Prevention is better than cure

Simon Finneran, Managing Director of Ad Hoc Property Management, discusses how local authorities can make significant savings when looking for vacant property security solutions.

As budget pressures and demands for efficiency continue, providing a cost-effective solution to property security remains high on the agenda for facilities and estates managers. Across the UK, care homes, police stations, medical centres and other public sector buildings are closing down for a variety of reasons, most notably the need to cut costs, consolidate sites, or for refurbishment.

However, the interim period that follows these closures; in which decision makers are faced with the task of finding an alternative use or gaining approvals for the sale of property, can take several months or more. In this time these buildings are susceptible to asset stripping, vandalism and illegal occupation (squatting) which in turn results in untold damage.

In mainland Europe an innovative security solution has been successfully making its way into the market place, and in recent years this initiative has been embraced by a number of local authorities across the UK. It is already a solution chosen by local authorities up and down the country covering assets such as schools, libraries and town halls in addition to other sites including redundant police stations or court houses and even prisons.

As some of you are aware, salaried individuals are installed in disused buildings across the UK to act as ‘live in security’. These individuals – ranging from key workers (including nurses and teachers) to new graduates – are referred to as Property Guardians and are given the opportunity to live in unusual and spacious buildings for a minimal cost. In exchange they are tasked with protecting property from the threat of squatters, thieves, asset strippers, criminal damage and reporting maintenance issues before lasting damage occurs, all the while providing an affordable living solution to large groups of professional individuals. Organisations such as Ad Hoc Property Management are pioneers in providing this unique and innovative service to more than 80 local authorities across the UK.

The financial benefits of implementing a Guardian solution are highly favourable among local authorities, especially when those savings can be put to better use. Councils across the UK are being forced to make savings each year, so the opportunity to reinvest funds from these closures into the community would be welcomed with open arms.

Security is expensive

The option of installing security guards, while effective in the majority of cases, can incur large costs; for example, boarding up and hiring security guards for a 10,000 square foot property for six months would cost around £242,000. This includes the cost of boarding up, changes to insurance and the bill for security personnel. Compare this to the estimated cost of installing Guardians, in a 10,000 sq ft building at £21,000 and the savings speak for themselves.

Unwanted visitors

Vacant buildings are regularly targeted for illegal occupation (squatters) and in all cases damage and vandalism occurs. In some cases, this may be a single individual, but in the majority of cases where large properties become vacant, mass groups of squatters target a property. As many as 200 individuals have been found living in disused offices, hospitals and libraries at any one time.

Asset stripping

Vacant buildings are often left with all electrical and plumbing intact – this is a huge draw for criminal activity.

Vacant properties are a perfect source for thieves looking to strip wiring and piping from a building and are then sold on to scrap metal dealers. Not only is this practice completely illegal, but often dangerous. In some cases, the power remains live to buildings. When thieves steal wires they unknowingly cut through a live wire and electrocute themselves, resulting in severe injury or death.

The requirement to protect a building against this kind of activity is paramount, not only in protecting the structural integrity of a property but in preventing harm coming to opportunistic thieves. Installing a Guardian at a property ensures that while restorative work is being done, equipment is left intact and the risk of fatality is minimalised.

Community benefit

The onset of anti-social behaviour as a result of vacant properties can have long-term, negative impact on the surrounding area. This can be compounded by the upheaval caused by relocating or closing down a school, care home or medical centre. The council can suffer the brunt of local complaints and negative media in respect of resources being removed – by repurposing the buildings the blow to the local community is softened and negative feelings are reduced.

Outside the box

To summarise, in thinking outside the box, local authorities can make significant savings by exploring alternative security solutions. In preventing sites from becoming vacant and falling into disrepair the value of the building is maintained, local communities rest easy and financial savings can be redirected into more worthy causes. It really is a case of prevention is better than cure when it comes to securing largescale assets or small units, and with the positive spin-off where folk get a home at a fraction of the price pegged by the commercial market. Property Guardianship has to be a welcome strategic tool for any local authority surely?