Community Rights - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents



The Government's policy of empowering people through Community Rights to save local assets from closure, build community housing, take over local authority services and bring public land back into use has in its first two years had mixed results. The Rights—to Bid, to Build, to Challenge and to Reclaim Land—have generated some successes, with a small number of community groups being able, for example, to use the Community Right to Bid to stop valued local assets such as the local pub being sold for redevelopment. But limitations have also been exposed. The Community Right to Build is too complicated; the Community Right to Challenge, which triggers a tendering exercise to run a local service, risks damaging relations between communities and local government and is a gamble for groups wanting to run a local service as they may be outbid; and the Community Right to Reclaim Land has hardly been used.

The Committee wants to see the Rights improved so that local people have more say over what happens to the land, buildings and services in their area. The Government should: enhance the Community Right to Bid by increasing from six to nine months the time people have to bid to buy a local asset; make it easier to remove or restrict the "permitted development" exemption from planning control when an asset has been listed as having Community Value; and make an asset's status as an Asset of Community Value a material consideration in all but minor planning applications. The Government should fold the Community Right to Build procedure into the larger Neighbourhood Planning process, removing the need for a separate referendum on what are often small-scale building projects, and focus its support for community-led housing on building local people's skills to manage projects. The Community Right to Challenge should be reformed as part of a wider approach to involving communities in commissioning as well as running local services and allowing local groups to take advantage of the limitations from full tendering exercises which, for example EU rules, allow. People seeking to use the Community Right to Reclaim Land would benefit from clearer definitions of the type of land they can express an interest in and more information on where that land is and who owns it.

These reforms will not amount to much, however, unless people are much more aware of the Rights. The Government should redirect resources to community group umbrella organisations that can provide face to face support to local people; it should ensure that advice to local people focuses on what they want to achieve, rather than the technicalities of processes; and it should target more communities in deprived areas, building their capacity with new means of community engagement, so that they are in time able to make use of the Rights. Finally, the Government should monitor the use of the Rights by collating data from local authorities. If Ministers knew what was working, where and why, they would have a better understanding of how to make further improvements to the Rights, when the Rights are reviewed later this year, and enable more people to play a part in community life.

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© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 3 February 2015