Headlines: January 30th, 2008

Councils are being urged to put forward schemes to give local people control over community assets before the deadline next month. Fifty new pilots are expected to join the scheme when the first phase ends on February 15th but authorities are being warned the chance to be involved is fading fast.

The scheme was established to engage people and improve services by allowing councils to transfer assets such as disused schools, swimming pools and offices into community management and ownership. Thirty-four pilots are already underway but a report last year found that some authorities were not aware of the benefits of the scheme. The scheme also allows successful projects to apply for lottery money under a 30 million pound Cabinet Office fund to support social enterprises.

Examples of pilots already in place include a project in Hastings where the friends of the pier are working with the council to look at ways to turn over the landmark to the community. It was closed for health and safety reasons and is in legal limbo.In Lewisham, meanwhile, the council is in talks with a group of artists to formalise their occupancy of an old library and residents of a deprived estate in Cheshire are to take over a community centre from the county council.

Communities and Local Government Secretary, Hazel Blears, said the projects not only promoted a greater sense of community but also raised public interest and satisfaction. “This is a hugely exciting agenda,” she said and added, “Asset transfer creates new social enterprises, trains a new generation of active citizens, and helps rebuild grass roots democracy.”