On Sunday 13 February, the IWA’s Economic Policy Lead Harry Thompson was interviewed by BBC’s James Williams to discuss the IWA’s forthcoming report, ‘Our Land: Communities and Land Use’.
Preceding Harry, Andrew Davies, former chair of the Welsh Cooperative and Mutuals Commission and former Labour Minister, deplored the lack of legislative progress on community rights in Wales:
‘My disappointment is that although there is a lot of rhetoric around communitarianism and community in Wales, the reality is quite different and tends to be dominated by Welsh Government and increasingly by local government. The community, as citizens, are really disenfranchised, and the IWA report would appear to confirm this, on the specific area of community-owned assets.’
Harry Thompson laid out the constraints weighing on communities and local authorities in Wales, which currently make it harder for community groups to bid against private buyers, and for local authorities to sell public properties to community groups at an affordable price. He added that the decade-long wave of austerity measures that struck councils across the country was likely to have resulted in the loss of community assets, but that no record had been kept.
In response to this lack of empowerment, Thompson explained the IWA’s proposals to give communities in Wales the first right of refusal to buy community assets that are proposed for sale or transfer, and to give social value a greater role in decisions around the sale of public property.
The IWA’s key recommendations are:
- The Welsh Government should begin work on a Community Empowerment Bill that establishes a register of community assets, and gives communities a statutory first right of refusal over these assets when they are proposed for sale or transfer.
- The Welsh Government should establish a well-financed Community Asset Fund, based on the successful Scottish Land Fund that distributes grants of between £5,000 and £1m.
- The Welsh Government should establish a coordinated support package to support communities that are seeking to buy or lease land or assets. This should be particularly targeted at deprived communities.
- The Welsh Government should adopt a social value policy that applies to public bodies looking to dispose of or lease land or assets.
- In situations where asset transfer is not possible, the Welsh Government should support public bodies to co-produce, with communities as equal partners, future asset management plans that reflect community values and vision.
You can watch the interview in full on the BBC Iplayer. Our report also received coverage from the BBC Politics’s page. The IWA is launching our new report, Our Land: Communities and Land Use, on Thursday 17 February. Click here to register for a free event where we’ll explain our findings.