· Have you got your eye on a patch of land in your area?
· Do you think it would be a great space to grow some vegetables or herbs for the local community?
· Do you want to turn it into a wildflower haven for bees and insects?
· Do you think it needs a bench and a bit of a tidy-up?
You can get control! Read on…
Who owns it?
1. Ask your Local Authority – in our area this is most likely either Sheffield City Council or Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, but it might be your local Parish Council. Find out who your Local Authority is by clicking this link and entering your postcode. https://www.gov.uk/find-local-council Then go to their website and send an email to either their general enquiries or planning email address or give them a call.
2. If the Local Authority doesn’t know who owns the land, try asking local shops, businesses or residents.
3. Around 85% of the land in the UK is registered with the Land Registry. It will cost £3 to do an online search. Visit https://www.gov.uk/search-property-information-land-registry
As your patch of land won’t have an address, you’ll need to do a map search. You can use the online map, and if you want to double-check, you can ask for an “index map search”. This costs £4 and you need to submit form “SIM” with as much information as possible, and an Ordnance Survey map reference. Find out more here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/index-map-application-for-an-official-search-sim
4. You could also check the Land Registry records for the properties and land next to the land you’re interested in, as sometimes they might say “plus the adjoining land” or similar.
But please note – even if some land is not registered, it still doesn’t mean that no one owns it – so don’t assume you can just take it over. Do as much research as you can.
Do you want to buy it?
You might get asked by the council about ‘Assets of Community Value’.
Every Local Authority in England keeps a list of these Assets. They are buildings or land that are “mainly in actual use for the social, well-being or social interests of the local community”. So, this can include parks and green space. If an Asset goes up for sale, then local people are allowed to come together and bid for control over it, by forming a Community Interest Group or other specified typed of group. Find out more here https://www.oss.org.uk/need-to-know-more/information-hub/community-assets-and-protecting-open-space/ and here https://mycommunity.org.uk/community-assets-and-ownership
Do you just want to use it?
You will need the landowner’s permission. In some cases, there will also be a leaseholder who rents the land from the landowner: for example, a car parking company which rents land from the council. It took a local group two and a half years to negotiate for the use of a small strip of land alongside the car park (an extreme example!). You’ll need to talk to both the landowner and the leaseholder.
You might be asked for a risk assessment. They will probably want to see a plan for what you want to do, so be ready. They might also want to do a ‘utilities survey’ first – you definitely don’t want to dig through an electricity cable!
Do make sure there is a contract is drawn up and agreed which states who is responsible for what, and for how long. It does not have to be complicated, but it does have to be clear. They may put restrictions in place, such as a ban on using power tools, or certain rules about how the land can be used.
Check with the planning department of your Local Authority about planning permission. Simply growing food will be ‘agricultural’ but if there’s a building on the land and you’re going to be doing other activities, this may require applying for a change of use.
What’s your plan?
You do need some kind of plan so that you know who is responsible for doing what.
You will need to consider insurance such as public liability insurance – speak to your Local Authority about this.
You also need to know how this project will be sustained. Once you’ve planted something, it won’t look after itself. What happens in winter? What happens next year?
Will you need a budget? You might need funds for the insurance, or tools, or publicity. Think about fundraising – we have documents and advice about that.
Finally, you’ll need a crisis plan or list of things to do in an emergency. What if something happens to the land that you’re responsible for? A fire, perhaps? Or someone critical to the project becomes ill or moves away. Come up with all the possibilities, and what you can do to stop them happening, or what you’d do if they did happen.
Need more information? Good news – we’ve got more about about this on our Starting a new group page.