The threat to our buildings and spaces

England’s vital publicly owned buildings and spaces are being sold off on a massive scale for private use and short-term profit.

These buildings and spaces are ours, owned by councils on behalf of citizens. In many cases these places have been at the heart of our communities for decades or even centuries, and in some cases were originally paid for by us through public subscription. They are our libraries, youth centres, allotments and public swimming pools.

No official data on how many spaces are being lost

There are no official figures published that reveal the speed and scale of this very real threat. Although we are aware of many examples from our members, there is no central source of information available about the number of public buildings and spaces that local authorities own, or the rate that they are being sold off into private hands.

What we found out with a Freedom of Information request

That’s why we submitted a Freedom of Information request to all 353 councils in England in January 2018 to try and gain a clearer picture of what we know is happening in many of our communities. With rising demand for services at the same time as budgets are being squeezed, the short-term gain of a commercial sale will likely remain an understandable pull for councils.

Why does saving our buildings and spaces matter?

This isn’t about buildings of historical or architectural value, although many of them are, and it isn’t about protecting green space for the sake of it. This is about people – all of us – and our local communities.

These buildings and spaces are often at the heart of the community, where local people meet, access services and find support. They are where we can connect with our neighbours, give help and be supported by others, and where we can come together to shape our own areas. They are spaces where everyone belongs and where lives are transformed.

Private sales mean they are lost forever

Selling these buildings and spaces on the open market to the highest bidder means they are often lost to the community forever, and that the deeper value to local people will never be realised. In these circumstances  the community have no real influence over what the space will be used for and so-called ‘fire sales’ of public assets to remote private owners can mean empty, boarded-up properties, which can lead to social, economic and environmental decline.

The Great British Sell Off report

You can read our full FOI findings in our report ‘The Great British Sell Off’.

Download The Great British Sell Off (.pdf)

What we are calling for

Locality believes community ownership is the answer to saving publicly owned buildings and spaces under threat.

All over the country thousands of local people are coming together in community organisations to step in, step up and fight to save these buildings through community ownership.

Many of these community groups are Locality members. This is the power of community.

These are local heroes working tirelessly to safeguard these vital places and ensure they continue to offer valuable services and remain available to everyone for many more generations.

We want to increase the number of buildings and spaces taken into community ownership, and reduce the number sold into private hands or that are left stagnating and empty, falling into disrepair.

We have five calls:

  1. Central government to kickstart a Community Ownership Fund with £25m a year, and coordinate other funders to build a pot of £200m a year for five years. This should include using £500million from Dormant Assets funds (unclaimed pensions, insurance, stocks and shares)
  2. A change to the right to Bid legislation to give community organisations one year, rather than the current six months, to prepare a bid to purchase.
  3. The Right to Bid to become a right to Buy so local community groups have a first right of refusal ahead of private competition.
  4. Every local authority to establish a Community Asset Transfer policy strategically embedded with a cabinet member responsible for community assets.
  5. Every local authority to offer low cost or zero interest loans for community groups to purchase public buildings and spaces.
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