Forty public buildings to be handed over to charities

Community groups will take over the running of up to 40 disused public buildings over the next year, under plans outlined by the Government.

Local government minister Phil Woolas this week unveiled a timetable for the introduction of measures to allow community groups take control of run down local buildings, such as community centres or even swimming pools.

The announcement follows the release last week of an official inquiry into the barriers preventing asset transfer, which concluded that many local authorities were overly cautious. The report, by Lewisham Council chief executive Barry Quirk, also recommended a “major campaign” to increase awareness of asset transfer.

Under the new plan, the Government will invite local authorities to apply to be among the 20 that will run pilot schemes over the next 12 months, with the aim of transferring a total of up to 40 buildings into community ownership. Training will also be made available to support community groups manage the transfers.

The Government will also authorise councils to disregard rules around extracting maximum value from their assets when they are sold to community groups. This could mean that local groups are able to snap up assets for as little as £1.

Woolas said that the pilot project was a “key window of opportunity to breathe new life into disused public assets and give people a bigger stake in the future quality of life in their local area”.

He added: “Our plan will get 40 demonstration projects up and running and provide councils with the tools and training they need so that they can give every community the opportunity to tackle their local priorities, whether those are about enhancing the local environment, alleviating poverty or raising people's aspirations.”

After the pilots are concluded Quirk will reconvene a group to study what about the scheme would need to be changed before it is rolled out nationally in 2008.

The Office of the Third Sector announced in March that a pot of £30m would be available to enable the transfer and refurbishment of property. The fund will be administered by the Big Lottery Fund.

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