In an earlier post we proposed that the government could ensure its decentralisation and localism agenda delivers community-led sustainable development by creating a new ‘community right to manage’ local environmental assets and functions.
How do we think such a ‘right’ might work in practice? Here we look at the right in relation to the new waterways charity?
We know from the work The Waterways Project has undertaken, mapping canalside communities in East London, Monmouthshire & Brecon and the Calder Valley, that there are a host of enterprising community organisations and social enterprises located in close proximity to the waterways. Many of these know they could extend their activities, involve more people, create new jobs and attract new funding if they had better access to the land and properties associated with the canal.
We know there are sound reasons for maintaining a national charity charged with the maintenance and upkeep of the asset. It will ensure the ability to flexibly allocate resources to parts of the system which need the most attention, maintain the navigation and ensure consistency of service to waterways users.
Likewise the proposal in the current Defra consultation for eleven or so ‘local boards’ seems a reasonable one. The national canal system divides historically into discreet canals, each with their own character and history. The boards could be charged with setting strategic direction for their development, identifying new opportunities, maintaining and creating partnerships with local authorities and other stakeholders. They might also develop a framework for management; identifying where the canal has specific heritage or biodiversity value, where specific skills or resources are required and perhaps setting the standards for managing the asset. Under the current plans however this is as ‘local’ as it gets.
A new ‘community right to manage’ would provide an opportunity for a much more local level engagement; one that provides mutual benefits to canalside communities and to the new waterways charity.
If a consortium of local groups came forward with a proposal to manage the assets associated with a stretch of the canal (land buildings etc) it would have the right to enter into negotiation with the new charity. It would have to demonstrate that it had the skills and capacity to meet the standards for management set by the local board including any sites with particular value or sensitivity e.g. for heritage or environmental reasons.
This is unlikely, although not impossible, that such community-led proposals would seek to deliver the core business of the new waterways charity, such as maintaining the navigation or primary functions of the canal. More likely is a consortium of local organisations wishing to manage the ‘non-navigation’ aspects of the asset to deliver enhanced biodiversity, economic regeneration, and social benefits to the local community.
Negotiations between the community and the new charity would form the basis of a ‘licence to manage’: a formal agreement leasing the assets over a number of years.
There would be an expectation that the arrangement would deliver cost savings to the new charity. Where significant financial benefits would arise from the lease e.g. from trading activity, energy generation etc., the new charity could expect to negotiate a revenue sharing arrangement.
If for any reason the delivery by the local consortium failed to meet the agreed standards the new charity would have the right to withdraw the lease and bring the asset back under direct management.
We believe such an approach would open the asset base out to the innovation and energy of local communities and enable the canal network to become a leading international example of community-led sustainable development infrastructure.
Mark Walton, POPse!
10th May 2011