Making it easier to set up new town and parish councils?

The Department for Communities and Local Government ran a consultation on the process of setting up new town and parish councils that closed in January 2013. The results of this consultation were published in September.

Since the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 authorities such as London borough councils have the role of deciding if new parish councils should be formed in their area. Previously this decision was centralised. The 2007 act introduced a procedure called a community governance review which could be triggered by local petition. In London this procedure was triggered in 2011 by the Queen’s Park ward of Westminster and led to the creation of a new parish council in 2014. The length of time it took to create this parish council points to the failings in the existing system. The campaign was well organised and followed the procedure as set out.
The responses to the consultation came from principal councils, parish councils and individuals, and are were overall in favour of some changes to the process of setting up a parish council. The options available were:
  • amending existing guidance;
  • changing the law;
  • making it easier for neighbourhood forums (used for neighbourhood planning) to start the process for creating a new parish council; or
  • some combination of the above.
The responses broadly favoured the changes proposed in all options, with some respondents strongly opposed to changes in each category.
The government response similarly proposes changes drawn from each option:
  • limiting the time for a community governance review to twelve months from the receipt of a valid petition;
  • reducing the number of signatures needed on a petition for a community governance review;
  • making it easier for neighbourhood forums to start the process for setting up new parish councils; and
  • amending guidance to local authorities undertaking community governance reviews to favour parish council proposals.
The test of these measures will be how quickly a new council can be set up under the adapted guidance. In the case of Queen’s Park the council added the extra challenge of a local referendum. This kind of extra hurdle is not to be explicitly prevented. Within London perhaps part of the problem is the lack of experience the borough councils have of parish councils. However the community governance review was introduced to London at the same time as the rest of the country and other parish councils have been set up under the 2007 regime in less time. The reduction in signatures needed to trigger a petition might make campaigners feel they have less of a challenge in order to start the review process. The other changes should ensure the review happens in a timely manner. Hopefully a community will want to test this out soon, so I can do a comparison!
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