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Making community ownership work

Could a Community Right to Buy and other forms of community ownership work in Wales? asks Jocelle Lovell

As this WHQ edition is about community, I thought it would be good to start the discussion about Community Right to Buy and Community Ownership Could the ‘new’ programme for government open up new opportunities for Welsh communities.

What is CRtB?

Community Right to Buy is legislation which allows communities to register an interest in land and gives the communities the opportunity to buy that land when it comes up for sale.

A CRtB gives a pre-emptive right/the first option to buy when the registered land is offered for sale. CRtB should be used where the community has identified land and has sustainable development proposals which could be achieved on the land.

Why would we want it in Wales?

We know that access to truly ‘affordable’ homes for many people across Wales is more of a dream than a reality! When the pandemic first took hold there was talk of a crash in the housing market, thankfully this hasn’t materialised or at least not yet.  But what we have seen is house prices continuing to rise disproportionality, partly driven by people selling up in towns and cities to move to more rural locations where their money buys them a lot more including outdoor space. This drives up the desirability and ultimately the house prices, which in turn prices local people, first time buyers and young families out of the areas they call home.

I sold my house six years ago and moved to Penarth. I decided to rent first to make sure the area was where I wanted to live. As it turns out since moving back to Cardiff in my late 20s and living in five different places, Penarth is the one where I feel part of the community, a sense of belonging

both geographically and by communities of interest. Had I known then what I know now I would have bought as I am also priced out of a market. With every week, month, year that passes my bonds here grow stronger, and I know it’s where I want to stay, which means I will continue to rent.

CRtB coupled with access to grant/ loan finance could be the answer by creating truly affordable housing that stays in perpetuity ensuring that all generations benefit.

When land becomes available on the open market for development it often gets snapped up by larger developers who hold the land, otherwise known as ‘land banking ’, until they are ready to develop the site. This gives them time to develop and launch lifestyle marketing campaigns which in turn create demand and push up the market value. So, what if communities could come together and have a say/first choice on purchasing the land to ensure it is put to the best use and houses remain affordable not just for the first buyers but for future generations. Sounds like a win, win situation to me.

What are the other nations doing about it?

Scotland introduced CRtB policy as part of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.

The Scottish route map clearly sets out when and how CRtB can be used, among with the necessary support to make it happen.

England has a different approach and uses a community right to bid model, and more recently introduced the new power of ‘community right to build’.

The Community Right to Bid is one initiative introduced in the Localism Act 2011 and came into force in 2012. It enables communities and parish councils to put forward buildings or land for listing by the local authority as an asset of community value. An asset can be listed if its main purpose is to enhance the community’s social well-being or social interests. When a listed asset comes to be sold, a moratorium on the sale (of up to six months) may be invoked, providing local community groups the chance to raise finance, develop a viable business plan and to make a bid to buy the asset on the open market.

The Community Right to Build gives local organisations the right to bring forward small-scale community-led developments. The new right forms part of the Neighbourhood Planning provisions in the Localism Act that give parish councils, or neighbourhood forums the right to develop plans for their area.

What would need to happen?

Other than the rather large hurdle of creating new legislation (!), we would need to ensure that the existing infrastructure remains in place to provide vital support such as visioning, business planning, financial modelling, legal structures, roles, and responsibilities as well as knowledge sharing, capacity building, and collaboration. It would also require the availability of appropriate funding (grant/loan) to enable community organisations to purchase the relevant land/assets.

In the words of Martin Luther King ‘I have a dream’ – the difference is, in my dream people come together to form intentional communities driven by a desire to provide sustainable, affordable, low or zero carbon homes for now and future generations.

Jocelle Lovell is director of inclusive communities at the Wales Co-operative Centre

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