Plunkett Foundation has provided a written response to the Welsh Parliament: Local Government and Housing Committee Inquiry into community assets.

Plunkett Foundation welcomes the inquiry into community assets across Wales. Community assets, such buildings, land and other service centres are so important in creating inclusive communities where people are proud to work and live.

Community assets can often take the form of local businesses that are contributing significantly to the local economy, driving positive social action and those that are operating with a commitment to positive environmental practice. In the context of this inquiry Plunkett Foundation wishes to represent the views of the 101 community-owned businesses that we are working with in Wales, 51 that are already trading and a further 50 that are in development.

At present there is no legislative mechanism that empowers local residents in Wales to recognise and identify the assets of value in their community. In England, where communities are provided the power to register “Assets of Community Value” it has led to over 6000 assets being identified as locally important and providing an element of protection (by way of a moratorium period of 6 months) should the asset ever become available for sale.

The majority of community-ownership projects that Plunkett supports are the subject of a private sale, rather than a public asset transfer. At this present time they are also often the result of a reactionary measure by local residents seeking to reopen or “save” a closed business that becomes available for sale. Whilst legislation does exist to support projects in England and Scotland to explore community-ownership, the “Community Rights” available are inconsistent.

In England the “Right to Bid” leaves communities beholden to a willing seller and in Scotland the lack of transparency around private land ownership has meant that the “Right to Buy” has, to date been relatively underused in terms of creating a significant number of new community-owned assets.

In Wales, there have been recently published reports by Cwmpas (formerly Wales Cooperative Centre) and Institute of Welsh Affairs, as well as recognised studies from the Bevan Foundation and Building Communities Trust that have led the calls for the implementations of community rights in Wales. Plunkett Foundation supports the calls for the creation of a Community Rights framework in Wales.

We believe that the existence of the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015 in Wales will also have significant and connected relevance for any future community ownership project in the country. The considerations for the long-term impact of decisions (made primarily by public bodies), to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change could lead to some of the strongest Community Rights legislation in the UK.

Furthermore with an increase in centralised funding, delivered through the UK Government in Westminster, that could benefit community-ownership projects means that there has never been a greater need to have consistency in legislation across all 4 UK nations. Not having consistent community rights in all four UK nations is prohibiting the number of groups that succeed with a community-ownership project at present.

Through implementing consistent and supportive legislation UK-wide, offering a Right to Buy, it will create an equal chance for successful community-ownership regardless of where the project is located.

If you want to read our full response, or to discuss our policy and advocacy work please get in touch with our Head of Policy, Chris Cowcher (chris.cowcher@plunkett.co.uk) or Georgina Edwards, Research and Policy Manager (georgina.edwards@plunkett.co.uk).

UK Community Right to Buy

To enable more communities bring local assets into community-ownership, Plunkett is calling for a consistent Community Right to Buy to be enacted in all 4 UK nations.

We believe that where local residents have identified assets of value and importance to their community, that they should be afforded a right of first refusal to purchase the asset should it become available for sale. Furthermore we believe that the asset for sale, should be available a fair price that has been set by an independent valuation.

Community Ownership Group in Wales

Plunkett Foundation is a member of the Community Ownership Group, a network of organisations who wish to see more assets being run by communities, especially if those assets are at risk of loss to the community otherwise. We all see access to community spaces – whether they are buildings or land – as an essential part of thriving communities, and we know from our work and the work of other groups that this provides a wide range of benefits to communities and to community life.

A separate response has been submitted to the inquiry by this group.

The COG has been convened by Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) and includes Building Communities Trust, PAVS, PAVO, The Green Valleys, Interlink RCT, Institute of Welsh Affairs, The Coalfields Regeneration Trust, Cwmpas, Social Farms and Gardens.