Since its foundation as an unincorporated voluntary association in 2019, the Hanover & Elm Grove Communities Forum has been considering the longer term structure and future of the group, and how the community voice and needs of the area may be best represented, amplified and actioned to deliver improved locally responsive services and opportunities for residents.
One of the options under discussion has been to develop a local community council for the area.
What is a local community council?
Local community councils – also known as parish or urban councils – occupy the lowest level in the British governmental structure and represent the interests of local communities, and there are around 10,000 community councils in existence across the country. The powers they exercise are limited in nature and tend to focus on local amenities and facilities.
Why might we want one?
A Community Council is run by elected Councillors able to speak up for the area. Being generally non-political they can focus on the quality of life issues which are so important to residents. They can also take the lead in some local functions, including:
- Sports facilities
- Local youth projects
- Bus shelters
- Litter bins
- Off street carparks
- Community centres
- Parks and open spaces
- Community transport
- Neighbourhood Planning
- Crime reduction measures
- Street lighting
- Festivals and fetes
- Traffic calming measures
- Tourism activities
How are Community Councils funded?
Like the main city council, much of the funding comes through council tax, and a community council may levy a precept on the annual council tax payment to fund its activities. This is the only tax based income allowed to a community council and will vary according to local agreement, with some councils not charging any precept.
Above this, community councils are well placed to attract other income for their area, and have a strong role in discharging developer contributions through the Community Infrastructure Levy, which is being introduced in Brighton & Hove this year.
How do we start a community council in our area?
First – define our area. This could be the whole ward or just a part of it. The expectation is that a community council area is chosen rationally so that people living in the area can understand it, and it is likely to follow existing administration or physical boundaries.
The next step for this initiative would be for residents to present a petition to the city council requesting this change. The number of minimum signatures required varies according to the size of the population in the chosen area.
If the petition area:
- Has fewer than 500 local government electors, the petition must be signed by 37.5% of the electors;
- Has between 500 and 2,500 local government electors, the petition must be signed by at least 187 electors;
- Has more than 2,500 local government electors, the petition must be signed by at least 7.5% of the electors.
Should a suitable petition be presented, the council will be obliged to conduct a governance review in order to examine the request, and this should take place within 12 months of a valid petition being received.
What happens next?
If an appropriate petition is submitted and the subsequent governance review recommends the creation of a community council, then it is full steam ahead with elections etc… Getting to this point though is a bit of a journey, and is massively dependent upon community champions talking with their neighbours and galvanising support to complete the petition, lobby the council during a governance review, and most of all to have a vision of how and what can be improved as a result of stronger and more locallised democratic structures and systems.
It is not something which can be imposed upon a community, but is something which can have great benefits for local life if enough people want it to happen.
There is no campaign or proposal for a community council at the moment, but is is something which has been raised at the forum, and open for discussion (starting next meeting on September 17th where is will be on the agenda)
How can I find out more?
Here are some links to useful documents and organisations:
The National Association of Local Councils Power to the People guidance documents:
For a whistlestop tour of existing community councils, here are some brief case studies from NALC
And for a look at how the town of Frome has been re-energising local democracy, see Flatpack Democracy!