More than 4,000 council assets are being sold by local authorities every year, with the majority going to private developers rather than being transferred to community ownership, according to the local communities charity Locality.
After making freedom of information requests to all 353 local councils in England, Locality says in its report The Great British Sell Off that, although there are no official figures for the number of sales or details of who bought the buildings in question, it appears that councils sold a large number of buildings to private developers every year between 2012 and 2016.
Less than half of councils in England have strategies to support community ownership, Locality says, which shows a "significant lack of planning and a short-term approach to making critical decisions about public buildings and spaces being permanently lost to the community".
London was found to be the area with the fewest councils with community asset transfer policies: only 17 per cent of councils had one in place. In contrast, 60 per cent of councils in the north east of England had such a policy, Locality says.
The south east of England had the highest number of annual sales, with 872, and the East Midlands had the lowest, with just 108, according to the report.
Yorkshire and Humber has 1,602 buildings identified as surplus over the next five years, Locality’s report says, compared with a national total of 7,280.
Locality is calling for councils to transfer more local amenities to community ownership, rather than selling to the private sector, and has launched a campaign called Save Our Spaces to tackle the problem.
It is also calling for the government to invest £200m a year in a community ownership fund to protect community assets.
Tony Armstrong, chief executive of Locality, said: "More than 4,000 public buildings and spaces are being sold off each year. That’s more than four times the number of Starbucks in the UK. This is a sell-off on a massive scale.
"We know that many of the buildings being lost have valuable community uses. Every one of us can think of a local public building or outside space we love and use – from libraries to lidos and town halls to youth centres. They are owned by the public and they’re being sold off for short-term gain to fill holes in council budgets."
Armstrong said that more support should be in place to help communities keep local assets in public ownership.
"Many hundreds of local community groups are stepping up and fighting for community ownership, but they urgently need support and help with start-up costs if they are to compete with the commercial developers," he said.
"Funding to support community ownership has dried up in recent years, and government, investors and charitable funders must come together to unlock a set-up fund for community ownership."