Design expert urges UK public sector to dispose of its dinosaur buildings / by Chris White

The UK Department of Communities and Local Government has recently closed consultation on allowing local authorities to use the money raised from selling public assets to improve local services, with a policy update due in the coming weeks.

Currently, capital receipts may only be used for financing the acquisition or construction of new assets, unless councils gain express permission from central government. The new measure could see up to £1bn in public property receipts re-invested into frontline services and is designed to prevent councils from hoarding assets.

David Anderson, Director at architecture, urbanism and design practice Broadway Malyan, said: “In today’s tough economic climate councils need to embrace this opportunity to take responsibility and re-configure their property assets to best serve the needs of the community.

“The stark reality is that the vast majority of the estimated £234bn of local authority-owned assets are not in great shape. It is rare to walk into a truly impressive and memorable local authority building, one that local people are proud of and can see working for them as local tax payers and voters.

“Our experience is that the vast majority of public sector assets have long been under managed, resulting in a waste of valuable resources and second-rate facilities for employees and members of the public alike. We see plenty of inefficient publicly-owned buildings that could be disposed of with the proceeds used to fund local services and realise better and more efficient council buildings.

“For example, bringing different functions into single flexible public sector hubs can not only release prime development opportunities and generate short term design and construction activity to boost the economy, but it has the potential to lay the foundations for better and more efficient services and built assets.

“Hoarding assets until the market improves will perpetuate inefficiencies and poor quality accommodation, whilst cutting services helps no one and least of all local people.

“Therefore, we welcome the idea of enabling local authorities to make local decisions about what to sell off and how to re-invest the funds. We support a more devolved approach and a rule change permitting the disposal of buildings that are not working and the reinvestment of funds into frontline services and better, modern and more flexible accommodation.

“As expert designers, we want to see efficient, high-quality and well-designed buildings delivering value for the occupiers and for the community and we believe that something must be done to shake up the status quo and ensure we see more authorities making more use of better buildings.

“The proposed rule change would be a solution for clearing up some of the dinosaur buildings that are all still too commonplace and for getting on with designing and creating a new and better generation of buildings that meet the expectations of a cost savvy and value for money-focused electorate."

Broadway Malyan is supporting a number of schemes that involve local government-owned assets, through which it is helping local authorities realise value from under-utilised land and property. It is actively involved in projects under the existing Local Asset Backed Vehicle (LABV) framework, which aims to deliver modern public facilities through a combination of capital receipts from local authority land disposals and private sector finance.

One example is the practice’s support for the public realm element of the new build library and community facility named ‘The Curve’ in Slough, which is due to open in 2015. The Curve represents the first phase of Slough Borough Council’s £1 billion, 15-year regeneration programme, being delivered through the Council’s LABV joint venture with Morgan Sindall Investments, which is providing project funding and investment expertise.

Distinguished by its global reach with 16 studios across world centres, unrivalled diversity with over 450 sector experts and distinctive client focus with over 85% income from repeat business, Broadway Malyan creates world-class and fully-integrated cities, places and buildings to unlock lasting value and deliver a ‘return on design’.

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