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Protecting locally valued assets

British pubs

As a measure to give local communities greater control over the protection of valued local facilities and other sites, the Localism Act 2011 provides community groups with the opportunity to nominate a local asset (such as a local pub) for listing as an Asset of Community Value (ACV).

The local planning authority must list any nominated building or other land as an ACV if it considers that (i) its current or recent use furthers the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community and (ii), it is realistic to think that its future use will do the same (whether or not in the same way). Listings so far have included woodlands, churches, village shops and libraries.
The listing of an asset as an ACV provides the community with an opportunity to safeguard its future. First, an asset’s status as an ACV should be treated as a material consideration in the determination of any planning application for development that would involve its loss. Second, if the owner of an ACV puts it up for sale, the community group can request a six-month moratorium on the sale and thereby gain time to raise funds and negotiate buying the asset.

"The biggest challenge is raising funds to buy the ACV"

But the path to success for a community group is not straightforward. The biggest challenge is raising sufficient funds to buy the ACV. There have been some success stories, for example, a community group in Nunhead managed to buy its ACV (the Ivy House pub) by way of loan finance, grant funding and a community share issue, but in other cases this has simply not been achievable. Furthermore, the ACV could be lost through conversion for a different use without being put up for sale. Conversion under permitted development rights would not require an application for planning permission and so the planning authority and the local community would have no say over the change of use, unless the authority had issued an article 4 direction or otherwise restricted the use of permitted development rights.
There is an alternative source of protection for community facilities outside of the Localism Act. In order to comply with the National Planning Policy Framework, local plans should seek to safeguard local services and community facilities against unnecessary loss, and planning authorities must have regard to such policies when considering a planning application that threatens the future of a community facility. However, the detail of the policies tends to require that the future viability of the community facility is taken into account together with any alternative facilities, so this does not offer absolute protection.
Although neither local policies nor an ACV listing can offer fail-safe routes for protecting locally valued assets, they do seek to strike a balance for all parties by elevating the importance of such land or buildings while acknowledging issues of viability and the rights of private landowners. Whether these provisions are fit for purpose no doubt depends on which side of the fence you find yourself.
Saskia Molekamp is a solicitor specialising in planning law at Mills & Reeve LLP

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