Cllr Neil Clarke is Chairman of the District Councils’ Network and Mark Pawsey is the MP for Rugby and the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for District Councils.
As Parliamentarians return to Westminster for a few short weeks before the party conference season, the ramifications of the Brexit vote still dominate the political horizon.
During the EU Referendum the entire political class was told, in no unclear terms, that the fruits of economic growth have to be balanced more fairly across the country.
In response, Theresa May has set in motion the framework for a national industrial strategy – a task to which she has appointed former communities and local government secretary Greg Clark to oversee.
As Paul Goodman noted in a recent column outlining the housebuilding challenges facing the new Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid, at the 2015 General Election we Conservatives campaigned on a manifesto of security in the broadest sense.
This must include housing and economic growth, as both are vital to central and local government uniting for their success nationwide.
Failure to provide quality housing in sufficient numbers and at affordable prices risks locking a generation out of home-ownership. Unless local economies outside London and the South East are given the power to unleash their full growth potential, we will be unable to create a strong, fair and balanced society.
There is an urgent desire to deliver on this national agenda. As chairmen of the All Party Parliamentary Group for District Councils and the District Councils’ Network, we are acutely aware that national revival requires local action. We have to act locally in order to grow globally.
If we learned anything from Brexit, it is that we ignore local identity and what matters most to local communities at our peril. Those who voted Brexit did not, in all likelihood, want to see Whitehall step up to fill the void left by the EU. Nor did they want another unaccountable and distant form of local government structure imposed on them ‘top down’.
England’s 201 district councils, who serve nearly 22 million residents and cover two-thirds of the country, are in the forefront for driving housing and growth across huge swathes of non-metropolitan England. As strategic housing authorities, they have the local knowledge so vital to understanding where the most appropriate and sustainable areas for development are located in their areas. They are also the bodies most capable of unlocking stalled sites, granting a higher proportion of planning permissions in less time than any other types of local authority. District Councils approve 90 per cent of planning applications compared to 70 per cent of London boroughs and do so in less time than the capital’s councils and Unitary Authorities.
As trusted custodians of locality, close to their business community, District Councils are strong, local leaders. They commonly act as catalysts for collaboration to deliver place-based growth schemes, employment and skills services for their areas. Let us appreciate the contribution they make.