How making the most of public assets can transform places

View from a rooftop balcony over London's skyline at sunset
View from International House, London’s largest affordable workspace. Image: 3Space

Public assets have huge commercial and community potential. Find out why leasing empty high street buildings at below market rates can create grassroots economic growth.

Many local authorities don’t have the resources to gather data about their stock or trial innovative solutions. At the second event in our ‘Making the Most of’ series, we addressed the critical challenge of managing public assets strategically.

Our expert panel put their heads together to discuss which levers of change are still available to councils, despite challenging financial circumstances. Read on to find out why local authorities should make a play for the voluntary carbon market, and how changing what we measure from public assets could transform local places.

A group of five speakers smile at the camera
Speakers (left to right)

  • Laura Stamboulieh, Partner, Montagu Evans
  • Clare Hudson, Regional Programme Manager, One Public Estate (LGA)
  • Harry Owen-Jones, Co-Founder, REDO & 3Space
  • Nicola Mathers (Chair), CEO, Future of London
  • Ade Adebayo, Member, ACES

Buildings serve value and function in people’s lives

Every local authority has a statutory duty to deliver best value. There’s a need for a clearer language around what that means, because the cheapest option won’t necessarily provide the best outcomes for good growth.

One Public Estate has released £250 million in capital receipts for all parts of the public sector, in London alone. Clare Hudson explained there’s a lot to be gained by shifting the discussion from commercial returns to understanding the value of an asset in place.

  • Viewing assets more holistically means they can be managed to maximise benefit to the local economy, connectivity and place-based social value.
  • It is possible to create social value and commercial income at the same time, even in spaces considered liabilities or surplus stock. It’s not an either-or.
  • We work on ten-year reporting cycles, but social changes can take generations. A culture that values innovation and some risk-taking is needed to fully unlock the potential of public assets.

“We value what we measure. Within One Public Estate we measure the release of buildings for capital receipts, for homes, jobs and reduced running costs. But we should also focus on the longer-term outcomes for people who live in those homes, to fully understand the impact.”

Clare Hudson, One Public Estate

Embrace the power of storytelling to showcase value

Most monitoring and evaluation frameworks still focus on quantitative metrics. Storytelling has the power to convey social value, build empathy and bring politicians into the conversation.

  • Social value reporting, such as that of Trowbridge Gardens in Hackney Wick, can convey rich stories of individual benefit and how a space is transformative for local people.
  • Hearing young voices in particular is critical when defining purpose for local assets.
  • Central government funding remains key to making the most of public assets. There’s an opportunity with the coming election to shift the conversation and influence funding rounds tied to different definitions of value.

Making space to work strategically

As the sector moves on from a period of emergency responses, local authorities need the headspace to think strategically and design solutions for public assets. Greater cross-borough collaboration and sharing resources at a senior level can help rebuild depleted resources.

  • Local authorities need time to get know their stock well, build up an evidence base and robust business model.
  • The Office of Government Property Strategy’s mantra is “smaller, better, greener”. Working strategically means thinking about a place’s direction of travel and future needs as well as present ones.
  • One Public Estate has helped to repurpose Woodstreet Library in Waltham Forest. Funding for a feasibility study had led to a family and homes hub and 70 affordable homes in the town centre.

“Be clear about your strategic objectives, be those community and service focussed, financial, or regeneration and place based. Then, it is essential that you really understand the role of your portfolio of assets in the short, medium and long term.

“By marrying together your strategic objectives and your public estate, you will then start to highlight core assets that serve a clear strategic purpose. You will also identify those that fail to meet objectives, where repurposing or disposal could represent best value for money.”

Laura Stamboulieh, Montagu Evans

Meanwhile spaces are a serious and overlooked opportunity

Meanwhile spaces can be utilised to meet specific local needs and provide commercial benefit, if local authorities are willing to lease surplus stock at below market rates. International House in Lambeth is a trailblazing example that has generated over 1,000 jobs, £2.7 million in social value and paid over £1 million in rent across five years.

