Hyperlocal Localism

Over 100 Wivenhoe Society members listened to a talk by Annemarie Naylor of Locality at The Nottage on Thursday evening about the possibilities of the Community Right to Bid. This is a key component in the government’s Localism Act allowing local groups to manage community assets. The relevance for Wivenhoe is the possibility of Essex County Council wanting to pass on the responsibility for running the Phillip Road Centre.

In her role as Head of Assets at Locality, Annemarie is well placed to understand and explain what can at first appear to be a complex piece of legislation. She started off by explaining how Locality is a social enterprise that seeks to support communities that are ambitious to take ownership:

“There is a keen appetite for this in Wivenhoe.”

The Wiv Soc members then heard how My Community Rights is the main platform for help that Locality is able to offer communities wishing to explore the Localism Act. The Right to Build was briefly explained, as well as the Right to Challenge.

Of key interest in Wivenhoe however is the Asset Transfer and Community Right to Bid. This then became the main focus for the hour-long session.

Annemarie explained:

“Asset Transfer has been around since 2001. It allows local authorities to pass on assets at less than market value. These can be handed over to any local group for social, economic or environmental purposes.”

Hastings Pier was offered as one of the most ambitious projects that Annemarie has worked on to date. An £11m investment is behind the community project to help regenerate the area.

The Nottage audience then heard a little more about the reasons behind the Asset Transfer idea. As local authorities continue to manage the central government cuts, keeping hold of their assets can be a drain on the public purse. It may be better for castles, swimming pools or museums to be taken on by the community, rather than lost to the private sector.

The very nature of localism however dictates that different areas will have different experiences. Annemarie helped to maintain the enthusiasm at the Nottage, although added in a little hyperlocal perspective:

“Essex County Council has a policy of one off deals. The most valuable asset that has been released so far is only to the value of £50,000. Colchester Borough Council is even more resistant right now. The Council hasn’t got its head around how to let go. Asset Transfer is the best route, but it is hard.”

The best route reference is that you are getting something for nothing. The local authority owned facility becomes a cash drain in the Town Hall. Offloading it to the community often at a token £1 asking price, saves the council cash as well as keeping it within the community.

But what if the asset is currently owned by the private sector?

This is where the Community Right to Bid comes in. Annemarie outlined how this part of the Localism Act allows communities to have a clear run to put together a market value bid for any asset in the community, before it goes on the private market.

But how do you define an asset of community value?

“These are buildings or outdoor spaces that promote social wellbeing or social interest.”

Quite a broad definition, and one that is open to interpretation by any innovative community…

“You need to nominate these to your local authority. Twenty residents need to sign the nomination form. If the asset meets the requirements of the Act, CBC is compelled to place it on the Right to Bid list where it will remain for a further five year period.

If at any time the owner then wants to sell, the nominees have to be notified. This triggers a six-month window of opportunity to raise the finances and compete in the open market. You need a business plan and sustainability. £19m of funding is in place. Plus you can look at options such at the Heritage Lottery Fund or the Big Lottery Fund.”

Finance is key here for any ambitious hyperlocal community. The window of opportunity only buys you time. Your asset is still prone to the usual free market overheads and liabilities.

The Nottage meeting then heard from Cllr Bob Needham:

“On behalf of Wivenhoe Town Council I have attempted to register assets with Colchester Borough Council. They require additional information. Wivenhoe Town Council is attempting to co-ordinate efforts on behalf of the town. We have called an open meeting at the Town Council office at 11am on 30th January.”

By this date it is hoped that CBC will be better organised. Right to Bid is on the Cabinet agenda for the 23rd January. The first nominated asset held by the Borough could be listed the following day.

Annemarie concluded her localism talk by looking at Communities Vs Growth:

“The motivation of communities requires a great deal of time and effort. You need to look at the capacity and skills around you before considering a bid. The value of land is holding in Essex – this also means that assets are less likely to be sold below the market value.

Think how things can be done differently. This is a massive step by a Conservative led government that many weren’t expecting. My best bit of advice would be to never start with a building. Start with a need, and then see what you want to achieve.”

Which in Wivenhoe creates a few issues. The Phillip Road Centre looks like it is surplus to requirements for ECC. With Moving Image, the Youth Hub and the Dance School currently operating as tenants, a community need is there, but could these groups operate elsewhere?

Wivenhoe is full, etc…

There is massive crossover here with the Wivenhoe Town Plan, something that WTC is re-visiting over the coming weeks.

A debate then followed about the best way forward – Asset Transfer or Right to Bid. Annemarie’s advice was to go for the Right to Bid listing first:

“Be pro-active and be positive.”

In a personal capacity I’m currently working with Locality on The Place Station. This is an online mapping tool helping to connect skills with community need.

The concept is for Asset Transfer and Right to Bid ideas to be offered up via the mapping system, and then we work on connecting local users and groups. You can follow us on Twitter.

Remember:

“There is a keen appetite for this in Wivenhoe…”

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