The Interim Assistant Director Property
introduced the report and stated that it was being presented to
Committee ahead of Cabinet submission later in the month. He
explained that the report followed a Cabinet decision from July
2021, which had declared some assets as surplus and had generated
£9.3 million in capital receipts, as well as rationalising
the Council's property portfolio. He commented that the report was
split into four sections: pieces of land the council held which
were considered to have no beneficial use; operational assets such
as children’s centres; scout huts which were leased to the
Scout Association; and village halls. The Interim Assistant
Director Property explained that the scout huts and village halls
would be given to the relevant committees and trustees for a
peppercorn, which would ensure that they could access grants and
funding not currently available to them.
The Interim Assistant Director Property highlighted land in Purfleet colloquially known as VOSA on Tank Hill Road, which could be suitable land for housing and could be looked at by Thurrock Regeneration Limited (TRL) or the housing regeneration team. He explained that if the site was not suitable for housing the team would look to dispose for capital receipts. The Interim Assistant Director Property moved on and outlined the former landfill site at Buckingham Hill which surrounded the civic amenity site. He stated that the site was 52 acres and was currently fallow and could be suitable for leasehold development. He moved on and described the former depot site at Curzon Drive which had had buildings demolished three years ago and was currently sat unused. He explained that the site was relatively valuable and could generate approximately £170,000 in terms of leasehold rental income, and therefore would need a Cabinet decision for disposal. He stated that the report also contained several public houses, some of which were assets of community value or had long leases left, which meant that the council would struggle to develop these in a profitable way. He added that a number of leaseholders had enquired about purchasing the sites as this would make it easier for the owners to develop the sites. He explained that there was one site within the Purfleet regeneration area that had been identified for short term lease, which would not impact upon the development of the Purfleet area, but required delegation due to the amount of revenue that could be created.
The Interim Assistant Director Property moved on and explained that there were also two care home sites, operated by Runwood Homes, which the Council were conflicted on as the Council were the main client and also freeholder, which could make the finances difficult to manage. He added that the sites were currently under rented by approximately £100-125,000, but the Council could dispose of the sites to earn capital receipts whilst also remaining the main client. He stated that the land adjacent to Essex Arena was currently lying fallow, but also required a Cabinet decision due to delegations, and could be used for a future residential scheme. The Interim Assistant Director Property added that the strip of land between Tank Hill Road, as well as the former Whiteacres site on Daiglen Drive, outlined in the report could also be used for future residential development through the Council ‘s HRA or TRL.
The Interim Assistant Director Property moved on and outlined appendix two of the report. He explained that the appendix highlighted a number of children's centres, for example Aveley and Stanford-Le-Hope, which were former Victorian school buildings and therefore had high rates of capital expenditure. He stated that due to the age of the buildings and their current use as a nursery, the team felt the council were not the best landlord, and these sites could generate capital revenue without affecting their ongoing use. He added that Purfleet children’s centre was also in the report as the team had received expressions of interest for the freehold. He moved onto appendix 3 and listed scout huts in the borough, most of which had been developed with community funding and were on land leased to the Scout Association by the council. He explained that most of those leases were now approaching termination date and due to new legislation regarding EPC's, the council were not able to grant new leases, unless the condition of the current buildings were substantially improved or replaced, which the council did not have the funds to undertake. He added that the Scout Association were able to take over the freehold regardless of the EPC, which would enable them to access additional funding and grants not currently open to them due to the Council’s freehold position. The Interim Assistant Director Property summarised and highlighted Appendix 4 of the report, which outlined the village halls. He stated that the village halls were expensive for the Council to run, and the village hall committees could not access community funding as the village hall was not at risk of loss. He added that the village hall leases were also quite restrictive in terms of sub-letting and uses, so disposal of these properties would mean that village halls could have more control over the site and could run them as they see fit, whilst being protected as a community asset.
