Local authority ‘exploits loophole to force land sale’

Campaigners fight attempts to sell community garden

The Green Backyard, a community garden working with vulnerable adults and children in Peterborough, is facing what it calls a race against time to raise the funds required to secure its future, as landowner Peterborough City Council ‘attempts to sell the land out from under them', as a statement puts it.

Despite being given until mid March to formulate a bid under the Localism Bill – which was passed in 2011 to give communities greater powers to protect the assets that matter to them – local authority officers set the deadline for bids almost two months before this, says a spokesperson for The Green Backyard.

Over the last six years the community garden has transformed a once-abandoned green space in the heart of the city into one that is used by thousands of people every year, becoming a venue for education, events and the arts. But this year, the community group says, ‘the council brought the land’s sale date forward by more than a year and have now placed the land on the open market with the intention of selling to developers’.

The volunteer-run charity has now been informed that it has until January 2015 to bid to buy the site itself despite repeated requests for time to put together a competitive bid on behalf of the community.

The six-month sale period in the community right to bid legislation was introduced to allow communities enough time to raise the money necessary to submit a competitive bid, explains Rebecca Marshall from the Community Land Advisory Service. ‘Fundraising requires a lot of effort and any shortening of the sale period puts treasured community assets at risk of being lost forever,’ she said.

On 27 November the charity launched a major fundraising campaign, calling on its supporters to save The Green Backyard one square foot at a time. Every £10 donation made via its website will save one square foot of the garden, with supporters receiving a certificate thanking them for their donation and encouraging them ‘to get creative by uploading selfies to social media with the hashtags #SaveTheGBY and #OneSquareFootAtATime’.
 
The campaign has already attracted by support from several well-known individuals – including Eden Project founder Sir Tim Smit, naturalist Nick Baker, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and award-winning garden designer Adam Frost – as well as thousands of local residents, who have signed a petition protesting against the council’s plans.  

Co-founder of the project Sophie Antonelli is optimistic about the campaign’s chances of success: ‘Clearly this is going to be a huge challenge, but all around the country there are already groups of people who have stood up, worked together and successfully purchased the assets that are important to them, and we can do it too.’ 

The group also has ambitious plans for the future, should its bid to buy the land be successful. Chairman of the board of trustees, Rich Hill, says that all involved with The Green Backyard are working towards creating something truly special: ‘When we have secured the site we will begin to build our education centre, a community cafe and office space for start-up enterprises using the best in sustainable architecture, with the garden, and all the good work that takes place within it, remaining at the heart of everything we do,' he said. 'We will be a flagship project and help to build strong and supportive communities across this city we love.’

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