The Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (as amended 2010) (SCA) provides an opportunity for local (parish and town) councils to make direct proposals to the central government to remove legislative or other barriers that prevent them from improving the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area.
Philosophy: The Need for the Act
There has been overwhelming evidence of community decline since 2012/13, when local councils were first given the right to make proposals under the Act: the closure of local shops, post offices, and pubs and the knock-on environmental, economic and social effects of these. It is a national trend affecting the whole country. Local councils can use the Act to bring to the government's attention significant problems of national relevance for the sector, which require redress.
The central government can and should help to reverse this community decline – by considering all local council proposals submitted under the Act with evidence of national application and local consultation and support.
Local councils are very well placed to know their areas and the social, environmental and economic issues that prevail there. They, therefore, also often have a very good idea about what might constitute the solutions to these local problems. Local councils should, therefore, strongly consider using the Act to highlight social, economic and environmental problems of national importance to the central government, ensuring that their proposals specify the solution for a given issue and how it can be implemented.
So this is the reason behind the Sustainable Communities Act and its proposal process for local councils – to help the central government reverse community decline and create more sustainable communities.
The Act: A bottom-up process that gives people power
Under the Act, in 2013, the government and NALC established a process empowering local councils to make direct proposals to central government departments. The ideas in local council proposals can drive the actions that government takes if proposals are adopted. This process is 'bottom-up' - because what local councils need and want at the community level should rightly drive what government does and how it acts.
Local councils are also reminded that they can also submit joint proposals with principal authorities or community groups to the government under the Sustainable Communities Act.
How the process works
The Act gives local councils (with supporting evidence and in consultation with their residents) the right to come up with proposals and then submit them directly to the central government. These proposals can be for any government action or assistance to reverse community decline and protect or promote sustainable communities. Sustainable communities are defined in the Act as incorporating four things; local economies (e.g. promoting local shops, post offices, local businesses and local jobs); environmental protection (e.g. promoting local renewable energy, protecting green spaces); social inclusion (protecting local public services and alleviating fuel and food poverty); and democratic involvement (encouraging local people to participate in decision making).
Upon receiving proposals, the central government must consider them and decide whether to implement them. If they decide not to implement a proposal, they must explain why. NALC are promoting local council use of the Act in the local council sector.
So local councils can submit any proposal that:
Can be shown to promote sustainable communities as defined above; and
Requires central government action or assistance. Local councils can submit proposals whenever they choose to – but they are advised to contact for a discussion on evidence, consultation and substance.
If councils choose to use the Act by submitting proposals, they must involve communities and citizens in their area. The Act requires that local councils consult their residents on proposal wording and substance and ask residents to provide them with evidence of support ahead of proposals being submitted. How local councils do, this is up to them, though it is recommended that local councils set up (or recognise, if they already exist) a panel or panels of resident representatives. These should include people from under-represented groups: ethnic minorities, young people, older people, tenants, etc.
Upon receiving proposals, the central government must consider them and decide whether to implement them. If they decide not to implement a proposal, they must explain why.
The legal order allowing local councils to make direct proposals to the secretary of state for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) under the second round invitation of the Sustainable Communities Act, 2007 – formally commenced on 14 October 2013.
Local councils should also visit the DLUHC SCA web page to find more context about the Act.
NALC are promoting local council use of the Act in the local council sector.
Here are a few of the latest themes to which local councils have submitted SCA proposals to the government in recent years:
The Dependants' Carers' Allowance
Neighbourhood planning guidance
Please see the NALC toolkit for more information on SCA-related documents.
There is a formal local council proposal form for the Act, which must be used by local councils when submitting a proposal directly to the government under the Act. This can be obtained by emailing NALC at email@example.com .