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Bury sets out new community asset framework

Bury council has adopted a new community asset transfer policy to help groups access local authority buildings and other assets.

The council’s cabinet recently agreed to adopt the policy, which provides a ‘fair and transparent framework’ for the transfer of its land and buildings.

According to the council report, it is also an ‘active management step’ by the local authority to ‘support local people to reduce their reliance on public funding’.

‘The transfer of assets to voluntary and community organisations can strengthen confidence and ties with neighbourhoods, and can sometimes enable new investment to be attracted,’ the report states.

‘A consistent and transparent

community ownership policy is crucial’

The policy itself states its purpose is ‘not to generate capital receipts’, but rather to recognise the ‘contribution that community and voluntary organisations bring to neighbourhoods’.

It sets out clear objective tests for all applications for community asset transfers. Applicants must be able to demonstrate they understand and are willing to take legal responsibility for the asset, and have defined working governance arrangements in place.

The council must also have declared the property or asset in question surplus, and there can be no legal impediments to its transfer. Applicants will also be expected to submit a business case, which must include a financial forecast and a risk register.

The community group will also have to demonstrate the ‘benefit or value of their proposals’, either in monetary terms or in terms of its social or environment wellbeing. The policy also states council-owned properties can be transferred under various lease or freehold arrangements.

‘Where the community interest aligns with the objectives of a particular council service objective, representatives of that service will be asked to work with the community organisation to identify and develop the business case,’ the policy states.

Ed Wallis, the policy and public affairs manager at Locality, said having a consistent and transparent community ownership policy is ‘crucial to realising the benefits that community ownership can bring’.

‘Our survey of local authorities found that councils with a policy are over 50% more likely to have transferred an asset than those without a policy,’ he told New Start. ‘And councils with a policy in place are overwhelmingly more likely to believe in the social benefits of community ownership than those without a policy.

‘Yet in and of itself, having a community ownership policy will not necessarily lead to a surge in activity – it’s got to be the right kind of policy,’ added Mr Wallis.

‘It is important that a policy is not designed as “one-size-fits all” and responds to the capacities of the community organisations. The best ones are those that advocate a partnership approach, are flexible and allow for long term leases with some capital investment up front.’

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