Is Broadband a problem for you? ThinkingWISP could help
From Norfolk RCC
The Localism Bill was introduced to Parliament on 13 December 2010.
The stated aim of the bill is to “shift power from central government back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils.”
Four significant headline initiatives for communities
- The right the buy (renamed assets of community value)
The ability for community to register an interest in local assets whether publicly or privately owned with the aim of providing opportunities for them to come into community ownership should they be sold. Note this right focuses on giving communities a window of opportunity to pull together a proposal to purchase an asset but in know way gives them a right to acquire that asset.
- The right to challenge
The ability for communities to submit an expression of interest to run a service provided by a relevant authority. If successful the expression of interest would trigger a commissioning process.
- Neighbourhood Plans
The opportunity for communities to develop a plan that if endorsed by local residents would provide a planning basis for additional development, whether housing, commercial property or community facilities.
- Right to build
Similar to Neighbourhood plans but a short process design to facilitate development on a particular site.
However, much of the detail of these policies is absent from the Bill itself. CLG has launched a consultation on the right to Challenge and Right to Buy proposals.
Although now closed the consultation documents can be viewed on the CLG website
Below are a series of more detailed briefings put together by Norfolk RCC's national body ACRE
Update- Norfolk RCC Consultation Submission
As well as supporting a more detailed ACRE submission on the Right to Challenge and Right to Buy consultations Norfolk RCC emphasised the following points. These are particularly written with the needs of the groups we work with in mind. However, we recognise in many of these areas there is a balance to be achieved between these new rights and other factors particularly the rights of existing businesses who form an essential part of the rural economy.
Right To Challenge
This is potentially a very strong new right for a range of community organisations. However, as a right that if successfully exercised triggers a procurement process it will be ineffective if not coupled with a tendering approach that is accessible to community and voluntary sector organisations. Whilst such requirements may fall out of the scope of the localism bill it is a necessity of a joined up approach in this policy area.
Key to this will be an organisations ability to identify limited aspects, in terms of either service or geography, that they are interested in taking on. We support the limited list of grounds for rejecting proposals but it is not clear that the tender for the service would be on the basis of the expression of interest (or an agreed modified version). If this is not a requirement and not feasible there should be consultation on the proposed tender specification after the expression of interest has been accepted.
Right to buy (assets of community value)
We note ACRE’s comments that the change in name reflect that this power is in no way a right for communities to purchase assets and that real benefit will only be derived from developing productive dialogue with asset owners.
We do not believe that the registration of assets of community value should be limited in the basis of current usage. There are a range of potential uses that could be legitimately identified by the community for existing assets. Perhaps the most obvious example is that of a school. It is reasonable to see the building as a community asset but if transferred to the community it is unlikely to be run as a school but could deliver significant benefit as a more general community venue.
In addition, in our experience is that in order to make rural services sustainable there is often the need to undertake a multi-service approach when developing a business plan. Whilst this may not affect the initial registration of the asset it would be important to safeguard the community against potential challenge if the assets usage was extended as part of a program of sustainable community management (the most obvious example here would be a community shop).
The duration of the window of opportunity is of concern. It is unlikely that at the point at which a community expresses an interest they will have the necessary funding in place. In most cases this will require some form of grant bid. Practically applications this type are unlikely to take less than six months. For example, to access £50K of Reaching Communities capital funding the assessment period would be approximately 5 months across the two stages. This excludes the time taken to write two funding bids and the community engagement, planning and development work that would be necessary to develop a successful bid. The process to access the Reaching Communities larger capital pot is estimated by the Big Lottery at between 8 to 17 months.
Whilst there are clearly issues of balance between the community right and the asset owners right it is unlikely that six months will be sufficient for the majority of community to attract external funding. In seeking a balanced approach it may be worth while providing a facility for review at which point the window of opportunity could be extended if satisfactory progress was being made.