Council agrees to sell off old day centre and leisure centre to chip away at debt

Summerwood Day Centre in Clifton
Summerwood Day Centre in Clifton
By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter

A derelict day centre in Clifton and a former leisure centre are among a series of property assets which Nottingham City Council has agreed to sell in a bid to claw back cash.

The Labour-run council set a target of reviewing more than 500 assets before the end of 2023, to decide if they should be sold off amid ever-tightening finances.

During an Executive Board meeting on May 23, councillors approved the disposal of a number of assets across the city, after they were declared surplus to the council’s needs.

The properties which will be sold include the freehold to the Fairham development site, which includes the former Fairham Community College (Fairham School) and Summerwood Day Centre, the Crocus Place development site, the former John Carroll Leisure Centre, and a property at 30 Woolpack Lane.

Cllr David Mellen (Lab), the leader of the council, said: “In order for us to fund our capital programme and indeed our transformation programme it is important that, where property is no longer needed, they are able to be disposed of for a capital receipt,” he said.

“At least two of these sites will help us in our desire to have more housing and to try and address the housing shortages in the city.”

A decision to close Summerwood Day Centre, which supported people living with sensory and learning difficulties, was rubber-stamped in 2021 despite resistance from service users and families.

Before the Covid pandemic 27 people were registered at the centre, with 22 in regular attendance.

At the time the city council said the closure of the centre would save almost £400,000 per year and that its continued operation was not sustainable.

Similarly the John Carroll Leisure Centre, in Basford, closed in June 2021, prompting similar concerns from local service users, while planning permission was granted for future office space at Crocus Place.

Over the last decade, local authorities across England have sought to sell off assets they deem surplus in a bid to bring in additional cash sums.

The selling of valuable property assets came as Government grants for councils began to decline, and budgets became tighter.

A Freedom of Information request dating back to 2019, which was submitted by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, revealed councils sold around £9.1bn in public assets between 2015 and 2018.

In Nottingham the situation has been no different.

Following the collapse of council-run Robin Hood Energy and the ensuing public interest report in 2020, it was recognised the council’s debt was too high.

External debt sits at around £888m, including £225m for the tram network and £305m for the building of council housing, but this does not represent the entirety of the council’s borrowing.

The overall figure is known as the council’s Capital Financing Requirement (CFR), a calculation of the authority’s underlying need to borrow for costly capital schemes which cannot be financed outright.

This figure sits at around £1.175 billion.

Each year the Labour-run authority sets aside around £55m to cover costs linked to its borrowing, similar to a homeowner’s regular mortgage repayments on a house.

It equates to roughly £1m per week, with just over 50 per cent of this cost ultimately going towards reducing the council’s debts.

To help further chip away at debt the council has also adopted a voluntary debt reduction policy and agreed it would not borrow any money for the foreseeable future.

Instead, new investments are paid for using Government grants, such as Levelling Up money, or by selling surplus property assets.

The receipts obtained from these sales are also used for transformation activities, with the authority still under the scrutiny of a Government-appointed improvement board, which continues to monitor progress towards financial stability.

Sajeeda Rose, the council’s director for growth city development, added: “Each of these properties…they are part of the wider approach of reviewing those assets.

“They will also help us to pay back debt.”

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