Charity criticises councils for selling off public buildings

More than 4,000 public buildings are being sold off by local authorities every year, according to new research.

The research by the charity Locality for a new report entitled The Great British Sell Off claims cash-strapped councils are selling buildings off at a ‘massive scale’ in order to make short-term financial gains.

Using figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the report says councils in England have sold off average of 4,131 buildings a year since 2012, with the East of England being the region with the highest disposal rate of 756 buildings.

The research also found less than half of councils (41%) have a strategy to support the community ownership of buildings.

The report comes as the charity launches a new campaign to protect public land and property from being sold off, called Save Our Spaces.

‘We know that many of the buildings being lost have valuable community uses,’ said Locality’s chief executive, Tony Armstrong.

‘Every one of us can think of a local public building or outside space we love and use – from libraries to lidos and town halls to youth centres. They are owned by the public and they’re being sold off for short term gain to fill holes in council budgets.

‘Many hundreds of local community groups are stepping up and fighting for community ownership,’ added Mr Armstrong.

‘But they urgently need support and help with start-up costs if they are to compete with the commercial developers.  Funding to support community ownership has dried up in recent years, and government, investors and charitable funders must come together to unlock a set-up fund for community ownership.’

Responding to the report on the sale of public buildings, the chair of the Local Government Association’s resources board, Cllr Richard Watts said: ‘Councils take their responsibilities to maintain public buildings and the public spaces in their care extremely seriously.

‘However, with local government facing an overall funding gap in excess of £5 billion a year by 2020, councils face difficult decisions about how best to use their resources to support local services, day-to-day activities and to protect public assets, such as buildings.

‘Before a decision is made to sell an asset, the cost of selling it versus the benefit it could bring is considered carefully,’ added Cllr Watts.


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