Agenda item

Report on Asset Related Savings


The Chair stated that two members of the public wished to speak on this item. Mr Murray James read his statement: “Grays has been offered a once in a generation opportunity to connect the town with its Thames foreshore through the £20m Town Fund. This could unlock huge recreational potential on the river – potential that is also recognised by the Port of London Authority through its Active Thames programme which aims to increase participation in recreational activity along the full length of the river. Our stretch of the Thames has some unique advantages for sailing in particular, but strong tides, deep mud, and commercial shipping traffic mean it is a challenging area for novices. A degree of both competence and confidence are required to enjoy our waters safely. Grays is a coastal town with a proud maritime history and at Thurrock Yacht Club we firmly believe that we need to be putting a focus on maritime sports in an area that suffers from high levels of inactivity – a problem that members will know leads to a higher long term demand on scarce council and NHS resources. Thurrock is fortunate in that it already has a fantastic facility at Grangewaters. Following the winding down of sailing at Stubbers in Upminster, Grangewaters is now the only safe learning water within easy reach of Thurrock. It is also ideal as a feeder site for other aquatic sports that can transfer to the Thames including paddle sports and rowing. Our club is currently working with the team at Grangewaters to establish regular recreational sailing activities that span both their site and our established sailing area on the Grays waterfront. A joined up offer of this nature creates opportunity not only for the people of Thurrock – it will attract people to come from surrounding areas to regularly enjoy leisure time in our wonderful borough and prove that we are more than just a place to shop. We urge this committee to do everything within their remit to ensure the full long term financial impacts of disposing of Grangewaters are fully explored before any decisions are made, including its important role in ensuring the Grays Town fund project does not leave Thurrock stranded with a new generation of unproductive public assets. Grangewaters is more than a cherished community asset – it is a vital enabler for bringing recreation to the Thames.”

The Chair thanked Mr James for his statement and asked if Grangewaters was listed as an Asset of Community Value. She also asked how many members Thurrock Yacht Club currently had. Mr James replied that Grangewaters was listed as an Asset of Community Value. He explained that membership of the Yacht Club had been growing rapidly due to the closure of Stubbers in Upminster. He stated that there were currently 130 members from across Thurrock, Havering and Brentwood. He added that the Club had also recently been gifted numerous dinghies to ensure that sailing and river activities remained accessible and affordable for everyone.

Ms Samantha Byrne then read her question: “the report talks about the importance of arts and culture. Can you please explain how you can consider closing the Thameside Complex that houses the theatre and museum before the elements of the new culture strategy, details of which haven't been released, are successfully running in its place?” The Corporate Director Resources and Place Delivery thanked Ms Byrne for her question and stated that Cabinet would be making the final decision in December, but her question and comments would be included as part of the consultation with scrutiny for Cabinet Members to consider when making their decision. He stated that the report set out what work had already been taking place with interested parties, and one roundtable meeting with community representation had taken place, with another planned for the next couple of weeks. He added that papers on the draft Cultural Strategy would be taken to the relevant Overview and Scrutiny Committee when completed. Ms Byrne thanked the Corporate Director Resource and Place Delivery for his response and stated that the roundtable meeting had taken place in September. She explained that a second meeting had been planned, but had been cancelled due to the tragic death of Sir David Amess MP, along with all Council meetings in Thurrock and across Essex. She stated that the next roundtable meeting was scheduled for the end of November at High House Production Park, and concern was being felt amongst residents that this would not be enough time for their feedback to be considered by Cabinet at their meeting in December. Ms Byrne stated that the report discussed issues with the building, not with the service itself, and asked if income received from the Thameside Theatre had been included in funding figures. The Corporate Director Resources and Place Delivery replied that the service itself would be included in the Cultural Strategy, which was still being debated, but the building itself came under the remit of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee. He stated that comments made at the roundtable meeting on 30 November 2021, would be included either within the Cabinet report, or updates would be provided by the Portfolio Holders at the meeting verbally.

The Corporate Director Resources and Place Delivery introduced the report and stated that it covered three areas, the first being the Thameside Complex. He stated that the capital cost of the Thameside Complex was £16mn, and 3.3 of the report outlined the outturn of the Complex in 2020/21 was £601,970 and the budget in 2021/22 was £629,566, which was similar to previous years. He stated that as the cost of utilities had increased and there had been limited use during 2020 due to the pandemic, which had affected the Complex’s revenue and income streams. He stated that a breakdown had also been provided of work that needed to be undertaken, and these figures had been produced by mechanical and technical engineers. He added that a modernisation and refurbishment assessment had been carried out approximately five years ago, and these figures had been outlined in the report, although these could have changed due to inflation and other issues. The Corporate Director Resources and Place Delivery added that only £300,000 had been spent on maintenance work on the Thameside Complex within the past ten years, with only £100,000 of this being spent within the past eight years. He explained that the proposals would move the library and registrars service to the Civic Offices, but the Complex would not close before the end of March 2022, if agreed at Cabinet.

