The Government is consulting on plans to reform and reinforce a little-known public power, the Community Right to Contest to create a Right to Regenerate. This will give greater power to members of the public, businesses and organisations to identify and redevelop underused or empty publicly held land in their area.

What is the Community Right to Contest?

Having its origins in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, the Community Right to Contest allows members of the public, businesses and other organisations to make applications requesting that land held either by central government (Strand 1), or by local authorities and certain other public bodies (Strand 2), is sold to allow it to be put back into valuable use. Where a request is made in respect of Strand 1 land, any agreement to sell will only be made on a voluntary basis. Where a request is made in respect of Strand 2 land, there are powers, administered by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to compel local authorities and certain other public bodies to dispose of land. It is these powers that are the subject of the Government’s consultation.

Has the Community Right to Contest been effective?

Data collected by the Government indicates that the Community Right to Contest is relatively little used, with fewer than 200 applications made under Strand 2 of the scheme since 2014, and, to date, only one of those applications has resulted in a direction being issued requiring the owning authority to dispose of the land.

What is proposed?

The consultation covers a range of questions, seeking information on what may make it easier to exercise the Right. This includes inviting views on any existing barriers to exercising the Right generally, as well as whether specific definitions of unused or underused would help guide applicants as to the potential to exercise the Right in respect of specific sites.

Perhaps more controversially, the consultation is also seeking views on whether the Right should be extended to encompass land held by Town Councils and Parish Councils as well as whether a “presumption in favour of disposal” should be applied when considering applications under the Right. This could lead to resource demands on local authorities who would need to defend such applications if they wished to retain the land to which the application relates; supporters of changes may argue, however, that this is just the impetus needed to prevent public land from lying idle and to unlock development on unloved land.

What now?

Whatever your views may be, time is starting to run short to respond. The consultation closes at 11:45pm on 13 March 2021. Details of the consultation and how to respond can be found at GOV.UK.