The Localism Act 2011 (1) and subsequent regulations (2) introduced a new regime giving local community groups the right to make a bid to buy a property that has a community use when it comes up for sale.
Every local authority must maintain a list of assets of community value. These assets can be buildings or land. The current (or recent) and realistic future use of them must further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community.
The regulations (2) exempt certain land and buildings, such as residences.
Nominations for entry onto the list may only be made by community interest groups with a local connection (3).
Once a building or parcel of land is on the list then the owner is obliged to give notice to the local authority of any intention to sell. There is then a process which brings this to the attention of the community and gives them the opportunity to make an offer. That is as far as it goes. There is no obligation on the owner to sell or to give the community group a right of first refusal. It is there to avoid missing the opportunity to negotiate an agreeable sale.
The scheme is obviously principally aimed at securing the ongoing community benefit of local shops, pubs, libraries and the like. These buildings will frequently also be heritage assets. Whilst their heritage value or significance cannot be described as a community use in the meaning of this regime, there is clearly nothing wrong in using this mechanism to secure the opportunity to negotiate the acquisition of important heritage assets that also have a community utility.
Government has produced non-statutory advice for local authorities on the operation of the scheme (4).
(1) s87 - 105 Localism Act 2011
(2) Assets of Community Value (England) Regulations 2012
(3) s89 Localism Act 2011
(4) Community Right to Bid: Non-statutory advice note for local authorities, Department for Communities and Local Government, October 2012