Throughout 2019, with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, we will be engaging with members, political representatives, civil society organisations and the wider third sector as we outline our case for communities’ right to bid, buy, challenge and participate.
The project will run for eighteen months initially, with scope for review thereafter, and will culminate in a public event where, based on the research from the preceding months, stakeholders will be invited to deliberate on the articles of legislation to make them suitable for tabling when the NI Assembly resumes.
DTNI has long argued for legislation to underpin the current Community Asset Transfer policy which would secure the community right to buy surplus public assets for less than best consideration i.e. less than the highest obtainable or estimated market value. But as discussed during the Community Expo back in September, a community rights act could also provide for: a right to bidfor both public and private assets within a defined timeframe; a right to challenge the provision and commissioning of public services, where they can be demonstrably improved upon; and a right to participate more fully in local democracy.
As it stands, the 2014 Local Government Act states: “Northern Ireland departments must promote and encourage community planning and have regard for community plans in the exercise of their departmental functions.” In reality, collaboration with communities across the eleven council areas is highly variable, as is the quality of the consultation process. Whilst the reform of local government and the introduction of ‘Community Planning’ is welcome, government is required only to give communities ‘due regard.’
A Community Rights Act would redefine the concept of community ownership so that it encompasses ownership of process as well as of physical assets. In doing so, it will move communities to a more participative, inclusive style of democracy, where citizens have a say in the way that that their neighbourhoods are shaped.
As ever, the participation of DTNI members will be important to this campaign – the experience gained by grass-roots community development practitioners is invaluable and will serve to highlight the areas that legislation would improve. We encourage all our members, as well as other interested stakeholders, to attend the forthcoming meetings, start conversations on social media and get in touch with us. We welcome contributions from community development organisations on how legislation could improve their service delivery, transform their localities and give them a stronger voice in local democracy. We are particularly interested in those working in health, education, training & employment the environment, leisure and housing.
Get involved and support the campaign for an NI Community Rights Act. Visit the campaign pages on Facebook and Twitter and use the hashtag #CRACT.