Technical consultation on street naming

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Closes 22 May 2022

Introduction

Background

The Levelling Up White Paper set out the Government’s programme to level up the United Kingdom. It sets out a comprehensive, broad, deep and long-term programme of work, and an evidence-based argument of the combination of factors needed to transform places and boost local growth. This includes greater access to culture, stronger pride in place, deeper trust and more resilient institutions. 

How streets are named, and how names can be changed forms part of this programme. Local street names form part of the local identity that helps create a sense of pride in place; how they are changed forms part of the process that can build or reduce trust in local systems and institutions. The Government are concerned that there are attempts to erase and cancel local heritage and that residents are not being properly consulted.  

The Government have heard representations that the process for changing names allows insufficient opportunity for residents to express a view and gives disproportionate weight to campaigns and the representations of third parties. Changing names can involve significant practical costs for residents and businesses in changing their address with financial institutions, on official documents (e.g. passports and driving licenses), shops, and utilities. There are also social costs to residents because street names can in effect be assets of community value, cherished by the community for their history and representation of that place. The street names proposals follow recent legal protection for England’s heritage introduced by the Government to safeguard historic monuments at risk of removal, including protecting statutes from being removed without proper process. Similarly, this is a measure to ensure there is proper local process and engagement on any change to the heritage and fabric of local areas. 

The Government wishes to explore whether it would be possible to establish in law the democratic right of communities to be engaged and have their views taken into account. This raises important questions of who should vote – is it just the residents of the street or the wider community – and how. This consultation is designed to help build the evidence for future reforms and in particular, any future legislation and regulations (including any statutory guidance). The Government wishes to acknowledge the work of Policy Exchange through their publication Protecting local heritage: How to bring democracy to the renaming of streets (Mar 14, 2021) in bringing this to public attention. 

Existing approach to street name changes

The current system relies upon three Acts of Parliament which date from the early 20th century and create nationally inconsistent and unclear procedures for changing street names. Under the existing legislation, many local authorities have the power to change the name of a given street without engaging residents or businesses on that street. 

The current statutory street renaming procedures operating in England are:     

  1. s.21 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1907 (‘1907 Act): Contains the requirement to obtain a two-thirds majority of business rates payers and council taxpayers for a street before a proposed name change can proceed. This procedure can be adopted by local authorities outside of Greater London unless they have chosen to disapply this Act and adopt the ‘1925 Act’ ; or   

  1. s.18 of the Public Health Act 1925 (‘1925 Act’): Street names are not often changed by local authorities because of cost, complexity etc. Where changes do take place, they are generally done by order (which does not require consent of residents or businesses on the street) subject to a right of appeal for those aggrieved to a magistrates' court. This alternative procedure can be adopted by local authorities outside of Greater London if they disapply the ‘1907 Act’; or 

  1. In Greater London, local authorities which propose a name change, must consider any objections received and may, having regard to those objections, if they think fit decide to amend the street name – this is dealt with in s.6 of the London Building Acts (Amendment) Act 1939.   

Importantly, local authorities outside of Greater London have the ability to choose between the procedures in the 1907 Act and 1925 Act. This means many local authorities have chosen the procedure which does not require votes on street name changes. There is no central register of which councils have adopted which of the three Acts, which has led to a confusing mix of provisions across England, some of which are over a century old with no transparency on which Acts apply where.


The proposed system for street name changes

The Government is considering the case for modernising these multiple and dated Acts by replacing them with a single clear requirement for a residents’ vote on any changes to street names based on the principles set out in 1907 legislation. This would remove the ability of local authorities in England to impose street name changes upon communities without their consent and instead require the consent of those on the street before a proposed street name change proceeds. This should ensure that active local support is in place as opposed to a local authority making the change unilaterally. 

This would involve:   

  1. Repealing the three Acts which allow street names to be changed by local authorities without the consent of those affected; and 

  1. Ensuring that the consenting population ‘electorate' for changing street names is defined and clearly set out (through regulations); and   

  1. Ensuring that the rights of local residents are clear (through regulations, which may be supplemented by statutory guidance), on matters such as the process for engaging with the electorate.    

The Government is considering the case for regulations (and any statutory guidance) to local authorities on changing the name of a street. If, through forthcoming legislation, Ministers are given new powers to define the consenting population for changing street names, and to prescribe related matters on the process for engaging with the electorate, this consultation will help the Government to better define how these powers could be implemented through regulations (and any statutory guidance).  

This consultation seeks views on both the principles but also the detailed questions of how to define the electorate (i.e. who should have the right to vote on a street name change), the process for engaging with the electorate, and other issues that might be covered in regulations (and any statutory guidance).