Save our Spaces: Media Resources

National press release

Under embargo: 00.01am Tuesday 19th June 2018

FOI request reveals scale of council sell off

Freedom of Information Act findings released on launch of Locality’s Save Our Spaces campaign.

A new report, The Great British Sell Off, released today (Tuesday 19th June 2018) by charity Locality reveals the huge number of Britain’s publicly owned buildings and spaces being sold off every year. These are our parks, libraries, town halls and swimming pools.

The report publishes the results of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by the charity to all 353 local authorities in England in January 2018. The results reveal that more than 4,000 buildings and spaces are being sold off every year (1). Many are being lost to private developers for the highest price and will never be used for vital community services and support.

With no official figures published on the speed and scale of the sell off, these FOI findings are the only current indication of the size of the problem.  They show the consistently high number of public buildings and spaces being sold year on year in England from 2012 to 2016.

The Great British Sell Off is published on the launch of Save Our Spaces, Locality’s campaign to protect these spaces from being sold off to private developers for short term gain.

The charity is calling for an increase in the number of public buildings and spaces transferred to community ownership, rather than sold to private developers. Community ownership ensures they are kept for use by the whole community, to provide a hub for local people and a source of vital services and support for generations to come.

The FOI results also show that less than half of councils (41%) have a strategy to support community ownership, demonstrating the significant lack of planning and a short-term approach to making critical decisions about public buildings and spaces being permanently lost to the community.

While selling some land and buildings for private use is appropriate, the danger is that this becomes the only option for councils unaware of the longer-term benefits of community ownership.  The majority of councils do not have a policy to consider community ownership as an alternative option to a sell off.

In 2016 the Chancellor made it permissible for the proceeds of the sales of public buildings and spaces to be used as revenue to run the council.  With a backdrop of austerity facing local authorities many are using this as an opportunity to make short term financial gain at the cost of losing some of the country’s most valuable assets.

Tony Armstrong, CEO of Locality, said: “More than 4,000 public buildings and spaces are being sold off a year, that’s more than four times the number of Starbucks in the UK.  This is a sell off on a massive scale.

“We know that many of the buildings being lost have valuable community uses. 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. 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.”

Local people are coming together across the country to fight to save these spaces, by taking them into community ownership.  These groups are committed to protecting them as a vital hub in their community and a space to offer services for the whole community.

Jane Richards, coordinator of the Byrne Avenue Baths project, where a group of local people have formed the Byrne Avenue Trust to save a local 1930s swimming pool, said: “I’m Birkenhead born and bred and I love these baths. I used them as a child and they hold wonderful memories. They’re well-built and beautiful.  I got involved in this project because I wanted to give something back. This area is hugely neglected with high unemployment, social deprivation but a real sense of community and buoyancy.  There’s a real need for something in this area and the baths provide this.

“There will be opportunities for jobs, volunteering and work experience; sports and health activities giving local people the opportunity of a healthier lifestyle within their own area; along with social events to help reduce social isolation for all ages, including older residents.”

Locality is calling for national government to help protect these spaces with £200m a year for five years for a Community Ownership Fund for local community organisations.

Anyone wanting to find out more or support the campaign can visit locality.org.uk/saveourspaces

ENDS

For notes to editors, please download the full press release.

Download the full national press release (.docx)

The Great British Sell Off

In January this year Locality submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to all councils in England to try and get a better sense of the problem.

We were shocked to learn that on average more than 4,000 publicly owned buildings and spaces in England are being sold off every year. That’s more than four times the number of Starbucks in the UK.

You can read the full details in our ‘Great British Sell Off’ report.

Download The Great British Sell Off (.pdf)

Images

CHALK CIC shop front

CHALK CIC shop front

Heart of Hastings CLT, BUD Members inspecting the plans at the Ore Valley Site

Heart of Hastings CLT, BUD Members inspecting the plans at the Ore Valley Site

Neck of the Woods Café at St Werburghs Community Centre

Neck of the Woods Café at St Werburghs Community Centre

New Wortley Community Centre

New Wortley Community Centre

Selby Centre, Selby Trust

Selby Centre, Selby Trust

 Watching the World Cup at Goodwin Development Trust

Watching the World Cup at Goodwin Development Trust

Bramley Baths

Bramley Baths

Celebration at Shotley Pier

Coffee morning at the Red Lion

Heart of Hastings CLT - Volunteers erecting a safety net around the pond at the Ore Valley Site

Heart of Hastings CLT – Volunteers erecting a safety net around the pond at the Ore Valley Site

Download all images (.zip)

Logos

Graphics

4,131 - The average number of publicly owned buildings and spaces sold off each year.

The Great British Sell Off - How we're losing our vital publicly owned buildings and spaces. Forever.

The number of publicly owned buildings and spaces sold each year is more than four times the number of Starbucks in the UK.

Less than half (41%) of councils have a policy on community ownership.

"Community ownership can bring people from different backgrounds together. It can foster a sense of belonging. It can play a role in enhancing the local environment, alleviating poverty and raising people's aspirations." The Quirk review, Quirk B, 2007, Making assets work

Tony Armstrong, CEO, Locality

Tony Armstrong, CEO, Locality

Tony Armstrong, CEO, Locality

Tony has led Locality since 2014 and oversees all aspects of the organisation.

He has a background in supporting communities to have more say over their local areas in the third sector and the public sector. He led the national charity Living Streets between 2008-14.

Before joining the sector, Tony was a civil servant for nine years and held a number of senior policy adviser roles in Government, including work on neighbourhood regeneration and renewal and health improvement.

Download Tony Armstrong's full biography (.docx)