Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The sale of the Restormel Offices - no answers at Cabinet!

The members of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet today voted to develop a business case for the sale of Council offices in St Austell, and to appoint Terrace Hill Properties Limited as their preferred bidder for the site.

The report presented to the Cabinet claimed that they could sell off part of the site to a supermarket and use the capital receipt to build new offices at a cost of about £12 million.

I spoke at the meeting and opposed the proposal, raising a number of issues for the Cabinet to address.

Local member consultation
Six months ago, I found out about the possible sell-off via the front pages of local newspapers. I complained that local members from the wider area (eg. the China Clay Area, St Blazey, Par, etc) had not been informed.

Councillors from these areas were promised that they would be kept informed, but this did not happen. We finally got a short briefing last week after we heard rumours from junior members of staff and took the initiative ourselves to approach the Head of Property.

It does not stack up!
I pointed out the potential receipt from the sale (which was included within confidential papers) suggested to me that the whole thing did not make financial sense.

An important centre
I also outlined my view that St Austell should be a key centre for the authority and I had little faith in promises that there would continue to be a strong Cornwall Council presence in the town.
I pointed out that numerous members of staff were being moved out of the St Austell offices. Another member added that it was obvious that the offices were deliberately being run down.

Examples I gave included the fact that legal staff are about to be moved to Camborne; Electoral Services is now based in South East and candidates for next months town council by-election in St Austell will have to travel to Liskeard to drop off their nomination papers; staff dealing with the proposed St Austell eco-town are based in Truro; and most planning staff thought they were being moved to Truro until a few days ago. I could go on!

Maintenance backlog?
Other arguments presented by the Cabinet Member and Head of Property included the assertion the building’s layout was “inefficient” and there was a significant maintenance backlog. Yet it was only 12 months ago that we were told that the Penwinnick offices were amongst the best that Cornwall Council had. What is more, there will be a growing maintenance backlog if this Council continues to neglect the St Austell offices (presumably in the expectation of a sale!)

Surplus land
For my last point, I pointed that if we as a Council did find surplus land at any time, we should not sell it to supermarkets but, where appropriate, should go into partnership with local developers to provide proper affordable housing for local people.

The Cabinet response
The leader addressed the lack of consultation and promised there would be consultation with all local members in the future (just like they did six months ago).

All the other issues that I raised were ignored, they were not discussed and no comments were forthcoming.

No comments: