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December 12, 2007

Transfer of public assets

The English Government’s action plan to encourage councils to transfer unused assets to communities continues with a further 14 pilots added to the current 20. Scottish Government has so far failed to respond to the findings of the Quirk review

Government News Network

Street markets run by the traders, old fire stations turned into community centres and listed buildings being restored for the benefit of the general public are just some of the assets which will be transferred into the hands of local people at discount prices as low as £1.00.

In a major acceleration towards ensuring that communities in every part of the country get a chance to run their own assets, Hazel Blears has announced a new target of 80 areas within two years starting with an extra 14 demonstration areas on top of the 20 that already exist.

She will also announce the allocation of £2m to support the new pilots (part of £35m announced last month for empowerment initiatives).

Just six months after the Government challenged councils to maximise the transfer of public assets to the community, demonstration projects are off the ground in 20 areas.

An old town centre court house, a historic library and even a station yard are just some of the assets that councils are handing over to community-led organisations prepared to bring these iconic properties back to community life.

There are examples all over the country of how asset transfer can provide a home for a range of social enterprises, provide a meeting space for local groups, give people an opportunity to learn new skills.

One of the most remarkable of the current pilots is Hastings Pier which has been closed for health and safety reasons since July 2006 (see notes).
The Communities Secretary will say:
“There’s no better advocate for local people than local people themselves, no service that can’t be improved by their active involvement. It’s been my privilege to see struggling estates and neighbourhoods made safer and cleaner thanks to commitment and courage of local residents.”

Speaking at the Plunkett Foundation annual conference on ‘Rural Social Enterprise’ in Cambridgeshire, The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said that community engagement was not just for inner cities:
“Rural communities today face new challenges – an ageing population, some places seeing new migration for the first time, an ever-present need for local shops and services. Giving local people more opportunities to get things done for themselves will be a big part of the solution.”

She will quote examples of existing asset transfer pilots in rural areas like the district of Restormel in Cornwall, focussing on a set of Grade 2 listed cottages built in the early 18th century and situated in a popular public garden and Ashfield in Nottingham which is looking at the potential of handing over of a former stable which had also been used as a schoolroom and is currently being renovated.

The Communities Secretary also encouraged those living in rural areas to use their existing powers to have a bigger say over what happens in their community:
“What better example could there be of local democracy in action than the parish council? These are local people, elected by their neighbours, knowing what their village needs, and able to levy a small precept to invest in it.

“That’s why we are giving the best parishes a new “well-being power”, giving them much more discretion to spend their money as they see fit – on everything from environmental projects, local services for the young or elderly, or getting involved in social enterprises.

“Participatory budgeting is another means of giving people a direct say over how public money is spent in their local area. It not only makes sure their priorities are being met; it’s a way of making them feel more able to say “this is my street, my estate, and I’m proud of it.” Devolution right to the doorstep.”

The Opening the Transfer Window implementation plan was launched in May to maximise the transfer of public assets to communities in order to make services more responsive and create more confident empowered communities with greater civic spirit.

New pilots
1. Newark and Sherwood District Council will transfer an under-used sports pavilion based next to an estate featured in the lowest 20% in the Index of Multiple Deprivation (2004), and suffering anti-social behaviour problems: the site will be transformed into a centre for young people, and be managed by a local consortium headed by the Everyday Champions Centre. Other local community centres and village halls are also under consideration for possible asset transfer.

2. West Lindsay District Council will transfer an old CCTV building to the Young and Safe in Gainsborough (YaSiG) Partnership, to develop new facilities for young people in the area. By day, an alternative education service will operate from the site, offering courses to secondary school-age pupils disaffected by mainstream education, while in the evening, young people will be able to meet and socialise in a new coffee bar, with advice and counselling facilities also available.

3. Barking and Dagenham Council has a policy to hand over the management of 17 community halls, and is considering transfer to voluntary bodies as a base for service provision. The extensive redevelopment of Barking and the Riverside are also expected to bring further asset transfer opportunities.

4. North Hertfordshire District Council has identified three possible facilities for asset transfer. Hitchen Town Hall and Bancroft Hall have been identified as possible bases for new facilities for young people, while Hitchen Open Air Market will be managed jointly by town partnership the Hitchen Initiative, and local market traders.

5. Bexley Council will transfer Hurst Community Centre, a building of historical and architectural interest, with the possible establishment of a local charity or trust to manage it. The move follows the restructuring of the council’s Community Services Department, to take responsibility of the borough’s seven community centres, all of which are being considered for asset transfer.

6. Taunton Deane District Council is looking at plans to transfer up to
six buildings in the Halcon Ward to community ownership, following the establishment of the Taunton East Development Trust.

