Is a church a “community asset”? – redundant churches and the Localism Act 2011

Background

The provisions of Part 5 Chapter 3 of the Localism Act 2011 require local authorities to keep a list of “community assets”: buildings or other land of community value. Local groups may nominate a building or other land for listing by the local authority as an asset of community value; and it can be listed if a principal (“non-ancillary”) use of the asset furthers (or has recently furthered) their community’s social well-being or social interests (which include cultural, sporting or recreational interests) and is likely to do so in the future.

The purpose of the legislation is to give local community groups a fairer chance to make a bid to buy a listed asset on the open market when it is to be sold. Generally speaking, an owner intending to sell a community asset must give notice of the proposed sale to the local authority and a community interest group then has six weeks in which to ask to be treated as a potential bidder: if it does so, the sale cannot take place for six months. The theory is that this period, known as “the moratorium”, will allow the community group to come up with an alternative proposal – though at the end of the moratorium it is entirely up to the owner whether or not a sale goes through, to whom and for how much. There are arrangements for the local authority to pay compensation to an owner who loses money in consequence of the asset being listed.

In General Conference of the New Church v Bristol City Council (Localism Act 2011) [2015] UKFTT CR 2014 0013 (GRC) the property in dispute was a church and adjoining land used by the Bristol Society of the New Church, a denomination based on the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg. Continue reading