Parish and town councils (local councils) are the most local elected body within the English system of local government. They are the grass roots of local community democracy and the first tier of local government. Unlike district/borough, or county/unitary authorities, a local council represents the concerns and aspirations of a genuine community or geographic area.
Local councils have two main roles: community representation and local administration. The also have a large range of powers, and the activities they can get involved in are varied. Many local councils are involved in planning, promoting tourism, licensing, community halls, representation with other organisations, cemeteries, parks, management of town and village centres, providing community halls, traffic calming measures etc. A full range of powers is available on this website.
Recent increased government commitment and recognition has put local councils at the forefront of renewed community democracy. The 2007 Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act should help bring about the devolution of services from town hall to local councils.
As part of the Act, on the 18 February 2008, Local Government Minister John Healey MP, confirmed that principal authorities can create new local councils without seeking approval from government. Guidance on community governance reviews was issued in April 2008.
Any Community Governance Review must make recommendations as to what new parish should be constituted, what the electoral arrangements should be and the name of that area. It can also make recommendations as to whether existing parishes can be altered.
A summarised version of the three procedures for creating a new local council is shown below.
Local people can initiate a review of community governance by petitioning their principal authority. For a petition to be valid it must meet certain criteria in that the petition must be signed by the requisite number of local electors:
- For an area with less than 500 local electors the petition must be signed by at least 37.5% of electors
- For an area with between 500 and 2,500 local electors, the petition must be signed by at least 187 electors
- For an area with more than 2,500 local electors the petition must be signed by at least 7.5% of electors.
The petition must also define the area to which the review relates, whether on a map or otherwise and refer to identifiable fixed boundaries. It must also specify the recommendations
Once the petition is received by the principal authority it has a duty to carry out a community governance review however this may not apply if:
- The principal authority has concluded a community governance review within the last two years which in its opinion covered the whole or a significant part of the are of the petition
- The principal authority is currently conducting a review of the whole, or a significant part of the area to which the petition relates.
Principal authorities can initiate governance reviews without a petition
In setting up new councils principal authorities must consult local people and ensure that any change reflects the identities and interests of the community it represents and that it will be able to deliver effective and convenient local government. Ensuring that the interests of communities are reflected will mean councils should ensure the creation of any local council is not detrimental to community cohesion.
- Principal authorities are able to create parish councils in parishes which have 1,000 electors or more
- In parishes with 151 to 999 electors the principal council may recommend the creation of either a parish council or parish meeting
- In parishes with 150 or fewer electors principal councils are unable to create a parish council and parish meetings must be created
This recognises the fact that the widely varying sizes of parish councils calls for a greater degree of flexibility in choosing the right style of governance.
Existing or newly created local councils are to be given the ability to change the name of their area from parish to one of a menu of styles: community, neighbourhood or village (and retain the option of ‘town’).
The shift delivers a key element of the Government’s drive to devolve more power and decision making to councils who will be able to make decisions on local governance faster. It will bring influence, decisions and control closer to the people.
This is where a review of local government arrangements is undertaken by the Boundary Committee for England.
Nationally over 200 local councils have been created in recent years. In County Durham, Greater Willington and Bishop Auckland Town Councils were created in 2007 whilst Stanley Town Council was created in April 2008.
Please contact us if you would like further information concerning the creation of a new Parish or Town Council.