Exeter City Council has transferred a number of its assets to other bodies in recent years and more are in the pipeline. The recent proposals to transfer the Valley Parks to Devon Wildlife Trust presented an opportunity to start the conversation about greater clarity for community groups on how that can happen.
So the question we asked and the Council’s reply is here:
“PUBLIC QUESTIONS RECEIVED for Place Scrutiny Committee – 8 September 2016
Question for Place Scrutiny Committee
Diana Moore Chair, Exeter Community Forum
Experience from councils across the UK, supported by work and evidence from the Treasury, LGA and community sector, has shown the role of transfer of ownership of land or buildings from a statutory body to a community organisation at ‘less than best consideration’ can achieve a public benefit for social , environmental and economic benefit. One of the key lessons learned from this work is that a ”strategic approach within the local authority provides for transparency, ensures consistency, and enhances the authority’s asset management Capability”. Section 7 of the report to this committee suggests that Exeter City Council’s approach to asset transfer would be enhanced by such a clear approach to policy on asset transfer. The Council signed up to the principles of community development in the Community Development Strategy in April this year, this strategy also highlights that ‘it would be useful to increase clarity’ on this matter of asset transfer.
Would the Committee recommend to the Executive to work as a matter of priority to progress the action point in that agreed strategy to “work with community and voluntary organisations to agree and implement a single policy and process for transferring land, buildings and other assets to community ownership or management or both and access to appropriate support and training to officers and organisations going through the process”?
Response by Councillor Paul Bull, Portfolio Holder Communities and Neighbourhoods
Councillor Paul Bull, as Portfolio Holder for Communities and Neighbourhoods, responded to the question. He referred to a widely attended public engagement event at the Corn Exchange in February 2014, asking community groups and other stakeholder to help us review how we looked at using our Parks and Open Spaces. As a result, Devon Wildlife Trust came forward with an *in principle* expression of interest on taking on the Valley Parks, and this approach was considered in a report that went through the Committee cycle, including Executive in 2014, where the principle of asset transfer to community organisations was endorsed.
The Council recognised that successful, sustainable asset transfer was dependent upon timing and opportunity, with the pace driven by the community, not the Council. At that time it was anticipated that the transfers referred to in the report, including that to Devon Wildlife Trust, could take place relatively swiftly, without the need to develop policies and procedures. However, since then the Community Development Strategy has been developed which highlighted the need for clarity on asset transfer.
Councillor Bull stated that he would be very pleased to recommend to Executive that a policy on transferring land, buildings and other assets to community ownership or management be developed. The timing of this piece of work would need to be considered amongst other priorities for the council but he would meet will meet with the relevant Officers to discuss a realistic timescale to develop it.
Ms Moore thanked Councillor Bull for the reply and referred to their work as part of the Exeter Community Forum Steering Group.”