The Localism Act 2011 gives local communities a far greater say on planning, enabling them to take a bigger role in shaping their local areas through Neighbourhood Plans and Neighbourhood Development Orders.
But a little known provision in the Act (Schedule 10 S.15 (3)) also gives businesses a vote in the referendum that will decide whether these plans or orders come into effect. Business referendums will only happen in areas which are wholly or predominantly commercial in character (as defined by the local council under S.61H), but clearly raise many issues:
- Will it be one business one vote or will big businesses get more than one vote? It seems to suggest it is one vote per business address.
- What happens if a town centre plan developed and supported by local businesses gets voted down by local residents? It doesn’t stop them applying for planning permission in the traditional way, but it sets up a significant tension.
- What happens if a plan popular with residents is voted down by businesses owned by corporations based far away? Maybe unlikely given that the corporations will only have one vote each, but you never know!
This is untested water, for businesses have never before been given a vote alongside residents on the electoral role. But I’m not sure how much work has actually been put into considering how it will function, or how the contradictions are going to be resolved.