£1bn needed to save England’s public buildings and spaces from being lost for ever
England’s public land and buildings are at risk of being lost for ever unless urgent action is taken to protect them, a new report by Locality has warned.
The report Places and Spaces – The future of community asset ownership was launched at Locality’s annual convention in York on November 8 and urgently calls for £1bn worth of investment to save the nation’s public assets from being lost for good.
Austerity measures and cuts to local authority budgets have meant that hard-pressed councils are having to sell, cut or shut crucial parts of our community infrastructure, the national network of community-led organisations warns.
£1bn asset investment programme
But transferring or selling assets to communities can preserve them for public use and Locality is calling on central government and other funders to invest in a new community asset investment programme for community groups and organisations to take over the management or ownership of local public land and buildings.
Community ownership of assets also promotes resilience and sustainable growth at a local level and can give local people a greater stake in their local areas and have control of the activities and services that matter to them.
Locality Chief Executive Tony Armstrong said: “Cuts to local authority budgets have meant that many councils are looking to sell off their land and buildings – like community centres, libraries or sports centres – to the highest bidder in an attempt to raise badly-needed cash.
“This is a very short-sighted view which puts communities at risk of permanently losing important public buildings and spaces for the sake of a quick buck.
“Transferring public assets to communities can safeguard them for generations to come and we urgently need the government and other funders to step in to support organisations to do exactly that.”
Land and buildings sold, cut or shut
It is estimated that local authorities currently have an asset base of £250bn, but over the next few years there is a huge risk that more and more publically-owned land and buildings will be sold off, cut or shut.
Locality’s new report shows that deprived areas are particularly at risk of losing their community spaces – community centres, libraries, sports centres or open spaces – leading to inequalities across England becoming entrenched.
The recent EU referendum campaign and result has shown that communities across England are feeling disenfranchised and that there is a real appetite for people to have genuine control over the decisions that affect them.
The report says that, without a comprehensive programme of support, inequalities highlighted by Brexit could be at risk of becoming even more entrenched.
Places which already feel left behind are also likely to have more budgetary difficulties and pressure on councils to sell assets to support spending on services will be the greatest.
Tony Armstrong added: “Affluent communities where there is pre-existing expertise and strong civil society may be able to harness their resources to save their libraries and community centres. But more deprived areas, where skills are lacking, are in danger of being left even further behind.
“These assets can only be sold once – once they’re lost, they’re lost for ever – and there is a real threat that short-term decisions being made by cash strapped councils will seriously weaken local communities which are already feeling disempowered.”
- Read Locality’s full report Places and Spaces – The future of community asset ownership here.