Thursday, 18 February 2010

Former Lilian Baylis costing tax payer £380,000 per year. Election Looming. Answers please.

So, I may not be the South London press and I might not get paid, and I haven't been to Journalist School (see Jason Cobb's recent comment battle on the SLP), but this blog has a fair old readership now, so I think it's fair to point out, once again, that the former Lilian Baylis site is costing Lambeth taxpayers £380,000 per year to maintain, there's been no progress in terms of developing it or selling it to a community organisation or private buyer, and there's an election coming up.

Back on October 22nd 2009, I sent a query about the former Lilian Baylis site to Steve Reed, asking, "Has the council issued statement on status of former Lilian Baylis bid by ANC? Rumour says the bid is off, but pls confirm."  I received a Direct Message from Steve Reed, advising that the council were, "Still negotiating a consortium to run the old school site, details public soon, intending it shd represent the whole community not just part".

Fair enough.  I can wait, I thought.  After all, the thing only kicked off in 2005, so we wouldn't want to rush matters.  (For a comprehensive post, and history, see my catchup on the definitive history of the former Lilian Baylis.)

Eventually, on the 14th December 2009, Lambeth council issued a decision to decommission the project from having as its focus the All Nations Church (ANC).  Reasons as to why they did this vary slightly, depending on whom you ask.  There was some local opposition to the ANC (a faith group) having the "lead partner" stake in buying a Council building that is currently essentially a community resource.  However, there are also rumours that the ANC were, by last year, only able to buy the building for a considerably smaller amount than they had originally offered (bear in mind that the Council would have given them a favourable rate, compared to the land's market value).  The Council state in a report dated 14th December, (this one is quite an interesting document which I'll dissect below), "Ultimately, the terms of the offers by ANC presented an unacceptable risk of challenge to the council and other elements of the proposed leasehold terms were also unacceptable in principle." and also, "The offer proposed by ANC entailed a substantial discount below market value, which the council could not justify through demonstartion of public benefit."

Remember back in February 2009 (see old council .pdf here) that the "hub" group were to comprise the ANC, the Sport's Action Zone (SAZ) and Ethelred Nursery.  It appears now that the ANC have been "dropped" from official plans (although, apparently, "The decision not to progress negotiations with ANC does not prejudice or preclude ANC’s involvement in alternative delivery arrangements.").  However, the new December 14th plan is to try and move forward with both Sports Action Zone (Kate Hoey is the patron of this organisation) and the Ethelred Nursery.  It is highly unlikely that either of these organisations have any money (SAZ isn't even a legal entity), so...

What might Lambeth Council do?

Let's see what facts are laid out in the December 14th plan:

1. "Pursuit of a maximised social and community outcomes approach is likely to be an overall capital cost to the council council, i.e., the cost of development would be greater than any capital receipt."

Translation: It costs money to pay for community facilities, when we wouldn't make money from those facilities.  And in any case, we're not terribly interested in providing Leisure facilities.  See Jason Cobb's post on the privatisation of Lambeth leisure facilities.

2. "The overall capital gain to the council would be maximised if the site were disposed on the open market."

Translation: Actually, we'd make more money (and we don't have much of this right now), if we were to sell the development.

[I can see that this one is going to be a bit troublesome, come the election, since the Lib Dems wanted to sell the building off, before they changed their minds, a few years ago...  So, you can see the accusations flying, Labour: "you wanted to sell", Lib Dem: "you said you'd develop, Lab: "you changed your mind", Lib Dem: "we didn't exactly... but in any case, you want to sell now", blah, blah, blah, let's pre-empt that boring old battle...]

3. "Potentially, the overall capital gain might be greater if other sites in the area were included in the redevelopment process allowing for the reconfiguration and consolidation of community outcomes on particular sites and realisation of the full development value of other sites."

Translation: We could make even more money, if we were to sell off some other bits of land. (This might allude to the Beaufoy, Lollard St playground and Kerrin point (or all of them). Would be useful to know the proposals because it's a far reaching statement.

