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Norfolk community groups to get chance to buy council buildings

PUBLISHED: 06:30 30 March 2011

Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy.

Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy.

Archant © 2011

The way looks set to be paved for community groups to snap up buildings which are no longer needed by Norfolk County Council.

In a nod to David Cameron’s Big Society agenda and the coalition government’s Localism Bill, the county council is looking to set out a clear process by which community groups can take over public buildings.

Officers at County Hall have drawn up a strategy, which members of the county council cabinet are being asked to agree when they meet next week.

With the government encouraging community groups and volunteers to run services which have previously been provided by local councils, officers want to establish a way for those groups to take control of council-owned buildings which are no longer needed.

Derrick Murphy, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: “This exciting and innovative new approach follows on from our budget Big Conversation.

“Local people told us they wanted us to be much more creative in our thinking and to make better use of the knowledge and skills of people on the ground. If there is a good business case and a long-term chance of success, then we want to hear from communities.

“Community groups will be supported in fast-tracking their business cases, given extra time to ensure their case is sound and importantly, will be able to spread the purchase costs over three years – this is what localism and the Big Society are all about.” In their report, officers state that because of “significant service change” a number of “property assets” would no longer be needed.

The council is already planning to replace 26 residential care homes with new housing with care schemes and specialist dementia units, which is likely to leave some properties up for grabs. Council-run day centres, including the Silver Rooms and the Essex Rooms in Norwich, are also earmarked for closure as part of a new emphasis on day centres being used to provide care for people with dementia and those who need reablement care before returning to their own homes.

Each application by a community group would need to be considered on its own merits and proper business plans would need to be drawn up.

The applications would also need to demonstrate community support, clearly defined aims and that people with “appropriate skills” are on board. The transfer of assets would be on a freehold basis, so this policy would not help organisations hoping to rent properties. Officers are recommending that members of the cabinet agree the new strategy when they meet on Monday.

dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk.

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