Councillor Kent queried the recommendations and asked what the purpose of the report was. The Interim Assistant Director Property responded that as the report was being submitted to Cabinet for approval, the report required pre-scrutiny by the Committee to ensure the assets listed were suitable to be declared as surplus. Councillor Kent highlighted recommendation 1.2 and asked what the revenue savings were for 2021/22 from rationalisations. The Interim Assistant Director Property stated that revenue savings had been made through the disposal of sites such as Richmond Road, the former Meals on Wheels site, and the Thameside Theatre, and would provide the exact figures after the meeting. Councillor Kent asked when a full report on the Thameside Theatre would be presented to the Committee as the original date was July. The Assistant Director of Economic Growth and Partnerships explained that the team had been in a process, working with a Community Interest Company as they developed their business case for the Thameside Complex. He commented that as part of that process the team were required to advertise that an asset for community transfer was available, and a second expression of interest had been received. He explained that the second expression of interest should have the same opportunity to develop a detailed proposal or business plan, and therefore a report would be brought to Committee later in the year once these business plans had been received, reviewed and the process had concluded. Councillor Kent highlighted the Buckingham Hill site and felt concerned that the landfill site, which was currently in use, would be declared surplus. He also felt concerned regarding the proposal to dispose of land in Purfleet given the Council’s regeneration scheme. Councillor Kent added that some village hall committees would not be able to manage the maintenance and village hall buildings, and sought reassurance that the village hall committees would be offered support and to ensure they could manage running their village halls. The Interim Assistant Director Property stated that the former landfill extended to 52 acres compared to the current civic amenity site which was only two acres in size. He stated the proposal in the report only considered the former landfill site, but could have an impact on the current landfill site and conversations with the environment team would be ongoing. He added that the current site could be moved or improved to ensure an effective and efficient site and increased revenue. He commented that the Corys Wharf site in Purfleet would only be a short-term lease to ensure that PTRL could continue their regeneration proposals in Purfleet. The Interim Assistant Director Property stated that the Vosa Site in Purfleet was out of the PTRL area, although remained important to Purfleet regeneration and both teams could work together to develop. He stated the assets and communities’ teams would undertake lots of work with village hall committees to ensure they were run successfully, and the asset transfer was a benefit to village halls. He explained that not every village hall committee would have the ability or experience to run their village hall, but the team would work with successful committees to share knowledge and best practice with those less able.
Councillor Arnold questioned what would happen if the leaseholder chose not to take up the freehold, and how the team would move forward if this happened. The Interim Assistant Director Property stated that the team would explore the reasons why they would not take up the freehold, but there had been a number of expressions of interest in some of the proposed sites and community asset transfer requests for village halls. He added that if some village halls did not want to take up the freehold, then the Council would grant a 100 or 125 lease to the village hall before seeking to dispose on the open market. He added that covenants would also be added to the freehold to ensure the site remained for community use. Councillor Carter highlighted appendix 4 and asked if village halls generated income. The Interim Assistant Director Property explained that some were let for a peppercorn, and some generated an income of approximately £250 per annum for the leases. He stated that Thurrock Council still had to manage the leases, which could take a lot of officer’s time.
Councillor Holloway felt that was their great value in supporting communities through village hall buildings. She questioned if the leaseholders of the sites had been involved in their proposed disposal, and how many had shown interest in taking over the freehold. She also queried what information would be provided to the leaseholders and when they would receive these packs. The Interim Assistant Director Property replied that many village halls and scout huts were already aware of the liabilities and responsibilities that came with the freehold, but the team would help these sites understand their commitments and work with the communities’ team to ensure that village halls could be run successfully and could access community funds, such as CEDF. He added that sites would need to prepare a business case to ensure they understood the financial aspects of the asset transfer and their obligations. He understood that some education for village hall committees would need to occur and stated that the team would be able to help assist with this. He summarised and explained that if Cabinet declared the sites as surplus, the team would be contacting the sites and would follow the asset transfer policy to ensure they all understood the process and a collaborative approach would be undertaken. Councillor Holloway asked if an update report could be presented to the Committee later in the year.
The Chair asked if the Scout Association Representative would like to speak. The Scout Association Representative stated that generally the Scouts across the borough were in favour of the asset disposal. He explained that as the Scouts were only leaseholders, they had to spend time and effort renewing leases and agreeing rents with the Council, and the Scouts maintained their own buildings whilst not owning the land. He stated that the Scouts maintained the buildings to a high standard, which were often used for other community projects, such as full-time nurseries and the Girl Guides. He stated that the asset disposal would open opportunities for the Scouts to access other grants and community funds, and could help village halls to set up committee and trustee boards.
The Chair agreed that an update report to the Committee would be presented to the Committee later in the year.
RESOLVED: That the Committee:
1. Noted the success of the 3Rs programme in generating capital receipts totalling £9.3m in the financial year 2021/22;
2. Noted the success of the previous review of operational properties in delivering revenue savings and identifying potential sites currently being developed by TRL and HRA;
3. Passed the report to Cabinet for the following decisions:
“Declare the operational properties in section 6.2 of the report surplus to requirements and receive a report back, where applicable, on the future of the sites and any alternative delivery consideration;
Declare surplus the properties as shown in Appendix 1, 2, 3 and 4; approve the release or re-use of the properties as outlined; and
Subject to the agreement to release the assets in Appendix 1, 2, 3 and 4; delegated authority of the disposal to the Corporate Director of Resources and Place Delivery, in consultation with the Leader and the completion of a delegated authority decision report.”