Policy areas

Local Authorities & Public Land

Local authorities own land in the heart of communities, but have decreasing resources to manage it. Many benefits can come from giving social enterprises and other common good land users access to public land. Improvements to land management can be joined by a range of new social, economic and environmental benefits. These can increase local economic resilience, improve wellbeing and create better places to live and work. This section is focused on local authorities, but we believe much of it is also relevant to land owned by other public bodies.

Key Issues:

  • Local authorities are facing huge budget cuts, and have little legal requirements for land management, meaning it can face especially large cuts. Reduced budgets often lead to a focus on ‘value for money’, which undervalues added social and environmental value.
  • Common good land users compete for public contracts with large companies, who have the resources to take on ‘bundles’ of services cheaply.
  • There is a resistance to new approaches to land management within local authorities. Councils are large, political, organisations, often operating on a short term time horizon. There can be poor internal coordination and resistance to changing the status quo.
  • There can be a lack of understanding between councils and land-based social enterprises. Local authorities lack awareness of the models and value of land-based social enterprises. Land-based social enterprises can fail to frame their activities in a way that appeals to councils.
  • Austerity disproportionately affects more deprived areas. These areas may also be the most challenging for community and social enterprise business models.
In a time of austerity, local authorities are having to think differently about how they manage their land, in particular by looking for ways to reduce costs and increase income. Social enterprises have the potential to help achieve this, whilst also using public land to deliver a range of other positive social, environmental, and economic outcomes.

What needs to change:

  1. Local authorities need more creative and strategic commissioning practices. This might entail:
    • Commissioning for outcomes – aiming to use land to achieve wider social and environmental benefits, and developing new strategies to do so.
    • Publishing pro-social enterprise strategies – public landowners should explicitly support social enterprises and make it clear how these groups can get access to land. This could be by publishing social value strategies, or social enterprise contract management schemes.
    • Involving relevant social sector stakeholders as early as possible in the commissioning process.
    • Support new funding models: examples include Parks Improvement Districts.
  2. Land-based social enterprises need to engage with local authorities and local stakeholders, by:
    • producing strong business plans and a convincing narrative for what they can offer local authorities in terms of skills and services.
    • developing relationships and networks inside and outside councils.
  3. Central government should consider policy changes such as:
    • Strengthening and extending the Social Value Act, which requires commissioners to take social value into account.
    • Strengthening and extending community rights legislation, such as the right to bid, or our proposed ‘community right to manage’.

Our projects

Further resources

Scroll down to the posts below to read our report ‘Making Public Land Work’ and for the latest updates on our work in this policy area.

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Related publications

Research reports and publications written by the Shared Assets team

Related news and opinion

Blog articles, news and opinion pieces from the Shared Assets team

Commissioning for social value

The Social Value and Localism Acts reflect a desire to include social value and social enterprises when the government commissions services. However, in its current form the act has many weaknesses and commissioning often practically excludes smaller, outcome-focused organisations. In this blog we discuss why local authorities need to do more if we want social enterprises and communities to take on land management.

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A microcosm of the future for urban parks?

How can green space management best respond to huge budget cuts? We’ve been working with the London Borough of Lambeth, the Friends of Larkhall Park, and our colleagues at Locality, to help answer this question for Larkhall Park in Stockwell.

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A Parks Improvement District for Bloomsbury?

Shared Assets has been working with London Borough of Camden to develop a pioneering proposal for the U.K.’s first Parks Improvement District. Could PIDs offer a solution to bringing new people, resources and ideas to the management of urban parks and  green spaces?

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Local Authority Land: the Challenges

The Big Society poses the challenge of small budgets. The ‘environmental assets’ local authorities own – places like parks, woodlands, canals and coastal areas – can be hit hard by budget cuts.

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Our Work on the COMA Programme

For the past 9 months, we’ve been busy working on various projects within the Department of Communities and Local Government funded COMA programme.  As the programme comes close to its end in March this year, we reflect on the progress so far.

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Rich history, exciting future

Shared Assets recently designed and delivered a workshop for senior National Trust and Derbyshire County Council officers about the future of Elvaston Castle and Country Park. Read more about this fascinating site and our approach here.

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8 ways to create common good land use

On December 8th we hosted an event about exploring people’s roles in ‘Creating Common Good Land Use’. We learned a lot and this blog introduces some of the strategies we are planning to adopt in response.

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Better Land Based Economies

Community food enterprises are a success story of local collective action and have the potential to make significant contributions to local economic resilience. However despite its success, and the existence of some supportive policy drivers, the sector faces barriers to realising its full potential.

Read more

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