Lancashire County Council’s Cabinet has agreed the next steps in the process of handing over surplus buildings to be run by community groups.
The County Council recently agreed its Property Strategy, which will reduce the number of buildings the council owns and rents, and form a network of multi-functional buildings known as Neighbourhood Centres, which will provide a base for a range of different services in one place.
As part of the consultation process for the strategy, held over three months this summer, there was an opportunity for community groups to submit expressions of interest in taking over the running of surplus properties.
All organisations who expressed an interest were provided with detailed property information, including running costs, and had until mid-August to supply a detailed business case to support what is called a community asset transfer.
A total of 119 expressions of interest were submitted which led to 49 detailed business cases. Those business cases were assessed against the criteria in the council’s Community Asset Transfer Policy, and divided into three categories:
• In the first category, 13 bids were considered to be broadly acceptable subject to negotiation and clarification of issues.
• 20 bids require more details to be provided before a clear recommendation can be made
• 16 bids are not considered to be acceptable
The bids in the final category were ruled out for a variety of reasons: some related to properties that the county council intends to retain; some were commercial in nature; some were of limited community benefit; and some had not proposed a sustainable business case.
Cabinet agreed that for those business cases considered to be broadly acceptable, individual reports will be presented to the deputy leader of the county council for decision.
County Councillor David Borrow, deputy leader of the county council and portfolio holder for finance and property, said: “In normal circumstances we would not have been forced to take the decisions we have but the financial challenge we face is anything but normal. Through the property review we have done all we can to ensure that people still have good access to good services while delivering millions of pounds of savings.
“We know that we have strong communities across the county and the willingness of local groups to step up and offer to take over the running of buildings that we no longer need is further proof of that strength. In line with our community asset transfer policy, we need to work with these groups to make sure that we are handing over these valuable assets to groups which have a sustainable business plan that will benefit the local community. I’m pleased that we have taken another step towards making that a reality.
“We have already seen our first success this week as we have reached an agreement with Chorley Council to keep Adlington Library and Children’s Centre open until at least March 2018, to enable community groups there to take over the building’s running in a way that will be sustainable for the long term.”
As part of this process, further bids for community asset transfer will be considered on their merits but the council will not look at new expressions of interest where business cases are still under consideration, or where transfer to another group has already been agreed.