A Community Ownership and Empowerment Act could help community groups deliver affordable housing in their local areas, according to a report published by the Wales Co-operative Centre (WCC).
The Welsh co-op development apex believes such an act could give community organisations a statutory first right of refusal over assets in their area when they are proposed for sale or transfer, leading to more opportunities for communities to deliver housing that meets their needs.
The report, Community ownership of land and assets: enabling the delivery of community-led housing in Wales, was produced by the Communities Creating Homes programme at WCC, which is funded by the Nationwide Foundation and Welsh Government and offers support and advice to new and existing community-led housing schemes in Wales. Community-led housing can come in a variety of forms, but fundamentally it refers to the practice of communities taking a leading role in providing their own housing solutions – whether that is through building a new property, taking over existing properties, or protecting existing affordable housing stock.
The report highlights that the current market-led housing system is not working in Wales, with prices rising rapidly in many areas and a lack of genuinely affordable housing options for local people. The policies called for in the report would support the growing community-led housing sector in Wales.
“There is growing potential for community-led housing in Wales,” says Derek Walker, WCC chief executive. “We are working with over 60 groups who wish to develop their own affordable housing – but there remain barriers that can only be overcome with the support of Welsh Government. Not least amongst these barriers is the difficulty for community groups to acquire land on which to build affordable homes.”
The organisation is calling on the Welsh Government to strengthen community empowerment and ownership rights to help deliver the commitments set out in the Programme for Government and the Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru Co-operation Agreement. “The recommendations within our report look to enhance democracy at a local level and transfer the balance of power away from wealthy landowners to ensure that people across Wales have a greater ability to shape their local areas,” adds Mr Walker.
This ability exists elsewhere in the UK; for example, policies such as the Community Right to Buy enshrined in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 give community bodies first refusal on sites put up for sale in their vicinity. This has led to communities taking forward new housing schemes to address the needs of local people.
The report offers a number of recommendations for Welsh Government, including establishing a commission to stimulate innovative thinking on community ownership of land and assets in Wales, and introducing a Community Ownership and Empowerment Act.
It also suggests the Welsh Government should develop a land ownership registry/database and a revolving loan fund for community-led housing projects – and should develop a formal process for Community Asset Transfers (CAT) so that there is a standardised approach across all local authorities and public bodies.
The report’s findings come shortly after polling conducted by the Institute for Welsh Affairs (IWA) found widespread support for legislation that gives more power to communities. In their research, carried out for the IWA by Yougov, 68% of people demonstrated support for legislation that gives community groups first refusal over key community assets. Just 8% of people oppose this type of legislation.
As well as transforming the community-led housing sector in Wales, improving community ownership rights would benefit other sectors by growing the community energy, farming, and food production sectors, helping to protect the natural environment, and revitalising dilapidated assets and buildings in cities, towns, and villages.
“We will continue to work with partners interested in this agenda to ensure that any changes made meet the needs of communities across Wales,” adds the report.