Wales values the power of community – so why are we so careless with our community treasures?
Rhys ab Owen, Senedd Member for South Wales Central
A recent report by the Institute of Welsh Affairs emphasised that Wales has the worst land and community rights in the United Kingdom. Local communities face uphill battles in their attempts to purchase local assets for the sake of their communities, be they local taverns and local churches, or local woodlands and green spaces.
When Wales was squeezed by Conservative austerity to pick up the bill for bankers, Councils across the nation were forced to sell community assets. While the citizens of Scotland and England were able to organise, work and mobilise to buy and protect these assets, this was not the same story in Wales.
We will never know the full extent of community loss this nation faced, but everyone knows a story of a family farm that has been lost, youth centres boarded up, or local taverns closed and redeveloped into expensive student flats.
Too often in Wales, and specifically my region of South Wales Central, we have seen organised communities side-lined in processes, where local assets are sold to some faceless corporation or development firm, looking to maximise personal profit over social value for the whole area.
For a country often cited as being more ‘communitarian’, our communities have little tangible rights.
Local gardens and parks, allotments and urban farms increase the value, both socially and economically, of an area. We have all been reminded over this pandemic of the importance of greenery to our mental health, the importance of a community that cares, and of having those social safety nets in place when things go bad.
Community assets have been, are, and will continue to be one of the most effective ways of strengthening that community spirit, of fostering co-operation and of providing social value networks for people.
People want to live in communities that are unique and personal, not some carbon copy of every other town and village. People don’t want to live, nor do they want to visit, clone towns that offer nothing exciting, personal or dynamic compares to the village or city one valley over.
The question then is, what work then has the Welsh Government done to streamline the process of community asset purchase and when will we see the Senedd codify the rights of communities over local assets?
I hope my short debate in the Senedd today can kick-start co-operation from across the political spectrum, not just from Plaid Cymru MS’ who are looking to make a change.
In Cardiff we hear stories almost every week: Roath Park Pub on City Road; Bethel Chapel in Morganstown; Canton Community Centre; the Maindy Velodrome.
The Roath Park Pub is the last Victorian pub of its kind in our capital city. It stood there since 1886, a meeting place for local people to discuss their lives and to have fun. After a backlash to an application to demolish the pub and replace it with flats the application was withdrawn, only to be replaced with an order to demolish it without plans to build anything in its place. This disgraceful application was approved by Cardiff Council, and had even the Labour Council Leader calling for changes to the planning system.
These changes have come too late to save other pubs of their kind such as the Vulcan, the Gower pub and our renowned Guildford Crescent. It is frankly disgraceful to see community treasures being knocked down, with the best hope for them being a spot in St Fagan’s.
Is it then not a shame that a country such as Wales, which has always had a strong emphasis on the power of community, gives them so little statutory rights to have a say in their local needs?
It is time for us to right this wrong; communities know what communities need. This should be a core principle for society, and it is our job in this Senedd to empower people, communities, counties and the nation. It is time to protect our community assets and take back control for our communities.
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