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Who Owns My Neighbourhood

March 7, 2011

Last year Kirklees Council was one of four authorities to win NESTA’s Make it Local competition, with an idea to create Who Own’s My Neighbourhood?

The idea behind the website comes from a common problem for community workers, neighbourhood managers and local activists: who owns the land?

Several frustrating examples of land ownership spring to mind. Last year I was working with residents on an estate in South Shields who wanted to turn a patch of grass into a playground. Except, there was confusion about who owned the land – was it the church or was it the council? After lots of flip-flopping between the church and the council, it emerged that the council were the owners. It took a couple of months to get to the bottom of it.

The energy of the residents we were supporting and attention of the council were fragile and could easily have been lost because of this hurdle.

Land ownership can also play havoc with efforts to co-ordinate local services. In a neighbourhood I used to work in, local community wardens refused to remove stickers promoting extremist slogans from street signs, because they didn’t think the road was the council’s responsibility. They were right – but it took a lot of energy to confirm it (and they should have just removed them anyway).

Knowing who is responsible for buildings or land is vital for holding people and agencies to account. A few years back I was helping some residents come up with ideas for improving their environment. A resident suggested putting a sign in a local playground with the phone number of grounds maintenance – so people could report problems. It was a simple  idea that was rejected by the relevant authority, probably because it would have put more demand on their service.

Grass cutting is another one. Ownership of grass verges or strips may well be split up between different authorities, even if it defies logic. Overgrown grass can make a neighbourhood look tatty and fuzzy ownership makes it all the more difficult to get the problem sorted.

Mapping the ownership of public and private land offer lots of possibilities, and not just for people to complain. The Place Station introduces owners of land and buildings to people with idea on how to use them – so dormant or under-used assets can be used by communities. It’s well worth a visit.

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