Project examines use of council buildings

Published on 27 October 2015

A MAJOR programme of work is due to begin looking at how Leicester City Council-owned buildings across the city can be better used.

The programme, called Using Buildings Better, will involve the council examining hundreds of its buildings across the city to see where communities could be better served by accessing fewer, higher quality buildings which offer more joined-up services.

Schools, museums and other heritage buildings will not be included in the programme, but over 250 other buildings including offices, workshops, libraries, community and neighbourhood centres and depots will be under the spotlight.

The programme will cover six main areas:

• stores and depots

• customer-facing buildings

• health and children’s early help services

• office accommodation

• improving customer access by making more services available in a range of alternative ways, including better online access

• sale of surplus buildings

It builds on work which has already taken place as part of the Transforming Neighbourhood Services (TNS) programme in the south and west of Leicester.

One part of this involved bringing a range of community services into the old Southfields Library, which was then re-opened as the Pork Pie Library and Community Centre earlier this year.

Communities, staff, unions, councillors and other interested parties will be involved in the work to establish how to make better use of buildings, and what services can be better accessed in other ways. 

The programme starts in October 2015, and is expected to be fully completed by 2018.

Though there are no targets for the amount of savings it hopes to make, the work will form a vital part of the next phase of cutbacks the city council will be expected to make from 2015/2016 onwards.

Leicester City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “Councils are dealing with huge funding cuts over the coming years, and by looking at whether we really need all the buildings we own, we’ve got a chance to make significant savings while still providing quality services to residents.

“Some of the buildings are not well-used or suitable for modern services, and a lot more people interact with the city council nowadays through other means, such as through our website or using our automated payments system.

“We’ll be communicating closely with local communities, staff and unions to get a clear idea of where we can invest to improve the facilities and services which are most needed, and where we can save money by vacating and ultimately selling off buildings which are no longer needed.”

One recent success story is the old Aylestone Library in Richmond Road, which was poorly located and was difficult to access. It was moved to Aylestone Leisure Centre in July 2013, resulting in a large increase in visitor numbers, book loans and computer use.

The centre is open for longer hours, and staff are on hand to help people use computers and other equipment, with a self-service facility after they leave.

The move has also seen leisure centre use increase. In turn, the old library building is now being used for childcare provision.

Elsewhere, St Matthews Centre in Malabar Road was developed in consultation with community groups to provide a joint service centre offering community rooms, a housing office, sports hall, library, nursery and youth service among others.

Under the Transforming Neighbourhood Services project, the initial public consultation on neighbourhood buildings took place in the north west of the city between November and December 2014.

The next stage will involve consultation on two additional buildings - Stocking Farm and New Parks youth centres - from November 2 to 29.

A second stage of consultations will be held next spring, with the final proposals for the north west of the city drawn up by March 2016.