7. Hull City Council has identified a range of under-used facilities for transfer to community ownership, including community centres, garage sites, former school buildings and commercial properties. Alongside the asset management strategy, which includes supporting the successful management of a New Deal for Communities Area by the Preston Road Development Trust, the council has also developed new concessionary lease arrangements for the voluntary and community sector.

8. Allerdale Borough Council will transfer Wigton Market Hall and Wigton Community Centre to a new development trust, the North Allerdale Partnership. The Market Hall will be renovated, with plans including a new mezzanine floor to provide additional space, while Wigton Community Centre will become available to local residents as community groups based there move to the refurbished Market Hall.

9. Durham County Council identified a variety of buildings available for asset transfer in a recent report, including 33 community centres, swimming pools, school buildings, family centres and libraries. Sites include Glenroyd House, a former old people’s home that will be managed by a consortium of voluntary organisations, and Kelloe Pool, which will be re-opened by a local community partnership.

10. Gateshead Council approved the transfer of Hub for the Community in Birtley in 2005. The building, an old shop with upstairs offices, will be developed by Birtley Community Partnership to provide facilities for community activities for Birtley’s 8,000 residents. The council has undertaken a review of its 61 community centres to examine future transfer opportunities.

11. Leicester City Council has already transferred the Outdoor Pursuits Centre – which provides activities to young people, people with disabilities and other ‘hard to reach’ groups – and the Cort Crescent Community Centre to community ownership, and is investigating the possible transfer of the Highfields Centre – providing a range of facilities including fitness suites, a creche and early years provision – to the Highfields Community Association.

12. Newcastle City Council will transfer assets including the former West Road Fire Station, a former library and the Stephenson Building, to community management. The council is developing a new approach to asset transfer, which involves mapping assets across the area, to ensure transfers maximise the use of existing assets, consider the location of other public agency buildings and supports regeneration plans.

13. Portsmouth City Council has a vision to establish a Third Sector Centre of Excellence, to ensure council-owned buildings being used by third sector organisations are better used: the organisations would be re-housed in better accommodation to ensure these buildings, often in a poor state of repair and not compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act, are available for renovation and use.

14. Stoke-on-Trent Council is undergoing a review of its assets to identify sites available for transfer. The Council has completed a review of community centres and is now consulting on their transfer to Community Centre Boards. The pilot will be used to identify how community and neighbourhood organisations, as well as Councillors and Council officials, can assist and be involved in asset transfer.

Update on existing pilots

Ashfield – a former stable and, more recently, schoolhouse in a rural village and a run-down estate community centre with a community radio station in an adjacent portacabin – with business planning and investment readiness.

Cheshire – a community centre on a ‘pocket-of-deprivation’ estate in Winsford

Forest Heath – exploring a community land trust model involving a new community centre, shops and housing.

Hastings Pier has been closed for safety reasons since July 2006. The Council has assisted one of the Pier’s main tenants to re-open their business which employs around 30 local people on the Pier but the majority of the structure still remains closed. The Council has commissioned and paid for a full survey of the Pier which is currently being presented to the Council’s Cabinet and shared with the Friends of Hastings Pier (FOHP), English Partnerships and other stakeholders. The Council would like to explore in much greater detail with these partners how to achieve a permanent solution to the Pier’s problems and if and how the Council’s CPO powers or other legal means might support such an approach.

Lambeth -three sites in Clapham which involve private developers producing new health, leisure and educational facilities and fully refurbishing an historic library before handing back to community use.

Leeds – transfer of a former school to the community

Lewisham – potential transfer of Carnegie library for arts use plus possible youth and community centre

Peterborough – redevelopment of a former school site for a multi-service package involving the police, college, Pre-School Learning Alliance and others.

Restormel – set of grade 2 listed cottages built in the early 18th century, and situated in a popular public garden. Last occupied in the 1960s and housing a local museum until 1995, they are currently in state of disrepair and will require a major injection of funds to allow them to be re-used. The Friends of Trenance are a group of local people founded two years ago who have been actively planning and fundraising for new uses for the cottages. The council is keen to transfer the cottages and has allocated £100,000 for structural works.

Sheffield – redevelopment of a small community centre into a 2-storey community hub with excellent environmental standards

Tower Hamlets – proposals for a £30m redevelopment of Poplar Baths including renovation of the main swimming pool and new leisure facilities, subsidised from revenue generated by 30,000 sq. ft of managed workspace and retail, along with new housing development.

Warwick – exploring transfer opportunities for Pageant House, a town centre building of great local historic interest.