Senior council members warn making most of council buildings "is not easy"

Making the most of Leeds City Council’s buildings in the coming years “is not easy”, according to one of the authority’s most senior members.

It follows an update on the council’s asset management strategy – which aims to identify and sell council-owned buildings over the next few years to help reduce costs.

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A meeting of the authority’s strategy scrutiny board heard the council 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.

Coun Angela Hamilton is one of a host of council leaders who have spoken out. Picture: Stu Norton.

Following Covid, and the impact that has had on the council workforce working at home, the authority took the opportunity to speed up some of the sales of these buildings.

But some feel Leeds should not be so hasty to sell off properties, and that some could have better uses in the future.

Explaining the plans, Mark Mills, Leeds City Council’s head of asset management, told the meeting: “We are looking at opportunities not just to generate savings, but on how we can improve service delivery.

“We have picked the low hanging fruit so far. Moving forward we are going to have to look a lot more at how services are being delivered in communities. That then will underpin how we use our buildings differently.

“The majority of buildings we now have perform some kind of front facing function.”

A recent report from council officers claimed the amount of office floorspace should be halved from January 2020 levels, and that the carbon footprint of its estate should reduce 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.

Coun Angela Hamilton (Lab) asked: “With regards the selling off of properties and the leasing of properties, have we looked at any that can be converted into flats? We have 26,000 on the waiting list.

“Obviously I don’t know exactly where those properties are, but are we looking at this, particularly for those in the communities?

“Yes we have to spend money to bring it up, but then we would be getting an income from renting.

“I hope we are not rushing and selling off properties that we own then, later on going back to education Leeds, closing all the schools and look where we are.

“I do understand things have changed, but as long as we are not rushing to sell off our properties.”

Leeds City Council deputy leader Coun Debra Coupar (Lab) said: “If we could start with a blank sheet of paper on a map and decide what we need as a council, and plot out where those buildings would be, that would be a great place for us to make a start.

“But we haven’t – we have got these buildings and we have to try and make the most of them, not just for the council but for the city.

“It’s not an easy ask.”

Mr Mills added: “We are really mindful that we are still in a period of uncertainty – over the course of the summer, we were encouraging staff back into the estate.

“We are heading into the winter period and the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve. We do know the estate is not fit for purpose, it is a bit too big.

“It’s not about knee jerk reactions, it is about a planned approach.

“On the opportunities for conversion, there is a number of things we look at. It’s not just about selling a building – we do look at alternative uses as well.”

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