Things are happening south of the border. Following the election, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Home Office have set up a Working Group to develop proposals for a community right to buy in England and Wales. This looks like being far more radical that the Scottish model as it will apply to urban areas where most people live and where wealth can most easily be generated. Taking inspiration from the successes of community businesses and Development Trusts, David Miliband MP, Minister of Communities and Local Government, made a ground breaking speech to the British Urban Regeneration Asociation on 12 October 2005. In it he said,
“Some of the best regeneration in this country is through social entrepreneurs within communities spotting untapped opportunities and generating value out of assets which were previously under-utilised. That means more than tokenistic community representation, but also avoiding the trap of a community sector as dependent on state funding as the long term IB claimant. In other words we need to support social enterprise and not just social service.
One way to help this is to promote the development of an asset base – land, buildings, money – by community groups. Assets enable them to borrow money, leverage private finance, and generate new social enterprises which generate revenue. For example, many of our New Deal for Communities have bought land and constructed buildings such as health centres and will now earn rent many years after the ten year programme has finished. The result is more independence and more social and economic life in the community.
That is why in 2003, the DPM gave a general power of consent to local authorities to enable them to dispose of assets at less than best value to organizations such as community trusts that serve the local community. The ODPM and the Local Government Association are working jointly to promote take-up.
It is also right to look at more radical options. In Scotland, legislation has created a ‘Community Right to Buy’.
It is focused on rural communities, and allows voluntary organisations to establish an interest in land or buildings – be they owned by the public or private sector – so that if the asset comes up for sale they have first refusal, subject to a community ballot.
The proponents of Community Right to Buy argue that it would represent as big a transfer of wealth and power to communities as housing Right to Buy represented for individuals. We are not talking about an alternative to major development. We are talking about the potential of the voluntary and community sector to take disused or under-used land and buildings – youth or community centres, unoccupied housing, and undeveloped land – and turn it into a vibrant resource for the community, raising not just morale but the value of other properties. We are determined to look at this issue as we develop our vision for sustainable communities.”