Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
I wish to update Assembly Members on the responses to the Protecting Community Assets consultation which closed on 11 September 2015. A copy of the consultation response is available on the Welsh Government’s website.
The consultation found popular support for establishing a Welsh scheme which would enable community groups to nominate land or buildings, either public or privately owned, if they are judged to enhance a community’s social wellbeing or social interests. If a successfully nominated asset is subsequently put up for sale, this triggers a process whereby community groups are permitted the opportunity and time to bid for the asset during a moratorium period.
There was widespread support for the definition of an asset of community value (ACV) set out in the Localism Act 2011. A majority of respondents felt decisions on the listing of assets are best made at a local level, informed by the local context. Local authorities are best placed to administer such a scheme and maintain the local registers. This could be undertaken alongside the local authorities’ planning functions. This process could inform local authorities' planning functions. "
However, many respondents to the consultation requested further guidance should be provided to local authorities to help them administer the scheme. Many respondents favoured the Welsh Government compiling a central list of assets on its website.
In view of the consultation responses favouring local control of asset registers, the legislative framework for establishing a Welsh ACV Scheme could be put in place by commencing Chapter 3 part 5 of the Localism Act 2011 and in subsequent Welsh regulation made under the act. I consider continuing engagement with stakeholders in Wales, inline with Welsh Government’s Principles for Working with Communities, will ensure the approach being taken is fully fit for the Welsh context.
The provision of appropriate support to community groups wishing to bid for assets was widely raised. It is vital robust and sound advice should be available to ensure any plans for community management of assets or services are realistic and sustainable. The pilot project I have funded in Gwent has so far been encouraging, however, this will need to be carefully evaluated to decide whether it provides a useful model for the rest of the country. I consider the support arrangements to be a necessary and integral part of any approach to protecting community assets.
The majority of respondents supported communities having greater opportunities to purchase assets when they are put up for sale.
The Localism Act does not provide for a ‘community right to first refusal’, where a community group would be able to apply to register an interest in an asset and be given the first opportunity to buy if it comes up for sale. This would require new primary legislation. Any future, detailed proposals would need to be fully assessed to ensure they are within the legislative competence of the Assembly.
Establishing a Welsh scheme involves resource requirements and would be subject to regulatory impact assessment to determine the expected costs, benefits and impact of the policy.
As I indicated in my Written Statement of 25 March 2015, legislation in relation to this issue, including making a commencement Order to bring into force the relevant provisions of the Localism Act 2011 will take place after the National Assembly for Wales election next year. I am not in a position to commit a future Government to any specific action, however, I believe there is cross-party support for action on this issue.
Protecting assets of community value is one piece of the jigsaw of empowering communities to take control of their prized assets and facilities. Community asset transfer is another and the consultation found support for communities being able to initiate asset transfers from the public sector. Consideration is being given to the transfer of local authority assets as part of the ongoing development of the Local Government (Wales) Bill. Further views are being sought as part of the consultation.
From the perspective of community bodies, the issue raised most frequently as a barrier to asset transfer, was the quality of engagement between local authorities and community bodies. The period of notice given to community bodies of a disposal and the quality of information provided (including about liabilities) were frequently cited.
Community bodies were also looking to local authorities to adopt a partnership, rather than a transactional, approach and to recognise the need for ongoing support in the early stages of transfer. Local authorities identified the lack of capacity among community bodies, such as legal and health and safety expertise, as a barrier to doing business.
The response to our consultation has demonstrated lively interest in these issues from a wide range of stakeholders. As I have indicated, action to protect community assets will need to be closely aligned with other work to support and strengthen communities.