they must be if vital infrastructure is going to be provided.

Equally obviously, consultants are concerned that the ongoing uncertainty while the bill's provisions are pored through clause by clause will hamper investor confidence.

Yet it appears that enthusiasm for the era of top-down targets that has lasted for 40 years and reached its apogee in the past decade is waning rapidly. "We will cope without regional spatial strategies, even if their 'abolition' has not made our work any easier," says one contributor.

Localism remains a massive gamble. Failure is not an option if we are to produce the development and infrastructure the country urgently needs.

At least ministers can fall back on a committed professional cadre with extensive local knowledge and a mission to bring all sides together in the search for mutually agreeable ways forward, whatever form the system takes. They really should start to listen to its views.

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