Council property and assets
- Meeting of Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee, Wednesday 21 February 2018 7.00 pm (Item 10.)
A list of the council’s property and assets has been provided for members’ consideration. The committee will also receive a presentation at the meeting to aid further discussion on this item.
The Chair welcomed Tony Nixon (Knowledge and Strategy Manager) and James Young (Commercial Portfolio Manager) to the meeting, along with Althea Loderick (Strategic Director of Resources) and Councillor Butt (Leader of the Council). The Chair reminded members that the committee had received a list of the council’s property and assets with the agenda for the meeting.
Tony Nixon and James Young delivered a presentation to the meeting providing a general introduction to the council’s property and assets and elucidating the data previously provided. Members heard that the data had been drawn from a data set prepared for the Cabinet Office’s Electronic Property Information Mapping Service (epims) – a common property database for public sector mapping. The data excluded council housing property and associated properties such as garages. It was emphasised that the asset value recorded for each property did not represent the market value of the property, rather it represented the value to the council in its current use. The presentation highlighted some of the key categories of buildings and properties owned by the council including operational buildings, its commercial portfolio, parks and leisure assets and community buildings. Comments and questions were welcomed from the committee.
In the subsequent discussion, the committee questioned whether the council’s property and assets were being maximised for the council’s civic enterprise agenda, including being used as advertising space and how they were being used to meet the council’s strategic objectives. The committee further queried whether the council had a strategy for identifying sites from within its own portfolio that would be suitable for development over the next few years. The committee sought clarification regarding the value of a number of specific properties listed at a negligible or nil value and commented that it would be helpful to have details of lease expiry dates, rental income and an explanation of the value for each such property. Further clarification was sought regarding the financial arrangements with academy schools on council owned land.
A member expressed concern that the council was not able to use its existing property portfolio in an innovative manner to address issues of urgent need in the borough such as the provision of homeless shelters.
In response to the queries raised, Althea Loderick confirmed that the council’s existing Asset Strategy was due to be renewed and this in part was driven by the wish to maximise value. Councillor Butt advised that income generation was largely focussed on the key assets such as the Civic Centre and libraries. With regard to the renewal of leases, a commercial approach was pursued as far as possible but this was tempered by the council’s commitment to supporting community groups. Policies were in place in relation to the use of council assets for advertising space and the council was appropriately cautious when considering both the content of advertisements and the possible location. With regard to development opportunities, Councillor Butt confirmed that all opportunities were being explored and going forward the Asset Strategy would identify the long term development prospects and how these could best be maximised.
James Young clarified that the leasehold had been sold on a number of council properties in the 1990’s and the value of these properties was therefore recorded at a nominal sum of £1. With regard to sites for new academy schools, under the Academies Act 2010, the council was required to provide a lease of 125 years to the academy on a peppercorn rent. Tony Nixon clarified that with regard to Ark Academy, the council had recently received the freehold back on the land at the front of the site. Explaining the value of shop units owned by the council labelled with a £0 value, James Young advised that the leasehold for these had been sold approximately 30 years ago on a long lease of 125 years. As these premises had Housing Revenue Account (HRA) flats above them, it was not possible to dispose of the properties. Members were further advised that, in line with financial reporting requirements, the value of each property had to be evaluated every 5 years. This was undertaken by an external company on a rolling basis for the council.
The Chair thanked officers and the Lead Member for their contribution to the meeting.
i) that the Strategic Director, Resources ensure an updated list of council properties and assets, including details of length of leases and an explanation of asset value, is provided to the committee;
ii) that the Strategic Director, Resources present the draft, revised Asset Strategy to the committee for pre-scrutiny prior to submission to Cabinet for approval.