The number of council-owned buildings in East Renfrewshire could be reduced as funding for maintenance declines and energy costs rise.

Almost £25 million was spent on investing in, maintaining and running East Renfrewshire Council’s 106 operational properties — which include schools, leisure centres and offices — between 2020 and 2022.

Energy costs averaged out at £4.4m per year over the three financial years up to 2022/23.

A refreshed plan to manage council properties between 2024 and 2026 has been agreed, which aims to provide buildings which are well-maintained, fit for purpose and energy efficient.

The plan states the “available finance for maintenance and investment has been declining for a number of years resulting in a maintenance and investment backlog”.

“At the same time, the forthcoming challenge of making buildings carbon neutral means that this investment need will increase further — beyond the capacity of local authorities to meet it.

“Therefore it is likely that local authorities will need to reduce the number of public buildings that they have.”

It adds this “does not always mean a reduced service” for residents, as some buildings could be “used for a number of different purposes”.

Council leader Owen O’Donnell, Labour, said the plan was “quite illuminating” on energy costs, particularly within schools and leisure centres, and it is “completely appropriate” that the council reviews its property portfolio.

He added: “Where there are assets that are surplus to requirements and there is no other use, but could be re-purposed for social housing or support for the homeless, then we would really encourage officers to bring those back to cabinet as soon as possible and get on with it — and not wait for two years.”

An official told the council’s cabinet that many buildings are “older and not designed for modern needs”.

He added: “Properties aren’t energy efficient on the whole but the recent increase in utility costs has meant all of our properties become more expensive to run, more expensive to heat and light and also to maintain.”

A maintenance backlog is due “largely” to “the limited, and reducing, funding availability”, he said. Inflation had “a big impact on cost of materials” making properties “much more expensive to maintain”.

The official said the new plan would “gather data over the next two years which will allow us to make the decisions on how we want to use and maintain our assets”.

The costs haven’t fully been established but he said “sustained” investment over a “long period of time” will be needed.

More than 40 schools and nurseries, 14 community centres, 15 leisure facilities and sports pavilions and four libraries are included in the 106 operational properties.

Running and maintaining council buildings costs more than £8 million per year — and energy bills have “significantly increased” in recent years. A report to the cabinet stated the priority is for investment in “schools and nurseries, a small number of offices and leisure facilities”.

A buildings’ retention strategy will be developed to assess whether services currently delivered through other properties can be delivered in “priority buildings instead”.

It is also possible that some properties could be transferred to community ownership if they are surplus to the council’s requirements.

The council’s property assets are its biggest source of carbon emissions, and all publicly-owned buildings are expected to meet zero-emission heating requirements by 2038.

Properties may require gas boilers to be replaced with lower carbon heating systems and roofs and/or windows to be replaced to become more energy-efficient. Solar panels may also need to be installed.

A pilot project, started in January last year, reduced the temperature from 21°C to 20°C in some buildings. It saved £10,156 and could be rolled out in more properties as there was “no impact on users”.

The council also owns and manages 3,144 houses and 149 lock-ups/garages, which aren’t covered by the plan.