  • International House is an affordable workspace that uses client cross-subsidies to ensure access for young people and not-for-profits. It was previously used for Lambeth Council’s corporate functions before its repurpose and retrofit by non-profit 3Space.
  • The building was let to 3Space at peppercorn rent and has met Lambeth Council’s objectives of bringing tech and creative industry to the area, whilst protecting the borough’s cultural offering.
  • This same principle could be applied to small units spread across a town centre. Alternatively, councils can support SMEs with robust business plans by guaranteeing against major works needed to activate and unlock empty buildings.
  • There’s potential for local authorities to make a play for voluntary carbon offset market, Harry suggested. Voluntary carbon offsetting can be channelled into the built environment to fund regeneration of public assets for net-zero.

“Meanwhile use is opportunity-led, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be strategic. There are loads of empty buildings across London. If some of those buildings are released to those who can pay the mandatory relief on business rates, this can bring huge benefits to the public purse and community benefit.”

Harry Owen-Jones, Co-Founder, REDO & 3Space

Policy levers to set change in motion

Ultimately, councils at risk of section 114 will face pressure to sell assets to generate public receipts. Local authorities are often reliant on central government funding to have the flexibility to support community campaigns and trial innovation. As the election approaches, here are our panellists’ hopes for what political leadership could mean for public assets:

  • Affordable workspace policy is currently geared towards creating affordable workspaces in new developments. There’s an opportunity for payment in lieu to become more prevalent, directing new funds towards existing better suited public assets.
  • Could central government buy boroughs’ distressed assets? Councils could use the funds to service local needs, by leasing to local organisations at peppercorn rents. There’s potential to bolster local economies and provide social benefit, Harry suggested.
  • In the meantime, there are possibilities for local authorities to be more agile in sourcing funding, for example by making a play for the voluntary carbon offset market.

“Local authorities respond to funding from central government. They respond to guidance frameworks that show: ‘this is what the government wants to achieve, and here is money to achieve it.’”

Ade Adebayo, ACES

Conclusions

The landscape for public assets remains challenging and central government will be key in providing political leadership, funding and supporting innovation. The upcoming election is an exciting opportunity to recalibrate definitions of ‘value’ in the funding that delivery models are often tied to.

There’s energy behind looking at assets in place and real potential to unlock both commercial and community benefit. Embracing storytelling to communicate value, meanwhile spaces for surplus stock and derisking grassroots economic growth are all important levers to maximise the value of public assets for place and economy.

Further reading

Thanks to ArupMontagu EvansMount Anvil and Potter Raper for supporting the Making the Most of… What We’ve got events programme.

Making the Most of… Public Assets 

 Registration is closed for this event

How are public sector teams and their partners maximising value from public assets in London despite the challenges faced by the built environment sector?

In our Making the Most of What We’ve Got series we’re exploring innovative solutions. Join our panel of leaders from the public and private sectors who all have compelling ideas to manage public assets. We’ll explore topics such as: 

  • How might the prevailing economic and political landscape impact the public sector 
  • Smart partnerships, delivery models and the end of PFI 
  • Place-based social and economic value 
  • Strategic alignment and coordination of asset classes across boroughs 
  • Better planning for the public estate of the future 
  • Tackling the climate emergency 

You will learn new insights and take away practical ideas for your own work. There is a strong interactive element so attendees can learn from each other with excellent networking opportunities.

Confirmed Speakers 

  • Ade Adebayo, Board Member of SNG & Sutton Housing Partnership
  • Clare Hudson, Regional Programme Manager, One Public Estate (LGA)
  • Laura Stamboulieh, Partner, Montagu Evans
  • Harry Owen-Jones, Co-Founder, REDO & 3Space

When: Thursday 29 February 2024, 8.30 – 11.00am
Where/Format: Face-to-face, London EC1M

Thanks to our sponsors Arup, Montagu Evans, Mount Anvil and Potter Raper for making this series possible. 

Picture of Expressway at Royal Docks, a community workspace created for LB Newham, courtesy of General Projects.


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When
29th February 2024 from  8:30 AM to 11:00 AM