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The myth of a ‘community right to buy’

The Localism Bill makes no mention of a ‘community right to buy’ threatened local facilities – but the right to bid is under threat

In November 2009, David Cameron promised, in writing:

'[T]he next Conservative Government will introduce a “community right-to-buy” [local facilities under threat of closure]… This means that local people and organisations will be given first refusal to take over community amenities for the benefit of the community.'

He was lying.

Yesterday, The Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, wrote to the ’third sector’, and told them:

'[T]he Localism Bill provides radical new rights and powers for citizens and communities, not least the Right to Buy…'

He was lying too.

The Localism Bill, now making its way from the Lords back to the Commons and on to Royal Assent, makes no mention of a ‘community right to buy’; indeed the word ‘buy’ appears nowhere in the bill.

What chapter 4, paras 75-96 of the Localism Bill actually do is set out arrangements whereby communities can bid for 'assets of community value', but at no point is a right to buy – Cameron’s ‘first refusal’ – accorded.

This is perfectly clear in the consultation document on the bill’s provisions put out by government in February:

'The provisions also introduce a window of opportunity for community groups, once a listed asset comes up for sale, in order to give them valuable time to organise and fundraise, so putting them in a better position to compete with other potential buyers.' (para 1.17)

Certainly there is scope for owners to sell to community groups ahead of other interested bidders at a lower price if they wish to (see para 11.6), but there is absolutely no compulsion.

Furthermore, this provision is aimed explicitly (para 11.8) at local authorities and other public bodies, and they already have that discretionary power under the Local Government Act 1972 (General Disposal Consent 2003), which allows them to dispose of assets at less than market value where there is clear community benefit.

On Monday, the Tory Baroness Hanham successfully put amendments to the bill (p.74 of Hansard record) which further restrict communities’ right even to bid for assets, because this right might interfere with rich people’s inheritance tax avoidance plans.

Yet even before that, the whole idea that communities would have any greater ‘right to buy’ than they ever had before was a simple lie.

It’s a lie that shows no sign of ending any time soon.

Paul Cotterill blogs at Though Cowards Flinch.

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