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Lib Dems tell Council - Stop risking money on commercial properties and stop wasting money on empty council buildings

October 3, 2017 9:50 AM
Originally published by Surrey County Council Lib Dems

Surrey LogoLiberal Democrats on Surrey County Council are calling on the Conservative administration at County Hall to stop further investment in commercial property outside of Surrey and to instead prioritise County Council owned vacant buildings to either be used to provide services or to be sold or let.

Cllr Hazel Watson, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Surrey County Council, said today:

"The County Council has invested in a large property portfolio outside of Surrey despite its clear inability to properly utilise its own buildings within Surrey.

"The Conservative administration at County Hall has invested £199m in commercial properties outside of Surrey which is 77.1% of its investment portfolio. This is a huge amount of money and a huge proportion of funding which will not improve services and will not increase economic growth in Surrey. These investments in warehouses, office buildings, a cinema and retail premises across the country in places such as Wiltshire, Salford and Macclesfield are putting public money at risk. The risk is that the costs of maintenance, professional advisers, rates and other costs of these properties will exceed the rent received, such as if the tenant leaves and if the building becomes outdated. It is not uncommon for office buildings to be vacant as they become outdated and retail premises are becoming increasingly risky investments given the trend for shopping online.

"These risks are likely to increase as the Conservative administration's stated intention is to invest up to £1bn by 2021 with a maximum return of only 2%. This low rate of return gives very little room for manoeuvre if problems arise, costs increase and therefore the risk of making a loss increases.

"Whilst amassing a large property portfolio outside of Surrey, the County Council owns a significant number of vacant buildings, some of which have been vacant for years such as the former Adult Education Centre in Dene Street, Dorking and the Pond Meadow school site in Guildford. This is a waste of money as these assets are unutilised, deteriorating, and thus losing value whilst they make a loss as they incur costs such as rates, maintenance and security.

"Details of the Conservative administration's commercial property investments and its own vacant properties are shrouded in secrecy. I have been forced to submit formal questions to obtain basic information about the County Councils publicly funded commercial properties and Freedom of Information Act requests about the County Council's own vacant properties. It is clearly a source of embarrassment to the Conservative administration to make this information readily available to the public.

"The Conservatives at County Hall needs to get their priorities right. It is unacceptable and risky to invest huge sums of money in properties outside Surrey whilst leaving its own buildings vacant, deteriorating, losing value and losing money. The County Council is not a property company and its primary role is to provide services to Surrey residents. The message is for the County Council to stop risking public money on commercial properties outside Surrey and to stop wasting money on empty council buildings."

NOTES

Images of 3 empty County Council buildings can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/146827888@N06/albums/72157689031845846/with/36782710253/

A link to Cllr Watson's Cabinet question on empty properties can be found here (page 9):

https://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/documents/g5110/Decisions%20Tuesday%2026-Sep-2017%2014.00%20Cabinet.pdf?T=2

A link to Cllr Watson's Cabinet question on commercial property can be found here (page 10):

https://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/documents/g4591/Decisions%20Tuesday%2020-Sep-2016%2014.00%20Cabinet.pdf?T=2

A link to the Council Motion to be discussed on Tuesday 10th October can be found here under item 8(i):

https://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=121&MId=5099&Ver=4

A link to the amount of commercial property outside of Surrey can be found here:

http://scc.lib.dm/d1Pn

The Annual Report of the Investment Board can be found here:

https://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/documents/s38542/item%2012%20-%20Annex%201%20Investment%20Board%20Annual%20Report.pdf

A copy of Cllr Watson's Freedom of Information request on empty properties can be found here:

http://scc.lib.dm/d3Pn