Wasted Space?

CABE’s 2003 campaign to draw attention to the derelict space that blights urban communities in England and Wales.

A wasted space in Ancoats, Manchester.
Photo by Mark Ellis and Ashley Bingham, ICD Ltd

The UK’s worst wasted spaces

CABE’s Wasted space report estimated that in 2003 some 70,000* hectares of derelict and vacant land existed across England and Wales: the same size as Greater London. With support from celebrities such as Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen and Linford Christie, the report highlighted how much potential green space in our urban environments is wasted.  Working with the media CABE urged people to nominate areas of neglected or derelict land in their own neighbourhoods to highlight the extent of the problem.

Heated debate

CABE received over 1,500 nominations of derelict land, and ten regional newspapers even ran their own competitions to find the worst wasted spaces in their local area. CABE staff received over 100 telephone and email enquiries about the campaign. The quantity and quality of the nominations we received was a key achievement and met our aim to make the public think and therefore potentially act to transform public space.

Wasted Space was launched on the Today Programme and R4’s You & Yours ran 13 programmes sending their reporters back to their home towns to identify a piece of wasted space and discuss with local residents. The campaign stirred heated debate about what makes a good public space, with over 200 media reports and 100 telephone enquiries about the campaign. In the Newcastle papers one resident nominated the Town Moor, suggesting it should become more like the great parks of Paris and London. This prompted outcry from other residents who wanted the Moor to remain as it is.

The results

Six sites were shortlisted by CABE as the worst spaces in England:

  • A piece of land in a residential area of Salford formerly occupied by a primary school but since overgrown with weeds, littered with rubbish and used by joy-riders as a dump for burnt-out cars
  • A piece of empty railway land in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire that had been neglected by the railway company for the past 40 years
  • A derelict piece of land, formerly a BP refuelling depot on Waterloo Road in Salisbury, empty for around a decade
  • A small area of land on the corner of Fentonville Street and Sharrow Lane in Sheffield, probably left empty when a house was demolished, typifying many small spaces that lie forgotten on streets throughout the UK
  • The site of a demolished housing estate on the banks of the River Mersey in Stockport. Despite being filled with trees and with the potential to be a wildlife or recreational area for locals, the large area of land was an eyesore due to dumping and vandalism.
  • A neglected area between Hampton Court station and the Thames in Surrey where The Jolly Boatman pub once stood. The area has been derelict for nearly two decades.

CABE worked with community groups and local councils on these sites to turn them around and help create spaces that enhanced rather than blighting the local area.

Campaign materials

Useful links

It’s our space: a guide for community groups working to improve public space

Guidance for anyone involved in a public space project for the first time, giving examples of great outdoor spaces led by community groups.