Hundreds of empty buildings creating ‘dead spaces’ across London, report finds

“People called these ‘dead spaces’ – a reflection of the strong feelings they have when they see this kind of wasted opportunity on their doorsteps.”

Hundreds of potential community venues are abandoned as “dead spaces” across London, a report into empty buildings in the capital has found.

Councils across London have reported a total of 442 empty spaces throughout the city - with buildings from shops and offices to a boat house, coroners court and a market sat neglected.

Sian Berry, Green Party assembly member, who wrote the report, said: “Londoners told me they are acutely aware community spaces and buildings in their local area are sitting empty.

“People called these ‘dead spaces’ – a reflection of the strong feelings they have when they see this kind of wasted opportunity on their doorsteps.”

Hundreds of empty buildings sit across London. Photo: Getty

And she urged the mayor to take urgent action to breathe new life back into the publicly owned venues.

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“Across London, hundreds of community groups are crying out for easier ways to take over empty buildings,” she said.

“Now is the time to empower local people, councils, and charities to take these spaces over, and I want to see action from the mayor and government.”

The report, titled London’s Dead Spaces: Bringing them Back to Life, was published this week, and revealed the scale of the issue across the capital.

Sian Berry. Photo: London Asembly

Via Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, the report authors found:

  • Councils in 25 London boroughs own 442 sites currently out of normal use;
  • Most are left empty, leaving gaps in communities for an average of four years;
  • Closures are usually due to business struggles and closures rather than disrepair;
  • Average empty floor space per building is 424 square metres;
  • While the average number of empty buildings per borough is 24.

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Eight boroughs did not supply data on empty buildings.

The report said that the “total across London would be 781 if this average was also reflected in the boroughs that did not provide data”.

Average floor space was calculated after excluding a large farm in Enfield.

Facilities are affected far beyond high streets, which are often the focus of recovery funding, the report found.

Dead spaces included 80 retail units, 66 industrial units and 65 offices, while unique properties included an unused farm, a hospital, a golf clubhouse, and a civil defence bunker.

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The Green AM has called on councils, Sadiq Khan and central government to address the issue, and demanded the creation of a ‘people’s land commission’.

Such a scheme would use local communities’ knowledge to help map neighbourhoods, create community infrastructure and provide new homes.

The report produced by Sian Berry. Photo: Green Party

Sian added: “In my discussions with Londoners, and in listening exercises, the problem of empty and neglected facilities has come up repeatedly in the past year.

“Our citizens are acutely aware that community spaces and buildings in their local area, which they see every day, are left empty.”

One Londoner, who was not identified in the report, said: “[There’s been] a rise in unused empty spaces – including homes, shops and disbanded community hubs.

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“It feels like such a waste when there are so many people in need of accessible homes or community spaces.”

A significant number of community spaces, including meeting rooms, community centres, halls and play spaces were also reported.

Empty buildings where public services used to run were common, with toilets, libraries, nurseries, schools, care homes, youth centres, day centres and sports facilities included.

Sian has called for more recovery funding from the government, and efforts to be made by the mayor and City Hall to better map and evaluate the range of empty spaces in the city.

She also called for legislation to make it easier for councils to compulsorily purchase sites, and create a community right to buy at reasonable cost, a law which now exists in Scotland.

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Empty buildings, the report suggested, could be used for sustainability efforts, by creating lending libraries for items such as tools, sound systems or sewing machines; skill sharing sessions and repair workshops for electrical devices; and community cafes and kitchens.