Westmorland and Furness Council’s new Community Asset Transfer Policy will offer local groups and organisations the opportunity to apply for long term leases on council buildings for sustainable projects and initiatives that support Council Plan priorities.
Two new key policies were approved at their cabinet meeting on 12 September. The Disposal Policy and Community Asset Transfer Policy will both supplement the council’s Strategic Asset Management Strategy for its 500+ buildings, which will be published later in 2023. The strategy will deliver a modern, effective, environmentally sustainable, fit-for purpose property portfolio and a healthy working environment to enable efficient delivery of services. This approach involves selling or leasing surplus land and buildings either on the open market, with reinvestment of funds into frontline services, or through transfers to partner organisations and community groups to achieve Council Plan priorities and wider community wellbeing objectives.
The recently approved ‘Community Asset Transfer (CAT) Policy’ sets out the principles and recommended approach for the leasehold transfer of council property assets to community groups.
CATs will help maximise community benefit from assets owned by the authority that become surplus to requirements. It can give local people and communities the opportunity to take greater control of assets in their local area. The previous county and district councils followed a similar approach with local elected members being at the heart of this activity. This policy and guidance builds on the knowledge, skills and benefits gained through previous successful CATs.
CAT will usually be by way of a long-term lease (25 – 99 years) at less than market value. Short tenancies may be considered to ascertain the viability of a group. If viability is proven a full business case will be required to support the longer leasehold transfer going forward.
Cllr Virginia Taylor, Cabinet Member for Sustainable Communities and Localities said:
“Transferring council owned assets to appropriately constituted groups in local communities can really benefit the social, environmental and economic wellbeing of an area and its communities. Bringing underused buildings back to life benefits the local economy and cheers up the high street, the village and young and old alike! Plus, local knowledge, decision-making and energy can maximise the benefits of community services and activities, as well as optimising how community assets are run.”
Cllr Peter Thornton, Cabinet Member for Highways and Assets said:
“The council will ensure that any transfer of land and property assets to the voluntary and community sector is consistent and transparent. This policy means that applicants can be confident that a fair and standardised process will be adopted for each individual application.
The policy reflects the council’s key priorities in enabling confident, empowered and resilient communities. It also supports the council’s drive to become zero carbon as all requests for CAT must include detail of how the asset will be managed sustainably.”
The council will consider a CAT where:
- The asset is owned by the council and declared surplus to operational needs
- The community group requesting the transfer is appropriately constituted, fit and proper with a stable evidenced financial position and track record (e.g. town and parish council, registered charity, community interest company, charitable incorporated organisation, not-for-profit company),
- The submitted business case meets the Council’s Priorities, demonstrates community benefits, development plans, financial viability, improved community wellbeing and community support – including from elected members.
Applicants will have a six-week period to develop an expression of interest and supporting documentation and, if approved by the Community Asset Transfer Group a further six months to develop a detailed business case. The outcome of that business case assessment will be reported to Cabinet with a recommendation for a decision.
The policy is available to view on the Westmorland and Furness website. The window for CAT applications will open from November 2023 when more information will be provided on how to apply.