More than 4,000 publicly owned buildings and spaces are being sold off every year by councils in England, according to a Freedom of Information request by community charity Locality
Locality says parks, libraries, town halls and swimming pools are among properties being sold by local authorities to private developers for the highest price, forever lost to communities around them.
The charity warns that cash-strapped councils are making up for budget shortfalls by selling off assets which are vital community hubs for both young and old.
It wants the government to create a £200m-a-year community ownership fund for the next five years to help preserve the buildings and spaces for the use of local people.
Locality contacted all 353 local authorities in England and found a “consistently high” number of public buildings being sold year on year from 2012 to 2016.
Tony Armstrong, Locality chief executive said: “This is a sell-off on a massive scale. 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.
“Many hundreds of local community groups are stepping up and fighting for community ownership. But they urgently need support and help with startup costs if they are to compete with the commercial developers.”
The report – titled The Great British Sell Off – also discovered that 41% of councils had no plan or strategy in place to support community ownership.
Across the country, there are several examples of public buildings under threat.
In Weybridge, Surrey, more than 15,000 people signed an online petition to save the local registry office from being sold and turned into luxury flats.
Bramley Baths in Leeds was also facing closure, but a campaign by local residents saw them take over management of the centre.
The Local Government Association (LGA) says councils take their responsibilities to maintain public buildings and the public spaces in their care extremely seriously, but admit it is difficult.
Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s Resources Board, said: “With local government facing an overall funding gap in excess of £5bn a year by 2020, councils face difficult decisions about how best to use their resources to support local services, day-to-day activities and to protect public assets, such as buildings.
“Local councillors, elected by local people, understand the deep connection communities have with their public spaces and buildings.”
In response to the report, 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.”