A Kirkstall councillor has spoken of his “heartbreak” at the state of council buildings in the city, writes Richard Beecham.
A report went before the Governance and Audit committee which said millions of pounds worth of work is needed to bring council-owned properties up to scratch.
Council officer Angela Barnicle told the meeting:
“There is a collective view that we can probably no longer afford to have the extent of our estate that we currently have.
“We are looking at innovative solutions, and we are pleased with the progress to date.”
But Cllr John Illingworth (Lab, Kirkstall) criticised the report, claiming more should have been done before council buildings fell into disrepair. He said:
“I don’t know where to begin with this. It worries me that we’ve only just noticed that maintenance has fallen behind. I cant believe that you were unaware of the maintenance backlog for so long.
“You watch with heartbreak – these are listed buildings and they are falling into disrepair due to lack of basic maintenance.
“I look around my ward and other council wards and I see a history of wrecked council buildings. They eventually fall down and get demolished.”
Cllr Illingworth added that more should be done to help community groups run disused council buildings. He said:
“I feel that officers would rather do anything rather than transfer buildings into community management. I don’t understand how it comes about.”
Angela Barnicle responded:
“I can only apologise if that is your perception that we do anything but asset transfers. There has been a number of successful transfers.
“We have number we are supporting at the minute. We would be keen to support any community group that wanted to undertake such a transfer. We should undertake work to rectify this perception.”
The council has an annual maintenance budget of £4.3m to spend on its 615 sites currently in use. The authority agreed to pump in an extra £5m this year to help tackle some of the maintenance issues.
Older buildings, dubbed “heritage assets” by the council, have also fallen behind with repairs. A survey done on 46 of these estimated the cost of repairs of £44m over the next 10 years. The council has since agreed to put more money into this work.
The report said:
“In recognition of this investment need, and that there are insufficient funds within the standard maintenance budget, an extra capital injection of £2m per annum over the next three years has been agreed by Strategic Investment Board for works specifically on heritage assets.”
The council has sold 57 of its sites since 2014, bringing in £20m in sales. But the report concluded that even more will need to be sold in the coming years if the authority is to balance its books.
Councillors also disagreed on the viability of the authority’s investment estate. This is a number of buildings the council doesn’t use, but rents out for an income.
Coun Peter Harrand (Cons, Alwoodley) asked:
“Why should the city council be buying property to speculate on its future value? We are not in the business of doing that.”
Angela Barnicle responded:
“We buy property to have a resilient revenue stream. We buy property so we can receive an income stream – this cross-funds other parts of council services.”
Cllr Harrand replied:
“I am not convinced that is a legitimate purpose of the city council.”
But Cllr Peter Truswell (Lab, Middleton) disagreed:
“One part of me dislikes that we have to engage in this part of activity – but it brings in £10m a year, and I wonder whether £10m of further cuts to council services would come if we did do this.”