Community assets may play key planning role

Last month, a judge dismissed a challenge to the London Borough of Hackney's decision to list a local pub as an asset to the community (see related links).

The decision was the first of its kind, and suggests that property owners will not find it easy to overturn such listings.

Assets of Community Value (ACVs) are created when a local authority approves a community group's nomination of an asset such as a pub or a playing field. Once an asset is listed, it cannot be put up for sale without community groups being given six weeks to bid to buy it. If such a community bid is made, the group concerned will then be given six months to prepare the bid, before an alternative sale can be agreed.

More importantly for planners, government guidance also states that planning authorities can treat a place's status as an ACV as a material consideration if an application for change of use is submitted. Some councils have already decided to treat ACV status as a material consideration in such decisions. Brent Council's decision to refuse permission for the largely residential redevelopment of Kensal Rise Library was partly justified on the grounds that its listing as an ACV was a material consideration. Wiltshire Council also factored a potential community takeover into its refusal of plans to convert a Chippenham pub.

Not all councils, faced with similar decisions, have taken the same view. But many will see little reason, once they have declared a place or building to be of community value, to then assert that the listing has no relevance to subsequent planning decisions.

It is, of course, early days for the mechanism, which has only been available to community groups for just over a year. Yet the fact that more than 500 ACV listings were made in the tool's first ten months of existence suggests that it may be a significant feature in future planning decision-making. That will particularly be the case if many authorities follow the example of one council Planning spoke to recently.

This authority has included policies in its draft local plan that require applicants who want to change the use of an ACV to demonstrate through a year-long marketing exercise that no prospective purchasers exist that would be willing to pay both a suitable price and maintain the asset in its existing use.

Would giving such substantial weight to ACV listings enhance the planning system in the areas where it is applied? Clearly there are benefits to creating a process for designating a use of property or land that is beneficial to a local community, and which the planning system recognises. But there are also some questions over the criteria for ACV listing. Precise figures are not available, but so far it seems clear that the vast majority of ACV nominations are granted, which does not suggest that the process is deeply rigorous. If ACV status is to become a key factor in planning decisions, then the process for designating the assets may need to be reviewed.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning//richard.garlick@haymarket.com.


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