The Community Right to Reclaim Land

The Community Right to Reclaim Land was introduced under the Localism Act of 2011, along with a series of other new rights designed to give local communities greater say over how unused or under-used public spaces are managed. Alongside the rights to bid for Assets of Community Value, to challenge for the delivery of services and to build local amenities and facilities, the Right to Reclaim Land was kick-started with £32million worth of government funding, administered by the Social Investment Business (SIB) Group.

The laws on the Community Right to Reclaim Land were initially introduced in 1980 under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act, but were seldom used because so few people were aware of their existence.  The 2011 legislation was designed to relaunch the Community Right to Reclaim, and while take-up early on was slow, there has been growing interest in recent years.

What Does the Right to Reclaim Land Mean?

All across England there are large areas of previously developed land which have been left vacant, much of it owned by local councils and other public bodies such as the police or the Environment Agency.  As such land is held on behalf of the taxpayer and is therefore a public asset, local authorities have a duty to ensure that it is put to good use by developing it for housing, local amenities or as a community space.

Under the 2011 act, neighbourhood groups are entitled to challenge local councils or other public bodies to sell land which is either not being used or is being under-utilised.  Local groups or individuals can request that the Communities Secretary force such public bodies to auction off the land and bring it back into public use, with judgment usually falling in favour of local groups if they can prove there are no plans for the land to be developed in future and it is not being used appropriately.  If, however, the local authorities are compelled to sell the land, the sale almost always takes place on the open market, meaning there are no guarantees that it will be put to the use a local group was hoping for.

How to go About Applying to Reclaim Land

Under the Community Right to Reclaim Land, anyone can make an application to the Secretary of State for Communities and challenge their local authority to sell underused land.  A Public Request to Order Disposal’ form can be downloaded from the government’s website, enabling applicants to provide all the necessary supporting information as part of their request.

Once the form has been submitted, the Communities Secretary will then make all the relevant enquiries to find out whether the current owner has any plans for the site or whether it is in fact vacant, and will then make a decision on whether a disposal notice should be issued.  If the decision is made to sell the land, then local community groups and others will have an equal opportunity to bid for it on the open market.