Thursday, 23 June 2011

Lambeth Council turn down £2.7 million Community bid to purchase Beaufoy Institute

(Photo taken from a thread on Beaufoy Institute on Urban 75 here)

Lurking about SE11 has learned that a "community" bid to purchase the Beaufoy Institute on Black Prince Road from Lambeth Council for £2.7 million has failed.  The Heart of Kennington Ltd represented the coming together of a number of local organisations, The School of Communication Arts, Lady Margaret Hall Settlement, South Bank Mosaics, Stark Investments Limited and two other potential arts based schools learned on Monday that their bid had not been successful.  Since the bidding process was largely anonymous, the winner has not yet been announced and the local community are beginning to ask questions.

At a Kennington Oval Vauxhall forum AGM meeting on 7th June, David Toothill, (Southbank Mosaics) introduced Marc Lewis who runs the School of Communication Arts and he introduced the bid to all present.  You can see various community messages of support recorded and videoed, and the Heart of Kennington Ltd were the only people who appeared before the local community to discuss their bid.  Local councillors were present at the meeting, but perhaps felt that another company's bid would be more beneficial for Kennington and Vauxhall.  Or, more likely, it was felt that somebody else's bid would put more cash on the table.  Is a much-loved community building being sacrificed for short-term financial gain for the Council, as it rapidly attempts to shed its assets?  Or, does the would-be purchaser have plans for the local common good of which nobody is aware?

The School of Communication Arts, we were informed at the meeting, are a not-for-profit social enterprise organisation funded by the advertising industry, preparing young people for a career in the creative sector.  Whilst a private enterprise, a large percentage of their students are backed by grants and scholarships.  The school is currently based in Worgan Street in the Methodist Church hall, but is Vauxhall based with roots in Graphite Square.

The Heart of Kennignton partnership were hoping to take the building at the back of the Beaufoy and build 250 student rooms, in clusters of six and make it the only dedicated art student accommodation in London, where students and artists could work together.  The accommodation was intended to fund the rest of the enterprise.  Once the main 1907 Beaufoy Institute had been brought back to Grade 2 standard, it would have been gifted to the Lady Margaret Hall Settlement.  LMHS would have guaranteed a place for the London School of Communication arts in the building so that the school (about 50 students) was ensured a lasting legacy in the area.  LMHS would then have helped choose two similar schools in areas pertaining to the arts eg. design, photography, acting, journalism to bring three creative schools under one roof.  Space was to have been ensured for other partners such as the Southbank Mosaic project and it was envisaged that the partnership would provide creative arts services for the community.

The project might never now come to fruition.  The community and all involved would probably do well to wait for further details to be announced, but at present, nobody has publicly identified the successful bidder (or even whether they exist).  I will say one thing.  If this is the way that the co-operative Council intend to work, with utter lack of consultation and reception of community views, its methods are not to be favoured.  Lambeth residents would do well to advise residents in other areas not to advocate the Co-operative Council vision.  It may just be that the Council have chosen a bid partner with whom to develop something that will benefit locals, but they have shown complete disregard for involving the local community in a frenzied last-minute sales process.

See Vauxhall Society's article on the Battle of the Beauyfoy here.


Anonymous said...

unfortunately, 2.7 million doesn't sound like anything near market value for that site so I'm not surprised this bid was turned down

Cllr Mark Harrison said...

Please see the story on our website here:

A couple of extra points, in response to what you have said here, are that:

-the sale of assets by local authorities is strictly legally constrained - in short, not accepting the highest bid opens up all sorts of legal problems for the Council.

-There is also, necessarily, a need to preserve commercial confidentially - which is why it can appear a secretive process.

-You need to balance the possible community benefit of this particular bid against the additional funds the Beaufoy Trust and the Council will now secure to be spent on the community - substantial amounts of money to be spent supporting disadvantaged young people into education and training; and on school buildings, housing, pavements and leisure centres.

Paul Atherton said...

@Cllr Mark Harrison,

What legal problems does it open up if you don't accept the highest bidder - isn't the bid as much about use as it is on financial return?

Why is there a need to preserve commercial confidentiality when you are selling off publicly funded buildings, especially under the guise of a cooperative council?

As I understand it, the money raised from the sale of this property just goes into the treasury, if so, how can we ensure as residents that this money is spent in the right places?

Cllr Mark Harrison said...


