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03.02.15

Greater powers for communities to save local assets

The Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee says it should be easier for people to preserve local pubs and other assets, build community housing, shape local services and bring public land back into use. 

The recommendation comes after the cross-party Committee said the results of the government’s Community Rights programme, introduced two years ago, have been “mixed”. 

Right to Bid 

The Community Right to Bid – which allows a property to be listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) – is popular, but only half of bids to buy these assets have succeeded. 

Committee chair Clive Betts MP said: “The takeover of The Ivy House pub in south London is a great example of a group of committed individuals using the Community Right to Bid to save a much-loved local and take it into community ownership. But the government’s Community Rights programme currently puts too many obstacles in the way for most local people to turn this opportunity into reality.” 

If a local asset listed as an ACV comes up for sale, community bidders can trigger a six-month pause in the process, during which time they can put together a bid for it. 

However, some say this is not enough time to put a bid together, prompting the CLG Committee to recommend an increase to nine months. 

The MPs also urge the government to make it easier for people to take part in local decision making, which would build their skills to then take on and run local assets and services. They want ministers to build on initiatives like Community Economic Development, which is supporting communities to work with housing associations, schools and businesses to tackle low skills and worklessness. 

Tony Armstrong, CEO of Locality, said: “The Community Right to Bid has been hugely successful in terms of the number of assets that have been nominated but that popularity is not reflected in the number of buildings brought into community ownership using the Right. 

“It is therefore very welcome that the Committee says the government needs to do more to ensure local people are able to compete on a level playing field with developers.” 

Right to Challenge 

The Committee also heard that the Right to Challenge, which enables communities to bid to take over and run local services from councils, is perceived as a “nuclear option” potentially leading to confrontation. 

Central and local government should look at ways to involve communities in the planning and delivering services routinely – not just via the “potentially confrontational” Right to Challenge. 

Right to Build 

The Community Right to Build is “clearly not the most popular way of starting a community-led housing project”, the MPs’ report says, describing the process as “complicated, adversarial and risky”. Funding applications suggest that nine times more groups opt to apply for planning permission than use Right to Build.   

A Community Right to Build Order involves the council organising a referendum of voters in the area to gauge support. 

The requirement seems “disproportionate” to the scale of development, the MP say, adding: “It is difficult to see any significant benefits to its retention in its current format…it would be better to incorporate the Right to Build process into the larger-scale Neighbourhood Plan process and referendum.” 

‘Having a real say’ 

Communities minister Stephen Williams MP said: “Up and down the country, communities are now having a real say, with more than 3,000 uses of the rights so far including regulars taking over their local pub or shop to ambitious plans for new development, new jobs and better targeted services. 

“Over 600 pubs are now listed as community assets and recently we announced further changes to planning law to provide even greater protection for pubs which play a crucial role at the heart of our communities.” 

Before the report was published, the government said it would remove the right to change the use of an ACV without planning permission – something the Committee also recommends. 

Betts said: “Communities that go to the trouble of nominating a prized local building, like a pub, as an ACV don’t expect to wake up the next day to find it has been turned into a shop or an estate agent. Having said that, we still want ministers to spell out the detail to ensure a pub with ACV status can’t just be sold – lose its ACV status and its protection from change of use –and then be converted to something else overnight.” 

The Committee wants the government to use 2015 to boost public awareness and use of the Community Rights, focusing on what people want to achieve rather than the processes involved.

(Image: c. Ewan Munro)

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