The Commons

By applying a community wealth building approach, local land and property assets can be owned and managed in ways which ensure that they generate wealth for local citizens, as opposed to being enclosed by private interests.

The goal here is not simply for a local authority or anchor institution to ‘own more land’, but instead to ensure that the land they do own is run by and for the people. This can be understood through the concept of ‘the commons’- the idea that the land held by public institutions is owned by all of us, together. To achieve this, public landowners should develop governance and management structures where communities can take direct control of common assets. By advancing a ‘commons’ approach to public land and assets, anchors can ensure that our shared buildings, parks, and other land holdings help to create good local economies, ensure sensible environmental stewardship, and advance social justice.

Case study: Public-Common Partnerships

In a recent report for think-tank Common Wealth, Keir Milburn and Bertie Russell proposed a new approach to collective ownership involving unions, social movements and local government. As a replacement for traditional public-private partnerships, public-common partnerships provide an alternative model that could strengthen public ownership and give power back to communities.

For example, with respect to local energy systems and large-scale public housing, as well as infrastructure such as water, transport, food production and distribution, they argue that these should be collectively owned and co-governed by local residents in a commoners association. They cite a number of similar models from Europe to support their solution, such as BEG Wolfhagen, a German energy cooperative owned by citizens in a small town in the region of Hesse. Here, citizens get an annual dividend and make the decisions about how profits from the energy company are reinvested.

Building on experiments in collective ownership and governance, Milburn and Russell believe that PCPs can be a loadstar for progressive bottom-up planning. Furthermore, collective ownership in a co-governance structure offers a training in democracy, where residents get to decide the metrics of success in their own communities.