Community Rights Made Real: What will the Localism Act mean for communities?

With the Localism Act (the government’s new policy giving increased decision-making powers to communities) soon to become part of our planning system, there is a lot of talk about how our communities and neighbourhoods will be affected.

Among the increased powers are 3 new Rights for communities:

  • The Community Right to Bid – i.e. the transfer of buildings or land to the community
  • The Community Right to Build – i.e. neighbourhood planning
  • The Community Right to Challenge – i.e. the transfer of service provision to the community/voluntary sector or private companies

I went along to an event run jointly by NAVCA, Urban Forum and Croydon Voluntary Action to hear about these new rights and join the discussion on the concerns and opportunities they bring.

The Community Right to Bid could mean that assets which are valuable to communities continue to provide for them and act as hubs – giving people a space to interact and socialise. It may also help to preserve buildings of historical significance. We heard from the Stanley People’s Initiative about their building, and their story revealed how the support of the Local Authority is crucial for achieving success. You can read more about this tenacious group and how they are campaigning to take over the Stanley Halls here.

The Community Right to Build was deemed by the majority of us at the event as the right most likely to increase community influence. It will allow planning to be more proactive than reactive and will mean that an area develops as its community wants it to. However it is complex process – setting up a representative group to work on the plan, defining the neighbourhood it refers to, ensuring the plan conforms with policy and other local plans – which can be off-putting. The importance of trust between stakeholders in this process was emphasised by Donna Turnball of Voluntary Action Camden. Donna urged for fresh methods to be used (and traditional ones such as formal meetings avoided), to ensure an effective neighbourhood planning process.

Attendees felt apprehension towards the new Community Right to Challenge. Some are sceptical that it will actually allow community and voluntary organisations to take on Local Authority services, despite them being best placed to do so in many cases. The major concern for such organisations is that deprived and marginalised communities they work with who are most in need of support receive the best possible quality services.

It is crucial that Local Authorities and support organisations like us give communities the help that they need to fully take advantage of the opportunities presented by these recent legislative and policy changes, whilst helping them to avoid any dangers these new community rights can bring.

There are several free events on Community Rights scheduled around the country over the next couple of months