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Local Government Bill cannot be a missed opportunity for democratic reform

The Local Government Bill, which was introduced this week, needs to press for significant reforms to be made to local authorities across Wales.

Top of the list of priorities for the Welsh Liberal Democrats will be a call for single transferable voting to be used in council elections.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats will also call on the Welsh Government to introduce a ‘Community Bill of Rights’ in the Local Government (Wales) Bill and the forthcoming Planning Bill. The Community Bill of Rights would contain a series of proposals for community councils and local authorities such as:

• Developing a “Community Right to Buy” which would give community councils the automatic right to bid to take over services that local authorities are closing, such as leisure centres or libraries.
• Making it easier for Community Councils to establish housing or small energy development, providing local services and providing an income for the Council.
• Re-assert the role of community councils as leaders of communities with a power of general competence and refresh local democracy
• Creating a new planning use for second homes and HMOs, so communities can decide how many they want in their area.
• Giving protection to buildings that are of importance for social and cultural reasons.
• Creating a new listing system for village greens and other community spaces.
• Developing plans, similar to the Liberal Democrats in the UK Government, to restrict “garden-grabbing,” by designating gardens as greenfield sites in planning law so they cannot be built over so easily.

The Local Government Democracy Bill and the forthcoming Planning Bill are suitable opportunities to introduce measures that will strengthen local authorities across Wales and put more power in the hands of local people.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have long argued for the introduction of fairer voting in local council elections. Proportional representation would mean that wards would be bigger and the electorate would have more choice of candidates, from more political parties, representing the actual political make-up of communities in Wales .

Proportional representation is also a way of ensuring that people feel a part of the democratic process as no vote is wasted and idle councillors in supposed “safe seats” would have to campaign more effectively to get elected – reinvigorating local politics.

With STV and proportional representation, gone will be the days when people say – ‘I’m not going to vote my vote doesn’t count anyway’.”

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are also proposing a Community Bill of Rights to ensure that every community in Wales has the power to decide how it should look in the future. We want to devolve power to local communities whereas the Labour government want to make decisions over their future in a cosy Ministerial office in Cardiff.

Each Community Bill of Rights policy is worthwhile on its own, but delivered together it would constitute greater power handed over to local people and communities across Wales. They are best placed to put into action what local people want.

We know that Labour like hoarding power to themselves, thinking that they are better placed to make decisions that will impact the lives of people across Wales. We will not let this Labour Government waste another opportunity to empower local councils across Wales.

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