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12,000 public spaces sold off in five years, investigation finds

An investigation by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found councils in England have been forced to sell off or transfer 12,000 public spaces since 2014/2015.

The Bureau sent out Freedom of Information requests to all 353 councils in England which also revealed they have raised £3.2bn from selling the property.

Locality, who last year launched their Save our Spaces campaign, said they were ‘deeply concerned’ at the findings.

Tony Armstrong, CEO of Locality, said: ‘Our own research has also highlighted the large scale sell-off of publicly owned buildings and spaces such as parks, libraries, town halls and swimming pools. We are deeply concerned that many of our valued community spaces are being lost forever to solve short term budget pressures.

‘Although local authorities are facing huge financial pressures, short term budget pressures should not be the driver of the loss of many of the places which communities rely on as once they are sold, they are sold. Many local authorities are taking a longer term view and supporting community organisations to take on ownership and stewardship of spaces for the long term benefit of local people.

‘We know that local authorities are under pressure, and we are calling on central government to do more to support community ownership including by committing to new funding for community ownership of £200 million a year for five years.’

The County Councils Network (CCN) pointed to the massive budget cuts that councils have faced year on year for the sell-offs.

Simon Edwards, director of the CCN said: ‘Councils are facing unprecedented financial reductions whilst having to cope with demand for services hitherto unseen. In rural England, county authorities face a £3.2bn funding gap by 2020, largely due to costs outside of their control.

‘It is therefore inevitable that councils have had to reduce highly-valued services to a minimum, with discretionary services disappearing, and new charges introduced for services ranging from black sacks to parts of social care.

‘But without taking truly tough decisions, the outlook would have been even more bleak – today’s research on the usage of capital receipts is indictive of these difficult decisions.  Although some councils dispute the accuracy of the figures, if councils hadn’t used receipts from asset sales to fund statutory redundancies frontline services would have needed to be cut even further.’

An MHCLG spokesperson said: ‘We are investing in Britain’s future by providing local authorities with access to £45.1bn this year – increasing to £46.4bn next year – to meet the needs of their residents.’

‘This coming year local government is getting £1 billion extra in funding – a real terms increase – to strengthen services and support local communities.’

New Start has consistently reported on how government cuts have forced local authorities into selling off their community assets.

Last month, we reported that Glasgow City Council has approved a ‘Property and Land Strategy’ which could see much of its substantial portfolio of property, community and land assets sold off or transferred into community ownership.

Read our feature from last month about how communities across the country have been left high and dry by swimming pool closures here.

Thomas Barrett
Senior journalist - NewStart Follow him on Twitter

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