Welsh public overwhelmingly back giving communities more land rights, says new poll
The Welsh public overwhelmingly back giving local communities more rights over land and other assets, such as village halls to pubs and parks, according to a new poll.
The Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) think tank, which commissioned the YouGov survey, has described communities in Wales as “the least empowered in Britain”.
The IWA’s Our Land: Communities and Land Use report has found that Welsh communities have almost no statutory rights, which stands in stark contrast to the community right of first refusal in Scotland, or the community right to bid in England.
The research it has published suggests that the Welsh public supports the findings of this report, which calls for more rights for local communities to access land and assets for shared benefit.
According to the poll 68% of respondents totally support the Welsh Government introducing legislation that gives communities a right of first refusal to buy key community assets such as land, village halls and pubs before they are listed on the open market. Only 8% totally oppose.
It also found that 71% totally support the Welsh Government funding grants for communities to buy or lease community assets such as land, village halls and pubs to be run by the community, with only 8% totally opposing.
The research found 67% totally support the Welsh Government creating a coordinated support package, providing advisors, and detailed guidance, to help assist communities to run their assets such as land, village halls and pubs, with only 9% totally opposed.
‘Sell off public assets’
The Welsh public was also asked its views on what should be done when Welsh Government, local authorities and public bodies sell off public assets for.
In this situation, only 8% believe that assets should be sold to whoever offers the highest price, even if this doesn’t have wider benefits.
The research found that 59% believe that assets should be sold to whoever offers the wider social benefits, even if this is at a lower price.
According to the IWA the YouGov polling shows overwhelming backing from people in Wales for its recommendations. This includes support from Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters, remain and leave voters, men and women, all age groups, all social classes and all regions of Wales, they say.
Auriol Miller, Director of the IWA said: “We are pleased to see such strong support from the Welsh public for our new recommendations. We’ve seen examples of community ownership giving derelict buildings new leases of life, generating renewable energy under local ownership, and tackling the second homes crisis through community-led housing.”
IWA Recommendations in Full
Recommendation 1: The Welsh Government should begin work on a Community Empowerment Bill that establishes a register of community assets, and gives communities a statutory first right of refusal over these assets when they are proposed for sale or transfer.
It is vital that any community empowerment rights in this Bill do not endanger the viability of the agricultural industry that underpins rural Wales, and it should therefore not be considered without a mechanism to ensure land and assets are sold for market value. We do not recommend compulsory purchasing measures as in Scotland, due to the differential context in Wales, the fragility of rural communities, and their importance to the Welsh language.
Recommendation 2: The Welsh Government should establish a well-financed Community Asset Fund, based on the successful Scottish Land Fund that distributes grants of between £5,000 and £1m. This should be dedicated to underpinning the Community Empowerment Bill’s provisions, financially supporting community ownership, and ensuring that those seeking to sell receive a fair price for their assets.
Recommendation 3: The Welsh Government should establish a coordinated support package to support communities that are seeking to buy or lease land or assets. This should be particularly targeted at deprived communities to ensure those without the resources or time to engage as fully in the process are not disadvantaged.
Recommendation 4: The Welsh Government should adopt a social value policy that applies to public bodies looking to dispose of or lease land or assets. This should be auditable and communicated clearly with local authorities, public bodies, and Audit Wales. The National TOMs Framework should be used as a starting point to develop this social value policy.
Recommendation 5: In situations where asset transfer is not possible, the Welsh Government should support public bodies to co-produce, with communities as equal partners, future asset management plans that reflect community values and vision but also reflect the legal and professional requirements of asset management.
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