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Taking on public property for community use

Community groups and voluntary sector organisations can take over some publicly-owned buildings and land. Find out how community asset transfer works, where to search for available properties and who to contact to help you get started.

Taking on public property for community use

Councils can help local community organisations take on responsibility for buildings or land in their area. This is called 'community asset transfer'. An 'asset' refers to a building or land. 'Asset transfer' is the change in either management or ownership (or both) of a building or land. When this happens, responsibility for the asset moves from your council to a community group or voluntary sector organisation.

Any community group or voluntary sector organisation can apply to take on the management or ownership of a public asset.

Local community organisations can take control of land or buildings to try to:

  • keep open a service that the community relies on, which might otherwise close
  • bring an underused building or piece of land back into use for a new service
  • attract new investment into the area

Finding properties available for asset transfer

You can contact your local council to find out if there are buildings or land available for asset transfer in your area. If your local council does not have a specific asset transfer department, you can speak to the property services team.

You can also contact the Asset Transfer Unit (ATU) to find out if they know about any suitable properties in your area.

Taking on the management of a local property

If your community organisation would prefer to manage rather than own an available property, you can apply for a 'licence to occupy'. This means that ownership of the building stays with your local council after the asset transfer. Your community organisation will take on responsibility for managing the building and for internal repairs and maintenance. Responsibility for external repairs and major services (eg the boiler and the wiring) stays with your council.

You can get advice on managing a property from the ATU.

To apply to manage a local property, you can speak to your council's community service team.

Deciding to take on community ownership

Before talking to your council about taking on ownership of a building or land you should consider:

  • whether or not your group or organisation has the right skills and experience to make the project work
  • how you can get your local community involved
  • what your business plan will include

Is the project right for your community organisation?

Every asset transfer project will need a professional 'feasibility study'. This means gathering together all of the information needed to work out if the project has a reasonable chance of success. Before going ahead, you should consider how feasible the project is for your group (ie whether or not you have the right skills and experience). Thinking about these questions before spending money on a professional feasibility study is called a 'pre-feasibility check'.

How to get your community involved in asset transfer

An asset transfer project is more likely to succeed if it has the support of a large cross-section of the community. The ATU and Development Trusts Association (DTA) websites have advice on how to get communities involved.

Putting together a business plan

Putting together the right business plan is important. The business plan should set out every aspect of the project from start to finish.

You can get help from the ATU before you start to prepare your business plan.

You will need to ask your local council about how to submit your business plan.

Asset transfer options and funding

Asset transfer options can range from buying short-term leases of land or buildings, to owning a property's freehold.

Your costs will depend on the:

  • length of the lease
  • cost of the freehold
  • current and planned use of the land or building
  • condition of the land or building

Councils can transfer ownership of land or buildings to community organisations at below the market value.

Funding will often be needed to make the asset transfer possible and will probably be made up of a mix of grants and loans.

Sources of funding will depend on what the property will be used for (eg business or leisure) and whether or not grant funding is available.

The ATU's guide to asset transfer contains information on where to look for funding.

Getting advice and support for asset transfer

The ATU website has practical guidance that can help you through all stages of the transfer process. Your local council's property services team can also help you.

You can also get advice from websites like Community Matters and the Building Community.

Asset transfer case studies

Many community organisations are already working with their local councils to transfer ownership of buildings and land. You can follow their progress on the Building Community website.

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