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03/02/2015

Community should get more say on their areas, says report

Words: Laura Edgar

A report by the Communities and Local Government (CLG) committee says the government should give citizens more opportunities to save their local pubs, as well as other assets, and to build community housing.

Drawing on its findings, the committee, which monitors the Department for Communities and Local Government, calls on the government to strengthen four of its Community Rights and give people a greater say on what happens to buildings, services and land in their localities.

In the report, Community Rights, the committee explains that the programme has seen mixed results since its introduction two years ago. The ability to list pubs and other buildings as an Asset of Community Value (AVC) has been popular, but the report says about half of the bids were unsuccessful.

Evidence given by several witness on the Community Right to Bid, says the committee, suggests that six months is not enough time to put an offer together to bid for a local building that is already an AVC. The committee has therefore recommended that the government should increase the moratorium on a sale from six months to nine months.

The committee also found that that Community Rights to challenge, to build, and to reclaim land, were not used to their full extent. Therefore, the committee recommends that:
 
Central and local government look at ways of involving communities more routinely in commissioning and delivering local services
The Right to Build procedure be folded into the Neighbourhood Planning process
The Right to Reclaim Land could be “strengthened by providing clearer definitions” on the type of land that people can express an interest in and more information on the land should be provided.
 

Clive Betts, chair of the CLG 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."

The British Property Federation (BPF), however, does not support the committee’s suggestion that the moratorium should be increased to nine months. On the other hand, the BPF does support the recommendation that if “a community group bid for an AVC failed during the six-month moratorium imposed on the sale of a listed AVC, the moratorium should be then lifted.”

Ghislaine Halpenny, assistant director (planning and regeneration) at the BPF, said: “We wholeheartedly support community rights as they are extremely important in giving local people a say in the future of buildings that are valued by the community. “Going forward, we need to make sure that the right balance is struck between allowing local stakeholders to have a voice and encouraging sustainable development. Lifting the moratorium after a failed community bid is a step in the right direction, and will help speed up regeneration and investment. Less helpful is the proposal to increase the moratorium on the sale of an ACV to nine months, which is likely to mean that assets that are no longer in use lie empty for longer.”

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