At last night’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting the subject of the disposal of council assets was discussed.
As readers will remember VB reported last week that a list of properties owned by the council had been highlighted for possible disposal.
As was made very clear in our article at the time and reiterated by the Chair of the committee, Cllr Vanessa Churchman, last night, the list had been compiled for consideration. Something being listed did not mean it was definitely going to be sold, it had just been recorded as a possible disposal.
Transparency, transparency, transparency
We don’t think that we’ve ever heard the word ‘transparency’ mentioned so many times in such a short space of time (30 minutes).
At the end of the agenda item, Cllr Churchman added to the many other mentions when she stressed the importance of transparency.
She said, “Provided we give the public the information and make it transparent … if people think we’re hiding something, they’ll think the worst. If it is all out there, then we’ll get reasonable questions, sensible questions and hopefully we will come up with sensible answers.”
No public questions
Given the time of the meeting (5pm), it was not surprising that no members of the public attended the meeting. No written questions had been submitted either.
Senior officers John Metcalfe and Barry Cook were present at the meeting to answer questions from members of the committee.
What is a ‘special purchaser’?
Cllr Stewart was the first to pose questions. He sought clarification on the terms used on the disposal list, referring specifically to the categorisations given and the term ‘special purchaser’.
Mr Cook advised that a ‘special purchaser’ is the definition of a party that has a direct interest, such as being a sitting tenant or owner of adjacent land.
A sale of this type could, he said, but not always, lead to a better capital receipt for the Isle of Wight Council.
Mr Metcalfe advised explained disposal on the open market, restricted market and when conditions are attached to sales. He gave the example of Shanklin Theatre and the conditions attached that ensured it would remain as a theatre in the future.
Conditions can apply to special purchases
It was confirmed that conditions could apply to disposals with special purchasers.
Cllr Stewart thanked the officers for their clarification adding, “People do tend to read into things perhaps more than is there. So I will take that general feedback back to my residents to reassure them.”
Cllr Bacon asked a number of questions in relation to the Blackgang Viewpoint Car Park, which we’ll cover in a separate article.
Cllr Humby raised questions regarding the land on Culver Parade, Sandown and asked why it was listed at the back of the document in the ‘future years’ section.
She mentioned that the council had been in discussions with the landowners there for decades and asked when it would be getting sorted?
Mr Cook assured Cllr Humby that the council remained in regular contact with the landowner. It was added by Mr Metcalfe that the ball was in the court of the landowner, effectively saying the council’s hands were tied on moving anything forward.
What do the priority numbers mean?
Cllr Ward asked for clarification of what the different priority numbers meant.
Mr Metcalfe initially replied that they pick out disposals that would make the greatest contribution to the capital receipts programme as high priority items, going on to say that if they had less capacity in the team (ie. lack of staff members), they would focus their attention on the high priorities.
Cllr Ward replied that he thought priority one would have been high value properties and pointed out that low value items on the disposal list are listed as high priority.
Mr Metcalfe then added that priority one items could also be items that they have to deliver in connection with other projects and might affect other budget decisions.
Involve the community
Cllr Fuller reiterated the importance of transparency and asked whether there has been any engagement with parish councils and suggested that the list be circulated to local councils and community groups.
Chief Executive Steve Beynon added that the final decision for any disposal is with the cabinet member (Cllr George Brown). It would also be brought to Scrutiny again prior to a delegated decision being made by Cllr Brown.
Cllr Humby queried why Sandown Town Hall was missing from list. Mr Cook would check why it had been removed. The impression given was that it was a mistake.
Priority for academies or free schools
Steve Beynon mentioned that under government regulations, any properties listed for possible disposal, would be given priority to potential academies or free schools.
Cllr Cousins expressed her disappointment that the council had been accused of not being transparent over the inclusion of Guildhall on the list of potential disposal.
She said that she was working closely with officers and asked Mr Metcalfe to confirm in the meeting whether he was satisfied that due process had been followed regarding the possible disposal of Guildhall.
He replied that the process had been “very transparent”.
More to follow in relation directly to Blackgang Viewpoint Car Park.