New measures have come into effect to allow local people to ‘recycle’ unused buildings and to bring them under community control. The Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, said the tougher economic climate had heightened interest in communities maintaining local assets.
A new single advice line number, 0845 345 456, has been set up and Ms Blears has announced 22 new demonstration areas, in addition to 50 already named, where more intensive work will support local councils and communities to transfer buildings into community ownership. She said there were a range of options local councils could use to give people power, including handing over buildings as a gift, selling them at less than market price, or keeping them off the market while projects develop their plans and secure funding.
Examples of community ownership of local public buildings often involves community centres, former schools or old council offices but other projects have been developed using theatres, a cattle market, and even a medieval barn. Ms Blears said the helpline and other measures were the next step in taking forward the 2007 Quirk Review which set out ways to make better use of public assets. Since 2005, communities have been given a direct say over how at least 14 million pounds worth of local public budgets are spent.
“Local people have been leading a revolution to recycle buildings for the community, particularly during the downturn,” she said and added: “We want to help more local people get their hands on local buildings so they can put them to work for the community. For too long, too many have not even seen it as an option. And when they have it has felt like an endurance test.”