Cash-strapped councils 'forced to flog thousands of public buildings a year'

Posted On: 
19th June 2018

Thousands of public buildings are being sold off each year by cash-strapped councils, according to a community charity.

The charity estimates that 7000 more public assets could be sold off over the next five years.
Credit: 
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A Freedom of Information request by community charity Locality found that thousands of parks, libraries, town halls and swimming pools are being sold off by councils each year to cover budget short falls.

In a new report, The Great British Sell Off, the charity warned that 4000 public buildings and spaces had been sold off, with a further 7000 set to face the chop over the next five years.

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It claims that austerity-hit councils are often forced to sell the public assets to luxury property developers in order to balance the books.

But Locality chief executive Tony Armstrong says that more councils should be looking to transfer the assets into local ownership.

“This is a selloff on a massive scale. 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.

“They are owned by the public and they’re being sold off for short-term gain to fill holes in council budgets.”

The report found that less than half of English councils had community asset transfer projects, which allow local groups to purchase council assets at below market value if it will be of use 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 report says.

“In 2016 the Chancellor made it permissible for the proceeds of the sales of public buildings and space to be use 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.”

Responding to the report, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Councils will have £90.7bn to spend on local services over the next two years.

“They are responsible for managing their own finances and making the right decisions for the communities they serve.

“All local authorities must properly consider the risks and opportunities before making commercial decisions.

“We are working with local government to develop a funding system for the future based on the needs of different areas.”