4. "Note that the listed building status conferred on the site restricts the scope for development and agree for officers to investigate how this might be addressed in order to enable suitable development options." and "The listing of buildings of this period is not without controversy and presents a number of problems and constraints in this instance."

Translation: Let's try to get the building delisted, because then we can sell it off for more money, and don't have to worry about English Heritage. Interestingly, even the car park is listed (a result of some kind of ancient Council vendetta). We need to get all of this stuff delisted ASAP, so that we can get this building off our hands.

5. "To date the council have resisted pursuing the possible delisting of the site on the basis that there is little prospect of the Secretary of State agreeing. The council failed to stop the listing originally and no new evidence has been forthcoming to challenge the English Heritage assessment of the building’s special interest."

Translation: We're a bit doomed, really! 

6. "Increasing this estimate by construction inflation and factoring in the likely further deterioration in the condition of the property, a capital investment of as much as £10m may be required to bring the buildings back into an acceptable condition."

Translation: We're even more doomed. These buildings cost a fortune to repair, we have no money, and nobody will pay enough for them, considering that they're listed, and we can't figure out how to delist them, and the Secretary of State will never do it.  Wah!

7. "The site and buildings are insured as part of the council’s building insurance contract which includes a regular programme of health and safety inspection. It is possible that future inspections will identify works which would need to completed in order to ensure continuity of use and as a consequence may affect the Council’s ability to maintain the continued insurance of the property."

Translation: If the building fails a health and safety inspection, we don't have enough money to fix it, and nobody will be able to use it at all. We need to sell it off really really quickly.

8. "Since 2005 SAZ have been successful in attracting considerable external investment (Nike, Barclays Spaces for Sports, Football Foundation) and voluntary investment which has helped to transform the complex into a successful community facility. SAZ is negotiating currently to bring in up to £4m of capital funding for a community basketball initiative, with an ambition to provide a basketball facility and venue of international standard."

Translation: Even though the building might fail a health and safety inspection, we really like this SAZ organisation, and they're good for the area. Also, they're backed by Kate Hoey, so it would be politically embarrassing to try and dispose of them.

9. "Over the past month more detailed work has taken place across Council departments to specify the outcomes sought from the site, in particular with Cultural Services with view to a significant sports/leisure focus of activity on the site and with CYPS around education, young persons and play facilities, including provision for a new ENCC."

Translation: We installed a 12 metre (yes, that is right) swimming pool. What else do you want?


To be fair, at the 14th December meeting, Cllr Ashley Lumsden (Opposition leader), ask whether the Council outcomes stated in the December 14th 2009 report were the same ones as desired by the residents. Well, you may indeed ask! I certainly would.

Make of that what you will, but I doubt any movement (in terms of either sale or significant development) will be made in, ooh, let's say, the next 12 months (even with a change in administration). I'll write another post next year, around February 2011, keeping you up to date.

The question is, Cllr Reed, who is the consortium you said would be running the old school site?  The clock is ticking, and the election looms....

[Believe it or not, I had not read Peter Walker's Guardian article here, in which he seems utterly unaware that the current administration has suggested selling the site (and possibly other sites) to maximise capital, but it's a prime example of why hyperlocal bloggers do possess a much broader picture than some of the national press.]


Mark Harrison said...

There’s a lot to respond to here.

The key complaint seems to be that it is taking a long time to finalise the future of the OLB site. I don’t think anybody would disagree. Unfortunately the wheels of Council bureaucracy turn slowly, especially in the case of major regeneration projects. My concern is that we get the arrangement right, even if this does take time.

For the time being there is a cost to the Council for maintaining the site, but it’s important to recognise that it is not mothballed. It’s a thriving sports and community activity centre which is attracting admiration from across the country. A recent NEF report demonstrated that the SAZ pay back a seven-fold social return for every pound spent. I don’t have a problem with SAZ making use of the facility whilst we work out a permanent arrangement.

