Green spaces fall short in asset of community value bids

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

allotment_morgue-20140904100352751Only around half of applications to list a green space as an asset of community value (ACV) have succeeded, an analysis by a planning consultancy has found.

The study by Development Control Services (DCS) looked at 134 English local planning authorities to see which assets local people had asked to be registered and which were given the status.

It found that authorities approved 43 assets termed "outdoor spaces and recreation", 36 "open spaces" and 12 "allotments", while applications to list 22 open spaces and one each of outdoor sports and recreation and allotments were rejected. Applications for a further two allotments, three open spaces and one outdoor sports and recreation were subsequently withdrawn.

Pubs are most likely to get approval - 88 per cent - with libraries not far behind. But only about 50 per cent of open spaces are given the status. The average approval rate was 79 per cent.

In this case it must be obvious why businesses, unfortunately, are favored above parks, open spaces and allotments. It has to do with money in the form of application fees, business rates and such like. Parks, open space and allotments do not generate that kind of income for the local authorities.

The Localism Act 2011's Community Right to Build allows community groups to nominate land and buildings as ACVs. To be added to the register, the authority must find that the asset has a use that "furthers the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community".

The status allows community groups a six-week window to submit a bid request if the asset is put up for sale, then a six-month moratorium to prepare one, before the asset is sold on the open market. ACV status can also be a material consideration in planning decisions.

ACV applications are often sparked by the knowledge or concern that a community asset is to be sold or developed. In June, the Heritage Lottery Fund research report State of UK Public Parks found that nearly half of parks managers surveyed said their local authorities were thinking of selling or transferring management of their parks.

In July, the Park Lodge by Bridgford Park, Nottingham, due to be auctioned by Savills, was withdrawn at the 11th hour after a local group lodged an application to register the lodge as an ACV.

In the same month, local Government secretary Eric Pickles urged councils to "turn idle assets into money" to pay for frontline services such as parks.

Of the 134 councils in the DCS figures, 87 had received at least one ACV application. In total, these authorities had received 616 applications, made 550 decisions and listed 433 community assets, the analysis reveals.

Should this pattern be repeated across England's 326 local planning authorities, there would be more than 1,000 assets listed.

Parks consultant Peter Neal said : "This is going to be the direction of travel where local authorities are going to develop stronger partnerships with local communities. But it's not a quick fix."

If central government and local governments were really and truly serious about the Localism Act and other such legal provisions they would place much greater value on parks, open spaces and allotments.

Public parks, and open spaces, to some degree also fall under this, were established under the Public Health Act and reenforced in them many times over and that for good reasons and the same applies to allotment gardens, though another law made them a statutory requirement.

In today's world, however, both central and local governments are trying to claim that they are no longer statutory and also that they cannot afford them. But can we afford a sick population, not that we do not have one already? The answer to that question is a loud no, we cannot.

Furthermore, especially as regards to allotment gardens, they allow for true localism and resilience, especially in home food production and and national food security. We must not fall prey to the beliefs, as held by some in government, that we need neither farms nor vegetable gardens “as we can get all the food we want from abroad”, as was stated by at least one minister.

While it is true that governments are strapped for cash because of overspending on infrastructure and defense projects that are of no value to the people but only to big businesses, often foreign ones, a small change in priorities, that is to say dropping some of them, such as the HS2 rail idea, and replacing Trident and the nuclear deterrent, for instance, would bring much needed cash into government and thus could be used for better provisions on the three levels discussed here, as well as others. Chance would be a fine thing, however.

Instead of providing for the people government spent almost the entire GDP of the country on bailing out the banks that were “too big to fail”, which are now continuing with “business as usual” and still hold us all to ransom. And the people have to carry the can with cuts in services and more and more austerity with public sector workers having been forced to accept a pay freeze, which became, due to price increases, etc., in reality a pay cut, for several years which Members of Parliament voted themselves an about seven percent increase every year.

Thus there is no money for provisions such as parks, open spaces and allotments and threats are made, time and again, by councils that those services may have to go, be managed differently, and so on, and even statements from leaders of the LGA claiming that neither of those are statutory requirements and thus would have to be accepted as some of the first to go. May I suggest that a check is done in the statutes as to which really is the case.

© 2014