Heritage properties owned by local authorities are a widely enjoyed part of our surroundings. Some are purpose-built expressions of civic pride, such as town halls, libraries, theatres, schools and swimming pools. Others have been acquired in a variety of ways over the years and adapted for use by the local authority. Local authority property portfolios are therefore immensely diverse in size and composition. Some assets are held and maintained primarily for their cultural or recreational value, such as museums and galleries, public parks and archaeological sites, whilst others are used primarily for operational reasons, such as office space.
English Heritage commissioned a research report in 2011, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to review the issues facing local authorities as they manage their heritage assets at a time of acute financial stress. This was researched and written by Green Balance with Grover Lewis Associates Ltd. Information was assembled for the first time on heritage assets owned by a significant sample of authorities of all types, based on questionnaires completed by asset managers. This was used to identify the recent patterns of closure, disposal and demolition of heritage assets and local authorities' plans for the next five years. Additional information was obtained through face-to-face interviews with local authority conservation officers and telephone interviews with elected council members. Alongside the local authority perspective, views were sought from relevant national organisations, historic building professionals and voluntary sector bodies. The final report
Local authority heritage assets: Current issues and opportunities was completed in March 2012.
The research found a wide variation in the ways that local authorities manage their heritage properties and describes the issues which are affecting them, including the economic downturn, declining budgets, changing patterns of use and fewer conservation officers. The report looks at current trends in disposing of heritage assets, against the background of surplus premises, government support for transferring assets into community management, and the provisions of the Localism Act. The research also evaluates the capacity of the third sector to acquire heritage property from local government and how this capacity could be increased. The report is illustrated with examples of good practice in relation to the management, disposal and transfer of heritage assets, as well as some cautionary tales.
English Heritage will be producing a revised version of Managing local authority heritage assets, for publication in 2013, and will be developing training events aimed specifically at managers of local authority assets. Other projects, delivered through the National Heritage Protection Plan, will be concerned with improving our understanding of specific types of local authority assets and developing protection measures for them.