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November 24, 2010

To buy, to bid, to build – new community rights called for in England

New report out last week which is of interest for three reasons. Firstly because it’s an unlikely but interesting collaboration between one of the principles authors of Big Society, Phillip Blond and the DTA’s director, Steve Wyler. Secondly because UK Coalition Government seem serious about endorsing the report’s proposals to unlock the potential of asset ownership as a means of revitalising the country’s poorest communities. And thirdly, because it offers some comment on our own land reform legislation

David Maddox, Westminster Editor

Full report here

A SCOTTISH-style right to buy land will be extended to communities in England under radical proposals to turn Britain into an “asset-owning democracy” being endorsed by the coalition government.

The minister for decentralisation, Greg Clark, will tomorrow formally introduce a report – To Buy, to Bid, to Build Community rights for an Asset Owning Democracy – by the centre right think-tank ResPublica, which will call for legislation giving communities across the UK the right to buy local assets and land.

It will offer ten ideas for unlocking ownership for the less wealthy, arguing that it will transform the life chances of many and provide a much needed boost for many parts of the country. The proposals are also seen by the government as a key part of realising David Cameron’s “big society” vision.

Inspiration has been provided by the success of the Scottish Parliament’s land reform laws, which have provided a stimulus to many formerly moribund rural and island communities, such as Gigha, Knoydart and Assynt where decades of population decline has been reversed by community buy-outs.

The report’s co-author Phillip Blond, whose Red Tory book formed much of the thinking behind David Cameron’s “big society” and the Conservative manifesto, will argue that after a decade of booming state investment and welfare spending under Labour, “meaningful assets and market entry have become the preserve of the rich.”

Blond and his co-author Steve Wyler take their cue from the 2003 Land Reform Act (Scotland) passed by MSPs which allowed communities to buy up vast tracks of land north of the Border.

The report argues that buy-outs have led to entrepreneurship in Scotland in communities where people have a stake in the assets.

It notes: “in Scotland especially, there has been a rapid increase in community energy experimentation, including community owned wind power, ground source heat pumps, biofuels, anaerobic digestion, hydro-electric schemes, solar power, etc.”

But while the report is mainly aimed at spreading the ideas of the Land Reform Act to other parts of the UK there is also advice for Scotland to improve what it has got.

The report describes the buyout process in Scotland as “too cumbersome” saying it needs to be more streamlined.

A source close to Blond said: “We like what has happened in Scotland but it is not the model for England because it is too complicated.

We think that the Scottish Parliament should make it easier for community buyouts to happen, then it could spread principle to urban communities as well.”