From 2012-2014, I am working on an ESRC Fellowship on Localism, Law and Governance. This project is investigating how legal practices can (and cannot) successfully contribute to defining and promoting 'the local'. It draws on academic research in law and geography to explore how ‘the local’ differs from local government as conventionally conceived, considering how multiple locals are legally implemented.
One of the most striking findings so far is that some residents feel that 'there is no local here' in those areas where there are no pubs, cafés or independent shops. Where there are few opportunities for interaction, either at a Tesco superstore or at a community centre that needs to charge for most of its activities so that residents are limited in how many they can attend, it is difficult to feel truly local.
At the heart of the idea of being local then, is an idea of 'the public', and, in particular, public space including parks, cafes, community centres and local streets where locals can meet. If residents do not feel involved with the governance of shared spaces, if they are are all private and used only for individual (profitable) purposes, then it does seem that 'there is no local here'.
In wealthier, well resourced communities, there are real concerns of exclusion and how local decision-making can be seen as excluding others, incorporating into land use rules the idea that only some types of people are truly local (echoing the BBC Comedy A League of Gentlemen, creating a ‘local town for local people’ in Royston Voysey). There are good reasons why we should consider the logic of localism and its extent (which are considered further in a paper 'Law and localism: the case of multiple occupancy housing' (2012) Legal Studies 551-576) or here.
In poorer communities, however, there are even more fundamental questions about what is local (and public) at all.
For an analysis of the 2011 Localism Act see 'The Localism Act 2011: What is 'Local' and how do we legally construct it?' (2012) 14 Env LR 134 or here.