Decision Maker: Place Scrutiny Committee
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: No
7.1 The Acquisition and Disposals Manager introduced report. ESCC has a relatively low number of surplus and vacant property assets in comparison with other local authorities who own more property. Some of the surplus properties are former school sites which have additional constraints such as the requirement to get Secretary of State approval prior to disposal or redevelopment. The diagram at the bottom of page 20 gives an overview of the processes ESCC goes through when a property becomes surplus. The options appraisal process involves a substantial number of activities, with each property asset requiring a different set of activities depending on the nature of the property or site.
7.2 The work undertaken on vacant and surplus property is informed by the Council’s Property Asset Disposal and Investment Strategy, and the requirement to achieve best value for the Council. The outcomes from the appraisal process range from a straight forward disposal or sale of a surplus property asset, through to the development of an asset for sale or retention for revenue generation purposes. Assets may also be retained for strategic purposes. Each surplus asset will require different activities which will take varying lengths of time to complete.
7.3 The Committee discussed the report and raised the following points.
7.4 The Committee expressed concern about delay between declaring a property asset surplus or a property becoming vacant, and the development or disposal of the asset. The Committee highlighted the additional building security and maintenance costs that are incurred in such cases, and the likelihood of severe damage through arson and vandalism (e.g. the recent fires at Pinehill and Mount Denys in Hastings). The Committee asked if there is a target or standard timeframe for disposal, as five years in this example would appear to be unacceptable due to the additional costs and the visible sign of neglect which impacts on the local community.
7.5 The Acquisition and Disposals Manager responded that there is no standard or normal disposal timeframe as it will depend on the level of risk (planning risk, site risk, title, market etc.) attached to each asset. The more problematic sites noted are subject to a number of hurdles that frustrate a speedy disposal that secures best value, often influenced by such matters as the planning process or obtaining Secretary of State Approvals where required. It is understood that five years is not acceptable, but in the case of the Helensdown Campus there have been challenges as the Council still has an operational building on this site. Although it may appear that there has been little progress in this example, there have been active discussions with the Adult Social Care department to explore the development of this site.
7.6 The Chief Operating Officer outlined that there is a balance between holding a property asset vacant to allow for discussions and options to be explored, and getting the best value from that asset. Officers also recognise the impact on the local community that empty buildings can have.
7.7 The Committee suggested that it would be helpful in the future to have an exception report on all buildings vacant for more than three years, with an explanation of the reasons for any delay and the current status. The Chief Operating Officer confirmed that such a report could be provided to the Committee.
7.8 It was clarified that Library buildings are within the remit of the Property Services and that the Communities, Economy and Transport Department do hold a specific capital budget for the maintenance of library buildings. The Committee noted that some of the agreements for Community Libraries were taking a long time to put in place.
7.9 The Committee RESOLVED to:
1) Note the contents of the report; and
2) Request an update report be presented at a future meeting on the vacant and surplus building that have not been disposed or developed within 3 years from the date of being declared surplus.
Publication date: 19/06/2019
Date of decision: 11/06/2019
Decided at meeting: 11/06/2019 - Place Scrutiny Committee