Points 1, 2 and 3 pulled from the 14 December cabinet report are not the administration’s policy, they simply set out the facts, ie 1) If the Council kept the site entirely for community facilities it would cost lots of money, 2) It would make most money if it sold the whole site for private development, 3) There is a possibility that by moving other facilities in the area (Lollard St adventure playground, Ethelred Youth Club) onto the OLB site you could then sell the sites they occupy. None of these options is policy, they just set out the parameters within which the Council needs to make a decision.

The actual policy recommendations in the paper are:
(1) Agree to the decommissioning of the ANC focused project.
(2) Thank the working group of ANC, SAZ and Ethelred nursery that met for an eight
month period to try to establish a viable way forward on the site.
(3) Acknowledge the importance of the provision of community facilities in the heart
of a very deprived ward.
(4) Acknowledge the positive role that SAZ plays in the area and consider how their
use of the site might be formalised by the provision of a lease or similar as
detailed in paragraph 2.23.
(5) Acknowledge the work done in drawing up a menu of community benefits that
could be delivered from the site and to give Cabinet approval for officers to work
up a further detailed business case for an appropriate development option which
realises these benefits and is in the spirit of the vision statement articulated by
the working group referred to at point 2.
(6) Note that the listed building status conferred on the site restricts the scope for
development and agree for officers to investigate how this might be addressed in
order to enable suitable development options.
(7) Note that there is a capital receipt expectation for the site which needs to be
realised, alongside the minimisation of ongoing revenue costs to the council.

The goal is to find a way of developing the site (probably as some kind of community-led co-operative) which provides a capital receipt to Council Tax payers AND provides a hub of fantastic community facilities (most probably including SAZ).

On the issue of what residents want - there was a major consultation of residents in 2007 which has been the basis for all plans for the site. There was a mixture of views but the headline figures were:
47% supported leisure development.
36% prioritised community use.
31% prioritised housing.
A community led development of the site including sports, leisure and youth facilities almost exactly meets what the public stated they wanted in the 2007 consultation.

SE11 Lurker said...

I think that 5 years is far far too much time not to have made any progress towards selling or developing the site. Of course it's important to get the arrangement right, but right now, there appears not even to be an arrangement in place! As far as I know, a new consortium was being negotiated in October 2009 (according to Cllr Steve Reed), and we're now 4 months beyond that, without the consortium having been announced (or consulted upon).

I take the point that the site is not mothballed. It would be difficult to actually have it be mothballed, considering the potential to rent it out (or even just offer it up) to various social enterprises in the area. What is there to lose? Choosing one or two such enterprises (SAZ) and the Ethelred nursery etc. to be on site is not something that I think the council deserves praise for. Let's face it, having a busy site it keeps squatters away from the building.

I do not wish to obfuscate, so I've changed the sentence "what is stated in the December 14th plan" to "what facts are laid out in the December 14th plan." I don't think I stated that the council's facts were policy. I just quoted directly from a document that has been available since December 2009.

I am some what reading between the lines between "the facts" and "the policy recommendations", but that's because I think there are lines to be read between. I am certainly not giving the council praise for merely allowing SAZ to be on site, and helping them out with a 12 metre swimming pool!

You state, "The goal is to find a way of developing the site (probably as some kind of community-led co-operative) which provides a capital receipt to Council Tax payers AND provides a hub of fantastic community facilities (most probably including SAZ)."

But who are this community-led co-operative? Where are you going to find them? Who has been consulted in the community about being part of such a co-operative? Might we have a date for the deadline of either drawing up or consulting on drawing up such a commission/consortium? There are various organisations that could make a bid for such a position, but it seems we're being kept in the dark about what is happening with this project.

I'm very well aware of what the residents want. I didn't quote the stats. you mentioned, as I've written about what the residents want before. I don't know whether the ANC/Ethelred Nursery count as "leisure", so I think the opposition still have a point. But since, as you note, "47% of those consulted supported leisure development.", perhaps we might ask about the possibility of a North Lambeth Leisure centre?

