Reviewed by: Nicholas Dobson
Author: Simon Ricketts and Duncan Field
Publisher: Bloomsbury Professional
ISBN: 9781847669452
Price: £75.00

Authors Ricketts and Field (both former barristers and now partners respectively in SJ Berwin and Wragge & Co) have done well to get such a comprehensive overview text off the stocks in such a short time. For the Localism Act 2011 is still in its infancy with commencement orders still arriving as regularly as post-partum health visitors of old.

Planning lawyers, who will have been closely following the unfolding dramas of the 2011 act, will already be well aware of the final shape of the beast. They should nevertheless find this book to be a very useful resume, not just of what is there now but also how it got there. And those, like me, with no specialist planning expertise will find this a valuable map through what can be a complex and confusing area. For, as the authors acknowledge in their introduction, the planning ‘system has become forbidding in the extreme to non-specialists, with its own impenetrable language and acronyms’. The work should provide an antidote.

As well as considering the planning components of the act, the book highlights in brief outline some Localism Act powers and duties including the much-discussed new general power of competence. The topic of local authority powers and duties already fills several texts in itself and therefore any coverage in this context can only be a high-jet and narrow overview within the present context. Nevertheless it is necessary at least to note these and related governance issues within the 2011 act as the fundamental context in which local authority planning and other decisions are made. For, as the authors note, local planning authorities ‘are expected to make things happen... both as an originator and a co-ordinator of funding and ideas’.

Heartening for litigators (if not for cash-strapped local authorities) is the authors’ view that ‘for the foreseeable future there will be an increase in the incidence of judicial review as various interested parties interrogate the decisions and actions taken by local authorities...’ . That, I suppose, is an inevitable consequence of localism. For more local discretion places decisions increasingly under the forensic spotlight, as illustrated by the various recent equalities challenges to local budgetary reductions.

The final chapter (Navigating the System) offers some helpful Ordnance Survey map guidance to different interests groups, i.e. landowners, developers, local planning authorities and local residents and businesses. A concluding ‘essential message’ for all ‘whoever you are and whatever outcome you are hoping for’ is that ‘the Localism Act and its associated package of reforms represent a fundamental cultural change in the planning system. It will be interesting to see how this beds down in practice, given the hard-wired assumptions that will inevitably be carried forward from the ‘ancien regime’.

The publisher, Bloomsbury Professional, is part of the stable that gave us Harry Potter. Whilst this book is less likely to weave the same Hollywood and revenue magic for the authors, it should nevertheless find a respectable place on the bookshelves of all lawyers who deal with local government.

Dr Nicholas Dobson is a senior consultant with Pannone specialising in local and public law. He is also communications officer for the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors