The ‘Making assets work’ report found that the benefits of community ownership and management of public assets
can often outweigh the associated risks, and recommended a series of actions to support more transfers of public assets to communities.
In line with these recommendations, the government provided support for the ‘advancing assets for communities’ demonstration programme.
This programme is delivered by a national third sector consortium led by the Development Trusts Association (DTA), and aims to support local authorities and their third sector partners to develop joint plans for community asset transfer.
Now in its third year, the programme has supported 72 local authorities and their third sector partners to progress more than 100 asset transfer projects. Many have already resulted in successful transfers.
A recent example is that of Hebden Bridge town hall in West Yorkshire. The community of Hebden Royd made history earlier this month when it became one of the first in the country to be granted responsibility for running its own town hall.
Like civic buildings in other similar-sized towns, the long-term function of the town hall had become unclear. The community grew concerned that the building would be sold by Calderdale metropolitan borough council and the town would lose a local landmark that had been part of its heritage for more than a century. Hence, local residents established the Hebden Bridge Community Association to take ownership of the building and bring it back into use for the benefit of the community.
Through the advancing assets programme, the council and community association were able to access expert advice from the DTA’s asset transfer unit (ATU) – including a dedicated case manager who advised them about funding and technical issues, and who acted as an independent broker during negotiations. The programme also provided direct investment for an engagement strategy supporting the community consultation process.
After more than two years of detailed discussions, the council agreed to transfer the building to the association on the basis of a 40-year lease.
The council will continue to rent a space and deliver services from the building, and has provided a grant to support the association’s immediate plans to renovate the space. An ambitious £4m project is also underway to see new buildings constructed on currently vacant land adjacent to the town hall, which it is hoped will provide an enterprise centre and new community facilities in the future.
The transfer of Hebden Bridge town hall has enabled both the council and the community to realise a shared vision for the town – reinvigorating the sense of community pride that existed when the building was first built. It has received widespread backing from the community, as well as cross-party support within the council, and it is hoped that once up and running the hub will help to strengthen community cohesion and act as a catalyst for economic renewal.
Source: © LGA