Leeds Council needs to dramatically ‘shrink’ its estate to make ends meet, claim finance chiefs

Leeds City Council will have to dramatically shrink the number of buildings it owns in the coming years in order to make ends meet, a report has claimed.
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The authority is thought to be the largest property owner in the city, with around 800 operational buildings and another 1,000 investment properties, not including housing and schools.

Planning chiefs had put together a strategy back in 2014 to gradually sell some of these buildings off to generate income and reduce overheads.

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However, a document set to go before Leeds city councillors this week has warned the authority’s post-Covid financial situation is so severe, another strategy was needed to cover the next five years.

Since the start of the pandemic, the council has reduced its number of city centre office buildings from 13 to fourSince the start of the pandemic, the council has reduced its number of city centre office buildings from 13 to four
Since the start of the pandemic, the council has reduced its number of city centre office buildings from 13 to four

A senior council decision-maker confirmed the estate would “shrink” in the coming years, but added that housing and school buildings would not be affected by the strategy.

A report, set to go before council decision-makers this week, stated: “The pandemic has increased the financial pressures that the council is facing compounded by the council’s underlying financial position resulting from successive government funding reductions, and therefore a new estate management strategy has been prepared for the period from 2021 to 2025.

“It sets out the way in which the council will strategically plan and manage its land and property assets to ensure that it fulfils all of its priorities and to enable the people, the city and its businesses to thrive.

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“The document sets out the vision and a number of priorities and objectives. An implementation plan which will be a live document setting out the changes to our estate has been created and will be maintained by Strategic Asset Management.”

It added that the amount of office floorspace should be halved from January 2020 levels, and to reduce the carbon footprint of carbon footprint of its estate by 40 per cent.

Since the start of the pandemic, the council has reduced its number of city centre office buildings from 13 to four.

Another document published by the authority earlier this year claimed it wanted to make more than £100m in five years from building sales over the five year period, adding that it had already made £11.5m from selling sites such as Armley Grange, Richmond Hill Leisure Centre and Bramham House in the past year.

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Continued central government cuts to local authority budgets has led to Leeds City Council seeing a reduction in its spending power by almost £328m per year since 2011 when accounting for inflation.

Writing in the council’s Estate Management 2021-2025 document, the authority’s deputy leader Coun Debra Coupar said: “For the council, the pandemic has changed the way that some services are delivered and the way that politicians and staff work.

“This will change the way we use our buildings and will allow us to reduce the size of our estate to help to meet the financial challenges we continue to face.

“The ability to deliver good quality front line services will continue to be underpinned by our buildings, which need to be suitable for the expected provision/fit for purpose, in the right locations and in good condition.

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“Whilst we will shrink our estate, we will focus on our best buildings, both in terms of their condition and sustainability

“Our operational estate as well as surplus buildings can support regeneration and growth, particularly in our town and district centres and within our communities.

“Making land available for new housing is particularly important to support our own Council Housing Growth Programme and affordable housing delivered by Housing Associations as well as market housing.”

The document will be discussed at a Leeds City Council executive board meeting on Wednesday, November 17.

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