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Taking council land into Community hands

Home The Just Act Forum Ask a question… Taking council land into Community hands

This topic contains 8 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of Keith Abbott Keith Abbott 2 years, 1 month ago.

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    Profile photo of Sam

    Hi all,

    I’m Sam and I’m a Community Organiser working in Hastings in the southeast. I’ve recently begun working with some residents to safeguard some land that’s been left vacant by our local authority for 25 years. The land is registered as brownfield and the council have recently commissioned some studies into the viability of building on it, and have engaged a marketing agency to begin marketing the site to developers.

    Over the last 25 years very little has happened with the site and what was a rubble strewn waste site (it was home until 1992 to an old 1930s era open air baths/lido which the council demolished) has become a fairly large and charming green space. It’s become a great place for people from the neighbourhood to play with their kids, to walk dogs or go jogging, or simply just to meet and relax.

    In the council’s most recent development plan they suggest the site could be suitable for 120 homes but given the local facilities it would seems that there simply isn’t infrastructure enough to support 120 new families in the area, not to mention the effect that a development of that size would have on the peaceful and tranquil nature of the area.

    The group I’m supporting are at their early stages, we’d considered registering the land as an ACV but I don’t know how suitable this would be, I’ve looked a little into the idea of a Neighbourhood Plan but I’m not sure that’s viable really, I also looked at the community right to build but given that the council have already commissioned studies and reports I think they’ve missed the boat on that.

    So what I’d like to know is, does any have any idea of the best way to make this happen? Does anyone have any experience in this area? Anything that would be beneficial for my group to be aware of?

    I do have, from my employer, enough money to engage some consultation on the project but only for one or two initial meetings and as such I’d like to get as much background info as possible.

    Profile photo of Sheila

    This is a really interesting question and one my own community may well be asking in the near future so I look forward to replies and wish you every success in securing that place for your community. The advantage of registering the land as an ACV is that it buys you some time to rally the support and funding and if it is registered as a community asset could you then look at asset transfer? We have found that some councils are slow at helping the community to understand how much say they can have in safeguarding the places that are important and whilst some of it may be due to not wanting to lose the options open to them I’m sure some of it is simply because they dont know. The whole system here is in a state of flux right now.

    Profile photo of Wendy

    Hi Sam

    Have managed to list a couple of places as community assets and as Sheila says it should buy you time. However all the provisions for asset transfer in the Localism act seemed to be being ignored by councils now. They are so squeezed by Tory cuts that they want to sell everything for the highest possible price regardless of the consequences in the future. However they DO also want to be re-elected … so getting loads of people involved in your campaign is for sure the best way to have some influence. Getting a Neighbourhood Plan accepted is a load of work and takes a long time … so probably not much point if council is already talking with developers. Really wish you the very best of luck … Wendy

    Profile photo of Henry

    Does the existing site have unrestricted public access? To achieve a ACV registration you would need to establish a body which meets the necessary criteria (does not have to be a neighbourhood forum, but the constitutional status of some groups which have e.g attempted to register has been challenged successfully by landowners.

    And if the Council itself is now seeing the site as a potential development opportunity, are they likely to be supportive of an ACV application.

    Thirdly, will an ACV registration help greatly? It buys time, but if the local community has no resources to buy the site then this route may not help.

    Our neighbourhood forum has been through a somewhat similar situation, in respect of an undeveloped backland in North Kensington (London) which had been used as an adjunct to a commercial nursery garden since the 1960s. When we started preparing a neighbourhood plan, the landowners put it on the market for residential development, and the Council (RBKC) took the view such development was appropriate. With a lot of local support, we have succeeded at examination of our Draft NP in this and two further backlands being included in the final Draft Plan as Local Green Space and meeting the NPPF criteria for such a designation.

    The referendum on the NP (St Quintin and Woodland) is next month. The landowner and developer involved have applied for judicial review of the Council’s decision to accept the Examiner’s recommendation and progress the Draft plan to referendum – so this will be a further case of a NP being challenged by the development industry. Most such challenges have failed in the courts.

    Local Green Space designation is the strongest form of planning protection for a site that has been an open space, or has become used as such over decades. If achieved it brings down the value of the land to a level where, potentially, a local community can raise funds to create some form of communal open space. A Local Green Space designation can be made by a local authority (including parish and town councils) as well as in a neighbourhood plan.

    So step one might be to approach the council and ask if they would be willing to make such a designation, and if not why not. They will doubtless point to their housing targets, but then you will at least know where things stand. Neighbourhood plan preparation is a lot of work, and the criteria for Local Green Space designation (at para 77 of the NPPF) set a high bar.

    Best of luck

    Profile photo of Chris


    Hi Sam.

    You need to contact Locality on its advice line (number available from the My Community site) – on how to create a Neighbourhood Plan.

    You then need to look at how to create a new parish council which after you have delivered a Neighbourhood Plan past referendum stage will best give your area a permanent local voice. Yo0u can view the updated Power To The People pack which gives you all the information you need about how to set up a new parish council – at http://www.nalc.gov.uk/publications .

    Hope this helps,

    Chris (NALC)

    Profile photo of Stephen

    Hi Sam,

    A lot of options suggested already. Most are longer-term ambitions and you need a lot of ‘buy in’ from the community and people on board. An ACV application, if nothing else, would send a message that there is a group within the community potentially willing challenge this going forward. But that is only the beginning of a long process for any group you pull together. Even ACVs are proving harder to achieve as officers with an eye on commercial benefits for the council look for ways to refuse them.

    Good Luck


    Profile photo of Stephen


    The ACV route is likely to be dead-end given that the criteria for listing requires that the land is currently producing community benefit (or has done so in the recent past) and from your description it sounds like its last productive use was many years ago. So, this seems to be more about transforming it for future social benefit.

    There was a similar thread on the forum a few weeks back – so perhaps it’s worth quoting again: “There’s no one way to go about this. Much will depend on the attitude of the local authority and you shouldn’t underestimate the time commitment involved. But there are lots of successful community-led asset projects to learn from, and at the heart of all of them is a broad base of local support, a viable business plan and a competent organisation to take the initiative forward. You can check out lots of free resources and inspiration on our website at: http://mycommunity.org.uk/programme/community-asset-transfer/ Contact our Help Centre at: http://mycommunity.org.uk/help-centre/ where we can have a fuller conversation.”

    In addition, a Neighbourhood Planning exercise may well be a desirable route, as in the end it could play an important influencing role in terms of any future development on the site. Although it’s not a quick fix, contact us to discuss further.

    Regards and good luck, Stephen.

    Profile photo of Jeff

    On the other hand….with the need for more housing and the even stronger opposition, in all likelihood, to proposals for new houses on greenfield sites, might housing on this brownfield site not actually be worth considering? And you could be active in ensuring that the infrastructure you say is lacking is delivered as part of any development proposals, also arguing for a developer community funding contribution for other worthy causes? There can often be a good case for opposing greenfield sites by citing the availability of brownfield sites such as this. Might it not help alleviate you from housing pressure on more sensitive local sites?

    Profile photo of Keith Abbott
    Keith Abbott

    Hi Sam

    We had a similar situation here in Gnosall, however the land had never been built on. Local residents got together to claim Village Green Status for the land. It was quite a long drawn out process but in the end they were successful and it is now a designated Village Green.

    As a village green it effectively protected from further development. If you type “Gnosall Village Green” into a search engine you will find lots of information and indeed the application in PDF.

    It is an excellent community asset now and is included in the Neighbourhood Plan. It is used for recreation such as village fun days.

    Get in quick and best of luck.

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