Fears of volunteer drain with council asset plan

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COUNCIL chiefs have started consultation into plans to easier allow local-authority land and buildings to be transferred to community groups, as they struggle to save nearly £4.5m over two years.

Scarborough Borough Council announced yesterday that it is seeking views about the new Community Asset Transfer Plan, which covers the transfer of land and buildings to voluntary and community organisations, or town and parish councils.

The borough is already held up as a national leader in volunteering, with residents of all ages contributing more than 16,000 hours sprucing up their communities in 2010 to help maintain some of the Scarborough’s iconic landmarks..

But as local authority cuts continue to bite, fears have been raised about volunteer burnout in the area, with a community group recently unable to take over the running of nearby Hunmanby library after it was selected as one of eight having funding pulled from it by North Yorkshire County Council.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury dismissed the concept of the Big Society as a ploy to conceal a “deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable”.

Scarborough Borough Council had to cut back £2,264,880 in the previous financial year, and must make a further £2,184,120 by 2013.

A council spokesman said: “Public assets are rarely used by everyone, with their value being locked in to a particular use or a particular group of people.

“We recognise that changing ownership or management opportunities offers opportunities to extend the use of a building or piece of land, increasing its value in relation to the numbers of people that benefit and the range of opportunities it offers.

“Asset transfers will generally be by means of a long term lease.

This is likely to be between 25-99 years, although longer leases may be considered.

“The terms of the lease will be agreed at the time of each individual transfer.

“Freehold transfer will only be considered in exceptional circumstances, where a strong case can be made that freehold is necessary for success and provides reassurance that community benefit will be maintained in the long term.”

The council says most assets that are in the ownership of the local authority would be considered under the new plan, though there are exceptions including when the asset forms part of a wider redevelopment scheme.

Any community group or town or parish council looking to benefit would be asked to meet a number of criteria, including being able to demonstrate strong governance and solid financial plans.

The consultation runs until September 7.

For more information, visit www.scarborough.gov.uk/communityassettransfer.