One of the key public policy objectives of the Localism Act 2011 was to give communities greater involvement in the way local services are delivered by fostering growth and regeneration through community asset ownership. This was intended to counteract the damage to local communities when buildings or other amenities are closed or sold off. The Act therefore introduced a community right to bid for and buy local land that is considered to have community value before the landowner disposes of it.
For land or a building to have community value it is necessary that (among other things)
- the actual current use of the land or building furthers the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community; and
- it is realistic to think that use of the building or other land which will further (whether or not in the same way) the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community.
Local authorities across the country have listed the following as ACVs where appropriate:
- Car parks
- School playing fields
- Football grounds
- Village halls
- Bowls clubs
- Local parks
- Nature reserves
In the case of Haddon Property Development Ltd (landowner) v Cheshire East Council (LA) the LA had informed the landowner that its golf club and country park had been listed as an asset of community value (ACV) under the Localism Act 2011 (Act) following a nomination made by a local community group.
The landowner made a freedom of information request on the background to the listing, which resulted in the LA supplying various documents, including the nomination papers.
The landowner requested a review of the LA’s decision to list the golf club, which the LA upheld. The landowner then appealed to the Tribunal.
The landowner accepted that the country park should be listed as an ACV but argued that the golf course should not. This was primarily because the club house building lacked, and was unlikely to obtain, permanent planning permission. On this basis the golf course would not fit the definition of an ACV under the Act.
The Tribunal held that, although there was a charge to use the golf club, which limited its use to certain groups within the community, this did not necessarily preclude its listing as an ACV (albeit that this might not be the case when considering a highly exclusive club charging large membership fees, which may not benefit the local community in the same way). Together with the community use of the club house, this meant that, prior to closure in 2013, the golf course did further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community, as required under the Act.
However, the Tribunal further held that it was unlikely in the next five years that the golf course would continue to further the social wellbeing or interests of the community. It was doubtful that club house planning permission would be granted because of its location and therefore it no longer had a community use. Although the nominating community group argued that it was looking to obtaining funding and examine how the nearby community hall could be combined with use as a clubhouse, the Tribunal concluded that the LA had not given due consideration to the general viability of a golf club without its own clubhouse.
Consequently, the Tribunal upheld the appeal and stated that the golf club should be removed from the LA’s list of ACVs. The judgment can be downloaded here.
In this case it is noteworthy that the Tribunal agreed that, even where an organisation restricted the right to use the land to members, and charged fees for its use, this would not necessarily mean that the land could not further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community.
This case also highlights the importance for community groups to prepare a well-considered and viable plan when nominating land or buildings for listing as an ACV.
If you have any queries on what the changes will mean in practice for your club, please call our dedicated County FA Helpline on 08448 240 432 or email [email protected].