England & Wales Communities and society

Viewpoint: Experiences of the Community Right to Bid – local authorities, nominating bodies and landowners

Since its introduction in 2011 there has been no consistent monitoring of the impact of the Community Right to Bid; Tessa Lynn of the University of Reading is carrying out research into its use across the country.

Many have suspected that an over-reliance on the market to determine the ‘value’ of a particular asset downplays or ignores the social value and utility of a (community) asset. It is very likely that most buildings or land have a value beyond the price tag. The uses and benefits of land and property are variously social, environmental, cultural, and recreational as well as any narrower ‘business’ use or land use classification (i.e. retail, housing, offices etc.), that the asset is ascribed and valued against in an orthodox way.

Underpinning the Localism Act 2011, which introduced the Community Right to Bid (CRtBid), is a recognition that many assets have a life and a value beyond their traditional valuation and the lifeworld of land and property are crucial to the richness of our social lives and our environment. The community rights agenda comes close to recognising that the market both undervalues many assets and possibly over-values a new or replacement use.

The CRtBid provides the opportunity for community organisations to nominate the types of land and property they feel are community assets (AoCV – Assets of Community Value), whether they are currently in public or private ownership. This nomination process allows the nominating body to trigger a full moratorium on its sale should the asset be placed onto the market. This gives the community six months to prepare a bid to buy the asset. However this is not a ‘right to buy’ and the landowner is able to sell to whomever they wish once the moratorium has passed. It does provide space and time for communities to step forward to ensure that a future use reflects the wider value that the asset has or could provide locally.

Given that CAMRA has been a key proponent of CRtBid it is unsurprising that the majority of assets registered early on were public houses, which may have been under threat of closure (and change of use – often to a retail use or for house conversion). There is however a wide breadth of assets that have been nominated; from allotments and lakes, to hospitals and gyms; from youth centres and petrol stations, to quarries and street lamps.

I have been monitoring this as part of my research at the University of Reading and building a database in lieu of an official national one and there are very little resources available for any detailed monitoring of the usage and impact of the policy. My database highlights an interesting picture of the types of assets that are viewed as having a particular value, the types of organisations interested in ownership and whether the majority of assets are currently in public or private ownership. By observing the cases for nominations and how communities and local authorities are defining AoCV this also starts the debate about who is responsible in ensuring that these assets are valued fully and treated accordingly.

Initial findings from my research shows that there are approximately 2,400 AoCVs currently nominated and there have been 700 unsuccessful listings. Of the successful listings, 340 assets have been put on to the market by the landowner. However, due to the lack of official monitoring it is unclear how many full moratoriums have been triggered and if community organisations are actually equipped to be able to afford to put a bid together themselves. Of the 326 local authorities across England, around 52 currently have no assets listed and 149 have experience of the CRtBid element of the process i.e. a nominated asset has been put up for sale.

My work is showing that the motivations for a community group to list an asset do appear to differ; some may not desire to take-up ownership of the asset but do want it to be recognised officially – simply seeing the nomination as a benefit in itself. There have been cases where the listing has influenced a planning decision, or as a result nominating bodies have been more involved in the management of the asset. Others may wish for ownership to be in community hands in order to continue or build upon its already recognised wider lifeworld or ‘full value’ – a degradation of trust in the market to provide this is in some cases forcing communities to step forward and become their own ‘community organisers’. In some circumstances this may be a positive, yet in others this mechanism will not work.

Overall the CRtBid process is being promoted as a tool to ‘protect’ valued assets; providing more opportunity to take control of assets and services. However it remains to be seen whether this policy has or will deliver on these intentions.

Tessa Lynn would like to hear from you about this. Her research work is ongoing – please do get in touch: t.j.lynn@pgr.reading.ac.uk