Planning Minister Greg Clark today outlined more support for voluntary and community groups campaigning to save much-loved local assets such as historic pubs, seaside piers or precious market halls, under threat when their owners refuse to sell.
A compulsory purchase order by a council and future development as a community asset can often be the ideal solution. But community groups with viable, fully financed schemes can feel shut out of the process, left without a voice in shaping local plans, as councils do not have to engage with them or acknowledge their contribution. In revised guidance issued today, Greg Clark calls on local authorities to take seriously all viable requests from voluntary and community groups put to them for the compulsory purchase of a threatened community asset.
The Right to Buy, being introduced through the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Localism Bill, will give people a foot in the door when assets come up for sale. But some groups can’t wait that long and are living in communities blighted by abandoned buildings and derelict sites spoiling the look, feel and safety of their area. Communities often have good ideas for making better use of these buildings or assets but are thwarted by negligent owners interested only in rising land prices. The revised guidance could help them to take action quickly.
If communities want to bring a valued local asset back to use - for example turning a boarded up building into a community centre - they can contact their council and ask them to use a compulsory purchase order to buy the asset. Mr Clark is urging councils to give greater attention to applications from voluntary and community groups who know their area and often have innovative ideas to make the best of local assets. That doesn’t mean special treatment or an automatic green light but it might mean that communities know that their hard work and enthusiasm will not simply be met by a blank face or stuck at the bottom of a never ending in-tray.
Under the new guidance, local authorities would also have to respond formally, outlining the reasons behind their decisions. This will shine the light of transparency on council decisions about assets in their local area.
The revised guidance builds on the proposed new ‘social responsibility’ deal for councils, announced by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, which asks them to give them greater support to voluntary and community groups and treat them with the full respect they deserve.
Greg Clark said:
Communities often feel powerless when they see local assets going to waste.
Voluntary and community groups who know their area best should have more of a say in determining how their neighbourhoods develop and local authorities - acting in the best interests of local people - should take seriously all viable requests put to them for the compulsory purchase of a threatened community asset.
Community groups would of course have to pay a fair price for the asset, as well as the costs incurred by the local authority. But they should be given the opportunity to save their village shop, the last remaining pub or bring dilapidated buildings back to life to help preserve the character and social fabric of their neighbourhood.
The new guidance to local authorities builds on the Government’s determination to hand power back to local people.
The Localism Bill will give bold new powers to local people to protect and improve their community assets and will enshrine in law the opportunity for community and voluntary groups to have a greater say over what happens in their local area including the running of local services.
Notes to editors
1. Local authorities have wide powers to acquire land by compulsory purchase, for instance to secure the proper planning of their area and grant public access to land for recreation.
2. Current guidance to local authorities in England is contained in an Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Circular 06/2004 Compulsory Purchase and the Crichel Down Rules. A new Appendix to the Circular relating specifically to requests from voluntary and community organisations, and other third parties is available at: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/circularcompulsorypurchase2.
3. The guidance will remind authorities that, as with any compulsory purchase, they must be able to finance the cost of the scheme (including the compensation to the owner) and the Compulsory Purchase Order process either from their own resources, or with a partial or full contribution from the requesting organisation.
4. In order to assess whether there is a compelling case in the public interest for a compulsory purchase order, councils will have to ensure (as they must for all orders) that there is a viable scheme for the asset and that there are no other impediments to the scheme going forward. Local authorities should ask those making the request for such information that is necessary for them to do so.
5. This could include:
the value of the asset to the community
the perceived threat to the asset
the future use of the asset and who would manage it (including a business plan where appropriate)
any planning issues; and
how the acquisition would be financed.
6. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced a new fair deal for voluntary and community groups, to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations on April 13 2011. Further details on the Communities Secretary’s speech can be seen at: www.communities.gov.uk/news/newsroom/1855041.
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