Finding ways of keeping the community engaged with a project is a vital component in ensuring that projects are socially sustainable. However, another important aspect of safeguarding the long-term future of the site is what degree of control a community group exert over the project.
Full ownership confers the highest level of control but this is not necessarily always achievable. If this is the case it is then necessary to explore and understand other mechanisms that might be used.
Full ownership means that the community group doesn’t need to seek any other person or organisation’s permission before carrying out permitted development. Permitted development in this context broadly means work that is legal. It covers work that has for example received a planning consent or work that does not need a planning consent but that nevertheless complies with other legislation.
Any other form of control over the land will almost certainly require the permission of the landowner and will be time-limited in some form or another. This is an important consideration when dealing with landscapes that will develop over long time-scale.
One feature of full ownership is that the freehold owner is generally also deemed to be responsible for accepting liabilities associated with the land – this can pose a problem particularly where the land has a previous history of use that might have left behind a legacy of contamination. Of course insurance can be an effective means of offsetting liability. More on this can be found in previous sections Liabilities and Regulation as well as Insurance.
Freehold ownership also means that the purchasing organisation must have the means of providing the capital required to secure the asset – this again may raise further issues for community groups and the trustees of charitable enterprises. The purchase of such assets and the contingent responsibilities and possible liabilities must be weighed carefully against the derived benefits.
A long lease can go some way towards emulating the benefits of freehold ownership, especially when the term is long. In fact beyond 99 years the effects are much the same as full ownership, except that the terms of the lease may give certain powers of veto to the lessor and this will then tend to curtail the freedom of action of the community group acting as lessee.
Leasehold has the advantage of leaving behind the latent liabilities often associated with previous contamination. It also means that the initial purchase price can be replaced by a rent. However, rent reviews are again potentially difficult periods when there may be uncertainty over the future of the site.
Covenants are another means whereby the project and its purpose can be protected for long periods of time. In this instance the covenant would be provided by the landowner.
Covenants in this context are, in effect, promises made by the owner of the land. The value of a covenant becomes rapidly eroded when mutual understanding and goodwill decline. This can happen if, for instance, ownership of the project changes and a new landowner with a different set of values appears. Habitats develop and improve over long time-scales and many years of good work can be obliterated in a matter of days. When things go wrong covenants have to be enforced through legal action. This may be costly and time-consuming and it is impossible to immediately replace habitat that has taken years of careful nurture to create.it is wise therefore to restrict this instrument to circumstances where the owner is reputable, has a public responsibility and will retain an interest in the land for a long time. Local authorities are a good example of organisations that satisfy the required criteria.
Protection by Special Designation
Under certain circumstances sites can be protected to some degree by having them designated as being of special interest. The type of designation will vary depending on the type of protection and the region or country within which the rules operate. In a general sense such designations are better than nothing and may even have the positive benefit of bringing the project within the scope of special funding to assist with the development and care of the work. As with covenants, however, this type of instrument of protection is weak in its ability to protect precious habitats developed over time, as it is often merely reactive to activities that have already done damage.
Other ways to safeguard the site
We have mentioned the legal ways in which your site is protected but there are more subtle ways of preserving the project as a long term legacy:
I hope the above section has illustrated the multiple ways you can make your project viable, visbible, sustainable and safe. If you are not the freeholder and you are on a short term lease making the project an essential part of the community will go a long way to protecting and safeguarding the spaces future use.
Go to the next section - Monitoring and indicators.
Planning guidelines for local green spaces
Special designation guidance
Additional information on covenants
Protecting outdoor spaces
Green flag scheme
This information is intended as a guide and, while it is as accurate and up to date as we can make it, it should not be used in place of specialist legal, financial or commercial advice.