No, the rules around local authorities disposing of assets are very clear that we must accept the best bid. To make an exception requires special permission from the Secretary of State.

It's actually in our best interests to keep the process confidential - we wouldn't want bidders to know what each other were bidding. We're now at a stage of 'due diligence' and negotiation - again, this needs to be confidential as officers are negotiating the best possible outcome for the Council and the community.

The money raised will go into Lambeth Council's capital programme, not the Treasury. It will be spent on our capital priorities - namely vital investment in schools, pavements and roads, housing and leisure.

sarah said...

"the rules around local authorities disposing of assets are very clear that we must accept the best bid."

there is no question in my mind that the community bid was the best bid in terms of raising quality of life for the area. If you mean highest cash bid then that is what you should say. The pretence that this is all for our good is pathetic

Anonymous said...

from the SE11 Action Team blog - "...see the Beaufoy building brought back into community use..." - could somebody clarify what is meant by "community use" in this article? Has the site been sold on the basis that the listed building is used for a particular purpose?

SE11 Lurker said...

@Anonymous 27 June, 10:02

One of the reasons I was quite cautious when writing this post was on account of the closed bidding process. As I said in the article, we don't know to whom The Beaufoy will be sold or whether the "public use" alluded to on the SE11 Action Team blog is better/worse than mentioned in the Heart of Kennington bid. We simply don't have that info. Now there may be good commercial reasons for that, as Cllr Harrison suggests, but in my view, whilst there's no need for the financial dealings to be made public, I cannot see what is wrong with a public bidding process because I think the community want to have some input in what ends up happening to the building.

All we know is that the Heart of Kennington are the only folk that presented a bid to the community. We don't know that the winning bid won't equally benefit the community, so before condemning the council's actions outright, we'll have to wait for all to be revealed. All we can do is ask questions about the process (an accountability that good democracies should welcome) and pointedly note that this process does not appear to be particularly co-operative.

Cllr Harrison, can you advise us when we might know who the successful bidders were?

Andrew Orange said...

The good councillor may be right but lets himself down with his claim that the windfall (for that is what it is) will be spent on "vital investment in schools, pavements and roads, housing and leisure".

This is a favourite local government line - right up there with "protecting the most vulnerable in our society" when justifying cuts in (e.g.) parks and libraries.

It's never a question of choosing one or the other. It's a balancing act (a difficult one, of course). And it's also about how wisely the money is spent.

And really, using windfall money (which selling off the silver always is) to fund ongoing services such as roads, schools, housing and leisure seems a rather short-term and unsustainable strategy.

Of course, the council may well have made the "best" decision, but we must try not to be distracted by sophistry and unhelpful false oppositions.

That is all.

Andrew Orange said...

Oh, and that Co-operate Council thing is ALL b*ll*cks. Nobody is fooled for a moment.

THAT is all.

Anonymous said...

Could the councillor Mark tell us if other buildings in se11 will be sold to achieve the £100 million disposal target mentioned on his website?

Cllr Mark Harrison said...

I don't know exactly when the result of the bidding process will be announced but it should be fairly soon.

@Andrew - it's not a false opposition. The facts are these - Lambeth needs £100M for vital capital investment. The Government has cut our (already limited) capital budget by 60%. We have assets sitting unused, costing us money to maintain. Now, more than any other time, it makes sense to sell those assets to pay for that capital investment. We're not going to use the money to fund the ongoing costs of services, we're going to use it for capital investment which will leave a positive legacy for years to come.

It's no secret which other assets are being sold - we made it clear in the budget announcements: eg
The Shelley School site, and one half of the Old Lilian Baylis site (the bit not being used by the Sports Action Zone/ Black Prince Trust) are the other major assets in Prince's ward which we plan to sell. There is a consultation about the sale of the Shelley site ongoing, and preparations are being made to sell the portion of the OLB site.

Andrew Orange said...

And another thing:

"The rules around local authorities disposing of assets are very clear that we must accept the best bid. To make an exception requires special permission from the Secretary of State".

Then why not seek permission from the Secretary of State? Then you could say you had done everything possible.

Unless of course, you did want to sell it to the highest bidder in which case why mention the Secretary of State?

That is all.

Anonymous said...

if the highest bid for the old lilian baylis comes from a free school offer, will the council block it?

Anonymous said...

Can the councillor tell us the outcome of the Shelley school consultation? And whether the council has decided to continue with its plans to sell that site.

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