Last updated September 2023
The Localism Strategy sets out how we will work with councils and other local and community organisations to safeguard services and facilities that are vital and/or beneficial to the community.
Wyre Forest is a district in the north of the county of Worcestershire. The district has a population of over 100,000 and consists of three towns and large areas of rural countryside.
Kidderminster is the largest of the three towns with a population of over 55,000 residents. Stourport-on-Severn is located on the confluence of the rivers Severn and Stour. It has a population of around 20,000. Bewdley has a population of around 10,000 and is located on the western bank of the River Severn.
The district has three Town Councils – Bewdley, Kidderminster and Stourport-on-Severn and nine parish councils – Broome, Chaddesley Corbett, Churchill and Blakedown, Kidderminster Foreign, Rock, Rushock, Stone, Upper Arley and Woverley and Cookley.
The Town and Parish Councils can raise money locally through an annual precept to provide services in their local community.
There are legal limits on the services local councils can deliver but those with the General Power of Competence have more flexibility.
The Council’s ambition is to work collaboratively with any council or other organisation to improve local services that are important to residents and communities.
We will work with town and parish councils to safeguard the future of our much-loved local parks and open spaces and other assets. We are prepared to consider transferring responsibility for parks and open spaces to town councils: this might involve transfer of the freehold or entering long leases up to 125 years.
The District Council has a range of duties or responsibilities including clearing litter from streets, highway verges and other areas and to ensure parks are well-maintained. We will continue to devolve some of these functions, by agreement, to parish and town councils and will provide adequate support and funding.
We welcome and will give careful consideration to proposals under the community right to challenge in the Localism Act 2011.
Communities across Wyre Forest have different needs. We recognise the principle that community-based services can best be delivered - based on local need and with strong local accountability - by councils or other local organisations.
We welcome proposals, particularly from town and parish councils, that would enhance the offer that the District Council is able to make to local communities – whether by initiatives such as funding events or planting in parks, or by taking on responsibility for assets, services or activities in a way that reduces the net cost for the District Council.
We are prepared to consider proposals particularly from town councils for the transfer of parks or green spaces to them, whether the transfer of the freehold or long leases of up to 125 years. The District Council is prepared to offer grant support, but only on the basis of a significant reduction in the net cost for the District Council. Grant agreements would ordinarily be for a period of 5 to 10 years, to gives confidence that funding is guaranteed for a significant period.
We will continue to offer grants for town and parish councils or other organisations to undertake service delivery on behalf of the District Council for litter picking and emptying of litter bins. These grants are also available if town councils or other organisations wish to assume responsibility for maintaining public open space, including play areas, but without taking on an interest in the land (whether freehold or long leasehold). Local councils are often able to secure service delivery with lower overheads than the District Council and can provide an even more responsive localised service. The District Council is prepared to enter grant agreements for lengthy periods, e.g. up to 5 to 10 years, to give confidence that funding is guaranteed for a significant period
How will we achieve this?
- Putting robust processes in place to implement the Localism Act 2011.
- Building on existing work with town and parish councils and other local organisations.
- Sharing best practice and celebrating success.
How will we know if we have been successful?
- The assets and services continue on a sufficient and financially viable footing
- Assets and services will be enhanced by the input from local organisations
- There is more local control over assets and services
- The local impact of service reductions will be minimised, savings targets will be achieved and services will continue, tailored to meet local needs and resources.
Everyone at Wyre Forest District Council has a part to play in delivering localism. This includes councillors, Cabinet Members and officers. Officers will work closely with the Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure, Arts and Community Safety, who is the lead for the localism agenda to support delivery of the strategy.
We recognise that town and parish councils and organisations across the district are keen to develop their activities and deliver more local services. This is their opportunity to play an even more significant role in their local community.
Wyre Forest District Council will respond to the priorities and ambitions of the local area on a collaborative basis. The District Council may raise its own proposals about asset transfers or new service delivery arrangements. However the initiative for launching a community right to challenge under the legislation rests with town and parish councils and other local organisations.
We intend to adhere to the following broad principles when responding to any such initiative:
- A local organisation proposing a transfer of asset and services must have been in existence for a sufficient period to show that it is engaging widely in the community, managing its finances well and being inclusive and open in its approach. Town and parish councils are statutory bodies and are assumed automatically to meet this test;
- The assets or services under consideration must be things that a town or parish council or other organisation can legally provide. In the case of town and parish councils, this means that they must be able to rely on one or more of their statutory powers; in the case of other organisations, such as charities or community interest companies, their purposes set out in their formal documentation should be sufficiently wide;
- We will consider all requests received and will give reasons if there are any assets or services which we do not consider appropriate for transfer;
- Proposals can include joint service delivery and management arrangements as well as a full transfer of services. They can be made by a collaboration of more than one town or parish council or other local organisations;
- Services considered for a transfer of management must be capable of being delivered at the scale proposed, either through the town or parish council or other organisation’s own resources or through a management arrangement with the District Council;
- Proposals should demonstrate that the service will be provided at broadly the same or better standard than previously provided by the District Council.
- The town or parish council or other local organisation will have to demonstrate a sound business case for all proposals, including the management and other resources that will be put in place – including any grant that might be required from the District Council - to demonstrate the capacity to manage the asset independently and to put the asset to good use for the community.
In respect of proposals that involve the transfer of freehold of land or granting of a long lease, the District Council may use its powers under section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 to dispose of land at less than best value. In addition, any transfer of land consisting or forming part of an open space is subject to compliance by the District Council with the requirement in section 123 to advertise the proposed disposal and consider and any objections received.
It is recognised that the process of transferring assets or services to third parties is not without risk. The level of competence, financial stability and sustainability of third party organisations are key factors in any negotiations. It is also the case that the process can take time especially in building trust between the District Council and interested parties.
In its role as planning authority, the District Council negotiates section 106 contributions for public open space, outdoor amenity space and children’s play space. If a section 106 contribution has been allocated for use at a particular site but has not been spent or committed by the time that that land is transferred to a town council (whether the freehold or a long lease), the District Council would transfer the funding to the town council for it to ensure it is spent in accordance with the section 106 agreement.
As planning authority, the District Council continues to welcome proposals from town and parish councils for negotiating section 106 contributions arising from developments in their areas. Such contributions could be deployed in respect of improving or enhancing public open space, outdoor amenity space and children’s play space on sites owned by town and parish councils or held on long leases. The sites do not have to be ones that have been transferred under the District Council’s approach to localism.