The Corporate Director Resources and Place Delivery explained that the second area within the report was Grangewaters, which would also be included in the December Cabinet report. He explained that no direct plans had been agreed for the Grangewaters site, but it had been identified for examination in July. He stated that no immediate plans for development had been agreed, but this process could be explored as the site would remain open for the foreseeable future. He stated that the third area outlined in the report was regarding libraries, which would remain open. He explained that this was the reason why the savings target for assets had been reduced from £1mn to £850,000.

The Chair questioned if the Thameside Complex was an Asset of Community Value. The Corporate Director Resource and Place Delivery explained that Grangewaters was an Asset of Community Value, which meant that should Thurrock Council decide to dispose of the site, the community organisation would get first refusal and a six month decision period. He explained that an application for the Thameside Complex to be an Asset of Community Value had been received and returned for amendment. He explained that these amendments had now been made and application returned. He stated that the application would now be assessed and a decision made within the next three to four weeks. He added that the Council had also been approached by a community group regarding a Community Asset Transfer for the Thameside Complex, and a meeting was scheduled for later in the week to better understand these proposals.

Councillor Kent queried if progress had been made regarding the sale of other assets that had been listed in the Cabinet reports in March and July. The Corporate Director Resource and Place Delivery responded that some assets had had no revenue costs, so had been disposed. He explained that Thurrock Adult Community College had already moved from the building on Richmond Road. He explained that the site was now being demolished and asbestos being cleared, although this would not bring any direct savings. He explained that the additional £250,000 needed to reach the asset savings target would mostly come from the decision not to renew the lease with the multi-story car park. Councillor Kent stated that any asset disposal would incur legal costs, which were not outlined in the report. He stated that some assets also brought income into the Council, and asked how much income would be lost from the sale of these assets. The Corporate Director Resource and Place Delivery responded that any legal cost from disposal would be capitalized against future capital receipts. He added that any income generated from the assets, including the Thameside Complex, had been included in the budget calculations. He stated that the Thameside Theatre had seen an income reduction of £50,000 in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Councillor Kent stated that he was opposed to the closure of the Thameside Complex, but felt that it did not need to be operated by Thurrock Council. He felt that the timescales presented in the report were tight, and felt that the Council should not work towards making the full saving this year to allow time for conversations with community groups and partners to conclude satisfactorily for everyone’s needs. He felt that the Thameside Complex did not need to be demolished as it was structurally sound and watertight, and could be refurbished. He added that it would be more environmentally friendly to refurbish the building rather than demolish it, and would reduce carbon emissions in the borough. Councillor Kent commented that if the Thameside complex were to close, it should not do so until a new complex had been opened. The Chair felt that the borough could have a new theatre complex, as the current offer did not meet the need of the community. She stated that the current theatre could not hold larger audiences, and a new library setting could increase engagement. The Corporate Director Resources and Place Delivery stated that there were currently no plans in place regarding the building and future of the site, including any plans to demolish or renovate.

Councillor Halden welcomed the statement and questions from local residents, and queried if the figure of £16mn was for refurbishing or maintaining. The Corporate Director Resource and Place Delivery replied that the majority of this figure was for maintenances, but did include some elements of modernisation and refurbishment. He stated that this was outlined in the table on page 31 of the agenda, and the figure of £6.6mn for refurbishment was based on a study completed in 2015, and could be more or less now. Councillor Halden stated that he had recently toured the new Civic Offices and had felt the new registrar’s area was more spacious and private than the offer within the Thameside Complex. He stated that theatre provision within Thurrock should be modern and improve the cultural offer of the borough.

Councillor Okunade felt it would be good to see the outcome of the roundtable meeting being held on 30 November 2021, and felt the community needed to agree with the Council on the decisions made regarding the Thameside Complex. Ms Byrne queried the timeframe for the £16mn spend on the Thameside Complex. The Corporate Director Resources and Place Delivery replied that all comments from scrutiny and residents would be included in the report to Cabinet. He added that Councillor Coxshall and Councillor Huelin would be attending the roundtable meeting on 30 November 2021 and would be reporting back to Cabinet. He stated that the figures on page 31 covered a period of ten years, but the majority of the work would need to be carried out in the next five years, as some work was quite urgent.

Councillor Kent moved to add a second recommendation reading: “The Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee ask Cabinet to give adequate time for conversations between community groups and the Council to reach conclusion, even if no in-year savings can be made.”

A vote was held, with two voting in favour of the proposed recommendation and four voting against the recommendation. The proposed recommendation was not agreed.

RESOLVED: That the Committee:

1. Commented on the report for consideration by Cabinet at their meeting on 8 December 2021.

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