< Back to news

Image credit: 3Space

By Oli Pinch, Head of Networks, Future of London oli@futureoflondon.org.uk, 07956 899979

London, UK

  • Many councils are under pressure to fill budget gaps and sell their owned or managed buildings
  • But more are becoming ‘market makers,’ pushing for a longer-term stake and turning vacant or under-used buildings into community-managed assets

Future of London has published a new guide today for borough council regeneration and asset management teams providing practical steps and case studies for how vacant or under-used buildings can help communities and local economies recover in London and across the UK.

The guide, ‘creating public value: how buildings can better serve our communities,’ recognises that local authorities are under extreme pressure to balance the books and generate maximum revenue from their assets – the buildings and spaces they own or manage.

However, there is a growing number of councils taking a different view, weighing longer-term gains in social – or public – value against shorter-term financial wins.

Hackney, Lambeth, Southwark and Sutton are just some of the boroughs working with social enterprises and communities to renovate, redesign and take over management of vacant or under-used spaces that can help local people and businesses recover – critical to arresting decline on the high street, and repairing neighbourhood vibrancy and character in the wake of Covid.

These local authorities are fast becoming ‘market makers.’ Their long-term, active role breeds private- and civil-sector confidence and further investment in the wider area. They are also facilitators, building the capacity and ambition of residents to take on building management.

“This guide shows how pioneering boroughs are breaking the mould and using their property assets to help build long-term resilience. It’s a win for councils in building trust with communities and delivering on their growth and recovery strategies and a win for social entrepreneurs, creatives and civic groups who can build businesses and services which meet the needs of local people.” Nicola Mathers, Chief Executive, Future of London

Future of London’s report, created in partnership with Hackney Wick and Fish Island Community Development Trust, General Projects, PRD and REDO, focuses on the possibilities of a council-led, community-driven approach to their asset management.

It offers local authority officers and councillors practical steps for creating public value from buildings with inspirational case studies sharing successes and lessons learnt from across London.

“It is exciting to learn that public authorities and private developers are rethinking the purpose of their property portfolios. Many are realising the potential of their assets to create jobs, enterprise and deliver services. This is not only a more efficient way for public authorities to deliver their objectives, but it provides opportunities for communities to have a stake and play a role, which is a more inclusive system and will ultimately lead to better societal outcomes.” Alex Russell, Independent Placemaking Consultant and Executive Chair of Hackney Wick and Fish Island Community Development Trust

“Public buildings belong to the people. In their role as custodians, public authorities have the power to do more and delivery much broader and deeper benefits from these assets. By refocussing what we see as value, and gradually unpicking some of the institutional, regulatory and psychological barriers to new and alternative approaches, publicly owned spaces can become the fulcrum for a more inclusive and sustainable recovery and renaissance.” Chris Paddock, Director – Place and Economy, PRD

“The importance of thinking creatively about how to reinvent under-utilised buildings into community focused employment hubs has never been so important. The opportunities are vast and have the potential to transform neighbourhoods, high streets and forgotten spaces into clusters that connect and inspire.” Jacob Loftus, CEO, General Projects

“Public-sector bodies face a range of challenges as we move beyond the pandemic. Changes to the way we work and shop have accelerated through prolonged periods of lockdown and the knock-on effects – struggling town centres, vacant buildings, loss of employment, isolation – need creative solutions that serve all sections of society. This report sets out why and how local authorities should use their assets to drive a fair and inclusive recovery.” Harry Owen-Jones, Director, REDO

Find out more and download the guide here.