Under the Localism Act, which came into effect in September, residents can designate sites such as pubs, village shops, swimming pools or allotments, as being of ‘community value’.
If the premises is then put up for sale, parish councils or other community groups can step in and postpone the process for six months, giving them time to prepare a bid to buy.
The arrangement is a cornerstone of David Cameron’s Big Society policy, with ministers maintaining it will allow local people to save threatened facilities.
But at last week’s leader’s meeting, Councillor Ian Hedley (Lib Dem, Shirley East) was worried the legislation would be confusing as there was no obligation for the seller to choose the community bid above anyone else’s.
“This strikes me as the Mad Hatter’s tea party,” he said. “It seems to be an absolute total nonsense.”
Members also heard that the council would be responsible for costs incurred by the owner as a result of having to delay the sale, although the Government would pay claims if they exceeded £20,000, for the first three years.
Karl Macnaughton (Green, Chelmsley Wood) said landowners may look for any angle in which they could claim compensation while Coun David Jamieson (Lab) warned the borough could be left with a bill running into tens of thousands after 2015.
“If a few of these come up we could be stuck with a bill we can’t afford,” said Coun Jamieson.
“If a private company is delayed, on a big project, it could be tens of thousands. I can’t see how it will work.”
He added that community groups could use the legislation as a ‘mischievous’ tactic for delaying unwanted sales or developments.