Communities secretary Eric Pickles lays out huge Localism Bill

Proposals to overhaul radically the social housing and planning systems and return power to local authorities were today finally unveiled, following weeks of delay.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles published the Localism and Decentralisation Bill this morning, saying it will herald a “ground-breaking shift” in returning power to councils, starting a “new era of people power.”

The bill will abolish the regional planning system created by New Labour in 2004, removing centrally monitored targets for house building, and allow local communities to give approval upon new developments in their areas. It will also merge the recently-formed Infrastructure Planning Commission for major projects into the Planning Inspectorate.

The bill will also shake-up the social housing system, by allowing councils to decide who to allocate homes to, and giving them control over how to reinvest rents into maintenance. Home Information Packs, already suspended, will be formally scrapped.

Twelve cities will be given powers to create elected mayors, and further powers over social housing and planning will be devolved to London mayor Boris Johnson. The bill will also give Johnson the power to set up Development Corporations within the capital.

Pickles said the bill was “the centrepiece” of government efforts to rebalance power away from Whitehall. He said: “For too long, everything has been controlled from the centre – and look where it’s got us. Central government has kept local government on a tight leash, strangling the life out of councils in the belief that bureaucrats know best. 

Housing Minister Grant Shapps said: “With housebuilding at its lowest peacetime level since 1924, the time is right for radical shake up of the entire system. The Bill will end top-down targets – in their place communities with the vision and drive to build more homes will be given the freedom to achieve their ambitions, and this will be backed up with powerful cash incentives for councils that allow new development in their area.”

The publication of the bill, originally slated for November, was twice-delayed, with today’s publication only confirmed last Thursday when Shapps and Pickles used twitter to announce the date. Initial industry reaction said the success of the bill depended on whether it was actually able to allow housebuilding to recover from its current historic low levels.