Government property to drive local growth

Author: Jonathan Werran, The MJ   |  

Francis Maude has vowed departments would try to create development opportunities boosting local growth when vacating offices in regional city centres.
Outlining central government’s property strategy today, the Minister for the Cabinet Office said cost-cutting efforts to consolidate the civil estate would have to go further in metropolitan areas like Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.

Citing the example of a pilot property project undertaken in Bristol, which discovered central government occupied 119 addresses throughout the city, Mr Maude urged greater co-location and consolidation across a government estate worth œ375bn with annual running costs estimated at œ25bn.

But in a nod towards the role of leveraging the government’s extensive property holdings to boost growth, he reiterated the commitment to use the huge acreage of surplus public sector land capable for development to underpin 100,000 housing units and 25,000 construction jobs by 2015.

Land release strategies issued three-weeks ago by four departments – the Ministry of Defence, Department of Health, Department for Transport and Defra – would support half of this ambition, he claimed, and property specialists in government would challenge remaining departments to surrender as much land as possible.

LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell, who participated in a later panel discussion said although councils such as his own, Kensington and Chelsea RBC, could rationalise space usage through flexible working, central government’s drive for quick win cashable savings clashed with town hall needs.

Citing the pathfinder property project in Worcestershire, which mapped over 1,300 public sector building assets throughout the county, he said enormous savings could be made from the vast public estate. But the frontline parts of national bodies, such as police forces and the NHS, lack the discretion to join-up with local partners, he warned.

‘What we want to get going is driving economic growth, starting with assets councils actually own. But we’ve got to get access to high-growing fruit which aren’t central government’s priority right now,’ he added.

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