Pulling together to preserve community assets can pay off
Yet our planning system now provides the opportunity to save local facilities, which is felt to be particularly important in rural areas where accessing everyday services can be difficult.
What constitutes a community asset is wide-ranging, although most residential properties are deemed exempt. Not surprisingly it includes pubs, as there is a general recognition nowadays that these can form the heart of a community, providing a location for local groups to meet in addition to socialising.
The allocation process is remarkably simple. Nominations can be made by established bodies such as parish councils or most groups that have a connection with the locality.
Councils must then consider the proposals and carry out a consultation exercise. The building owners themselves are allowed to make an appeal on the decision to list and seek compensation on any loss incurred as a result.
However, as this is still relatively new legislation many are unaware of their rights. Decisions are usually made within eight weeks from receipt of the nomination.
While owners are under no obligation to dispose of their building, when they do eventually decide to sell it gives the community group six months to come up with a bid. This appears to be one piece of Government legislation set to prove popular with a slow but steadily increasing take up throughout the country. One such place is the small village of Bamford in the heart of the Peak District where, in common with many areas, the traditional village pub has been in a steady decline over the last decade with two out of the three public houses having closed.
Recognising the importance of “the local” a small highly organised and articulate group of residents mobilised to create the Bamford Community Society.
They successfully applied for community asset status to be applied to The Anglers Rest, the last remaining pub that had been struggling for a number of years under a succession of short term landlords.
With ambitious plans to create a true community hub they have recently had their offer to buy the freehold accepted by Admiral Taverns.
However, any groups embarking on such a journey should take note. Obtaining the community asset status is only the first step. What comes next can be a long and arduous process with many hurdles to overcome.
Eighteen months of meetings and planning seemed wasted by the acceptance of a last minute rival bid from a property developer leaving the BCS and many villagers devastated.
However, after raising in excess of £180k through share options and securing additional commercial borrowing they weren’t about to give up. A last push involving extensive media attention and support from around the world resulted in the brewery rescinding the sale to the developer.
Now, in addition to the traditional pub, their plans to have a café that opens at the crack of dawn serving breakfast for a local bunk barn look set to become a reality. Crucially, they have also saved the local post office, which is to be included within the same building, so you will soon be able to enjoy a pie and a pint while applying for your passport.
Community Assets, whether by design or chance, plays to the great British strength of pulling together in times of adversity.
Jonathon Winfield is MD os Acanthus WSM Architects, Leeds, www.acanthuswsm.com