Anonymous said... there's no plan

SAZ making use of the site doesn't take away from the fact that the site is costing 380,000 per year and is largely unused

Anonymous said...

Basically, I believe you are arguing "whatever plan is fine, just get on with it", as there is no steer and what should be done, just (justified) exhaustion with the slow pace of Government.

While I think it right to keep politicians on their toes, I do agree and understand Mark's response - Government is notoriously slow. And the downturn in the economy certainly didn't help.

First, I am happy spending the (relatively low in the grand scheme of things) money to protect the site and support the centre for kids. Second, I like the idea of a community-led cooperative. These have been highly successful around the country, but take time and effort to pull together.

The easy, most profitable way out would've been to sell it off to developers awhile back, but more luxury flats may not be the best use (maybe). Besides, right now may not be the best time to take that path - spend another 380K for a year, and the price may go up twice that. Personally, a community co-op that restores the site and opens it for community use would be wonderful, if affordable.

Again, I understand your frustration. Imagine how those living in E&C feel: Government promises of regeneration, which was to be completed by 2010 - they have hardly started and now we're hearing 2020.

SE11 Lurker said...

I'm arguing that I can see a variety of ways forward. I'm quite in favour of delisting all (or some) of the building if it would make redevelopment easier (although I believe there are certain portions that perhaps ought to be retained). I'm also in favour of having it used, at least in part, for community purposes. I'd strongly support a leisure centre or sports facility for all of the community. I'd be in favour of selling it to private developers, on the basis that whatever they provided must include 50% (or whatever) of community leisure facilities and 30% of public housing (with strict legal no-get-out clauses). I'd also be in favour of the council retaining the building, repairing it, and making money from it. Basically, I'm quite flexible so long as a very robust process is put in place and a concrete plan implemented. I think the whole "sell it off" vs. "keep it" debate takes us nowhere because both options have something to be said for them.

I think it's vital to keep politicians on their toes. I accept that government is notoriously slow to act, and I believe government are even slower to act without media coverage. I seek to make public criticism of Lambeth Council here, and I know (by the sheer volume of emails I receive from their leaseholders alone) that all is not as well as it could be. Frankly, if you showed me that the 5 years thus far had been well spent, I'd be more sympathetic to the "government takes time" argument. We could have used the time to see a thorough consultation (17% response not good enough), and then some kind of tender process with more than just three(!) organisations, most of whom were not "leisure" organisations. We could have used the time to watch a process by which Lambeth construct a timeline to indicate when different aspects will be complete. But we've not seen that. We're left very entirely in the dark (as are the E&C community). I am sympathetic to the "downturn in the economy" argument, but have been observing the rapid construction of the Strata building from one metaphorical window, and the construction of Aquinas House, St George Wharf from the other. In the meantime, the downturn has not stopped the Nine Elms consultation progressing at a fair rate.

Of course £380k is low money to protect the site for use by kids. Indeed, I've watched the projects that take place there, and I'm very impressed. But surely we can offer our local kids something better than a building which might fail health and safety checks and needs £10 million worth of repairs? We're offering our local kids peanuts, when we could be offering them a future.

I'd not be averse to a community co-op who would set up and run it, but I'd like to know how progress is being made on that front. In October 2009, Cllr Reed said a consortium was being discussed. Lambeth residents have no idea who is even involved in the discussions! Why is this not public knowledge?

I cannot even begin to imagine how those in E&C feel. Well, I can, because I read the London-se1 forums, and I know well their frustration. I'd be seeking to vote out that administration as well. In a way, I have a lot of sympathy for the councillors of Lambeth Council because I think that was is wrong with the institution is a series of inefficient officers. Since the councillors are meant to direct the officers, and not vice versa, the only option left is to put pressure on the councillors.

Label Cloud