London councils sit on hundreds of unused buildings and sites across the capital – including a former Cold War bunker in Greenwich, a mega-farm in Enfield and a former golf clubhouse. Just behind New Eltham Library in south-east London is a former safe house, built for use by local authorities in the event of a nuclear strike.
The building was built in 1954 with thick concrete walls surrounding many rooms, as well as two reinforced blast doors between an airlock, according to local blog From the Murky Depths. Shelters would report to Regional HQ in Chislehurst in the event of a nuclear strike. Now it is one of hundreds of council-owned buildings across the country that stand empty, while the much larger Chislehurst HQ is a multi-million pound luxury home.
Another unused venue is the Foxgrove Club at Beckenham Place Park. The former Lewisham council-owned golf club will be part of the Beckenham Place Park project to revive the area – but until then it is inhabited by property caretakers, as it has attracted attention for its alleged use as a local dogging hotspot. The findings come as a leading green politician demands that communities have a say in reviving the nearly 800 ‘dead spaces’ across London. Sian Berry AM’s new report exposes a huge range of empty public buildings and facilities across London.
READ MORE: Inside the vast nuclear bunker built to save 450 VIPs if London were hit
Councils for 25 London boroughs have revealed they have 442 sites which are currently no longer in normal use. Most of them are simply left empty and unused, leaving voids in their communities for an average of four years at a time. The average number per borough is 24, suggesting a total of 781 if this average were reflected across all London councils.
Among the disclosed dead spaces are 80 commercial units, 66 industrial units and 65 offices. Unique properties include a farm of over 470,000 square meters in Enfield, a hospital and a woodlot in Bexley. But there are also 14 school caretakers’ houses, six cafes or restaurants, a bowling club, a water tower and a disused coroner’s court among the many untapped assets. Ms Berry made recommendations for immediate action by councils, the mayor and government, alongside a ‘people’s land commission’ to allow local people to help guide construction on communal land.
Sian Berry, Member of the Green Party Assembly in London, said: “Londonians have told me they are acutely aware that community spaces and buildings in their area are empty. People have called these “dead spaces” – a reflection of people’s strong feelings when they see this kind of opportunity squandered on their doorstep. Across London, hundreds of community groups are calling for easier ways to take over empty buildings. Now is the time to empower local people, councils and charities to take control of these spaces, and I want to see action from the mayor and government.
Most closures are due to business difficulties and service closures rather than disrepair, while the average floor area of each building or site is 424 square meters. They’ve been out of service for an average of four years, suggesting this isn’t a temporary problem.
A spokesman for the Royal Borough of Greenwich said: ‘The council has an old Cold War bunker. The building contains hazardous materials and therefore is not safe to occupy.
As well as using existing powers, including mandatory purchase orders, to return buildings to community use, the report recommends a new “community buying right” to create stronger rights for groups local communities to purchase any land or property that is neglected, empty and necessary for community use. A similar law already exists in Scotland.
Do you have a story you think we should cover? If yes, send an e-mail[email protected]
Want more MyLondon? Sign up to our daily newsletters for all the latest and greatest from London here.
Josiah joined MyLondon as the first City Hall Editor in October 2021, reporting on the Mayor, London Assembly, Met Police, Transport for London and wider London politics.
He moved from Brussels to south London in 2015, working in communications for the Electoral Reform Society and covering Westminster politics as a freelance journalist. Originally from Cornwall, he is now also a proud Londoner. Josiah has appeared on BBC Radio 4, Times Radio, LBC and other outlets to discuss the news and general political chaos.