Local authorities have sold-off thousands of public buildings and spaces to private developers in order to cover the loss of central Government funding, charity finds.
Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by the charity Locality to all councils in England have revealed that more than 4,000 buildings and spaces were sold off each year between 2012 to 2016.
Published in their report The Great British Sell Off, the FOI responses also showed that less than half of the councils approached (41%) have a strategy to support community ownership.
Locality, which launch their Save Our Spaces campaign today, warned this revealed a ‘short-term approach’ to public buildings which are permanently lost to the community once they have been sold.
‘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,’ said Tony Armstrong, CEO of Locality.
‘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.’
Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Resources Board, defended the sector, arguing: ‘Before a decision is made to sell an asset, the cost of selling it versus the benefit it could bring is considered carefully.’
‘Local councillors, elected by local people, understand the deep connection communities have with their public spaces and buildings,’ he continued.
‘If we are to be able to maintain them and fund front-line services, the Government must address our funding shortfall of over £5bn a year by 2020 as soon as possible.
‘It is essential that the funding for local government, which has faced cuts of 40% over the last eight years, is put on a sustainable footing, so we can support our communities through essential services and vital infrastructure.’
Locality urged local authorities to consider community ownership as an alternative to selling to private developers and it called on the Government to set up a Community Ownership Fund which could provide local community organisations with £200m a year for five years.
‘Many hundreds of local community groups are stepping up and fighting for community ownership,’ said 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.’