Communities need greater powers to save local assets

03 February 2015

Government should make it easier for people to take on and run pubs, post offices and community centres, says CLG Committee.

The Government should give people greater opportunities to save local pubs and other assets, build community housing, shape local services and bring public land back into use, says the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee in a report published today. The Committee calls on the Government to strengthen four of its Community Rights and give people a greater say in what happens to the buildings, services and land in their area.

The Government's Community Rights programme has had mixed results since it was introduced two years ago. Using the Community Right to Bid to list local property as an Asset of Community Value has been popular, but around half of all community bids to buy such assets have been unsuccessful. And the other Community Rights to Challenge (to provide local services), to Build (housing and amenities) and to Reclaim Land (for public use) have rarely been exercised to their full extent.

Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said:

"The opportunity to take on and run a pub, a post office or a community centre is the opportunity to make a real contribution to local life. 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. Giving communities more time to organise and arrange finance, making the Rights less complicated to use and amending planning controls would give people the chance of a greater say in the running of prized local assets and services."

Community Right to Bid

Using this Community Right, people can nominate a local asset - like a pub, shop or community centre - to be listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). If it then comes up for sale, they can trigger a six-month pause in the process, during which time they can put together a bid for it.

The Committee heard from several witnesses that six-months was not sufficient time to put together an offer, particularly for communities that need to develop the necessary skills and contacts to make a bid and find funding. The Committee therefore recommends the Government increase the moratorium on a sale from six to nine months.

Commenting on the Report, Clive Betts MP, Chair, 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 putting the bid together in time required a lot of dedication - even for a team with backgrounds in law, planning and conservation. Extending the moratorium on a sale from six to nine months will give communities more time to develop the necessary skills and contacts to develop their plans and find funding."

After the Committee agreed its report and shortly before publication, the Government announced the removal of the right to change the use of an Asset of Community Value without planning permission - something the Committee also recommends.

Clive Betts MP, Chair, said:

"We're pleased to see the Government has been thinking along the same lines as us, so we welcome its decision—one of the recommendations in our report—to remove an owner's right to change the use of an Asset of Community Value (ACV) without planning permission. 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 that 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 Government also needs to make people more aware of the Community Rights by focusing on what people want to achieve in their local area and promoting the Rights as one potential solution. As part of this, the Government should redirect some resources to community group umbrella organisations who could provide more face-to-face support and advice. We also need new forms of community engagement, particularly in areas of deprivation, so people can develop their skills in community organisation and ultimately use the existing Rights themselves."

The Committee urges the Government to make it easier for people to take part in local decision making, as a way of building their skills to then take on and run local assets and services. It suggests Ministers build on new initiatives such as Community Economic Development, which is supporting communities to work with housing associations, schools and businesses to tackle low skills and worklessness.

Community Right to Challenge

The Committee heard that, while the Right to Challenge, which enables communities to bid to take over and run local services, could help bring local people into a dialogue with their local council, it was also perceived as a 'nuclear option' potentially leading to confrontation between both parties. Tendering for a service also brings communities into competition with larger providers. The Committee recommends both central and local Government look at ways to involve communities more routinely in the commissioning and delivery of local services, not just as a result of using the potentially confrontational route of Right to Challenge.

Community Right to Build

The complexity of the Community Right to Build has clearly had an effect on take-up. Only three Right to Build orders (in Arun, West Sussex) have passed their independent examination and been approved in a local referendum. The Committee recommends the Government fold the Community Right to Build procedure into the larger Neighbourhood Planning process, removing the need for a separate referendum, and focus support for community-led housing on building local people’s skills to manage projects.

Right to Reclaim Land

The Committee recommends that the Right to Reclaim Land could be strengthened by providing clearer definitions of the type of land local people can express an interest in, and more information on where that land is and who owns it.

Further information

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