The York Councils decision to spend over £2 million adding further properties to its investment portfolio has produced a backlash.
Critics have pointed to the ongoing delays in bring empty properties into use. Six months ago, a Freedom of information (FOI) request revealed a long list of under-used Council buildings. These included Oakhaven, Ashbank, Willow House, the Guildhall and, of course, 29 Castlegate.
The latter is one of the prime properties in the City centre and was valued at £575,000 in 2016. Since then there have been further increases in property prices in the City.
A further FOI tried to discover what progress has been made in selling the property following a decision by the York Civic Trust to pull out of a purchase deal 12 months ago. The FOI has been rejected (see right) on the grounds that there are ongoing commercial discussions taking place. It fails to reveal who is talking to whom about the empty property. No attempt has been made to let the property for temporary use in the busy Christmas period (it includes a frontage onto the Coppergate shopping centre).
At last week’s Executive meeting, Councillors were challenged over their stewardship of the Council’s property estate.
They responded by claiming that the portfolio was “worth £335m and produced an income of £5.8m a year”.
This claim has prompted a further FOI request. A local resident now wants to see a list of all Council owned commercial properties, their value and the net income that each produces.
This is the kind of information that should be routinely provided for the Councils “scrutiny” committee. A six monthly review of investment returns is the least that taxpayers would expect to be published for public review.
Sadly, this no longer happens at the York Council.
The delays in disposing of empty property is now a major issue for the authority. It some cases there may be good reasons for the delays but, if so, then there must be more transparency about the process*.
If the Council cannot effectively manage its estate, then there are companies in the City who would be delighted to help.
*The Council has agreed to receive a staffing report on a 6-monthly basis. The reports will cover FTE numbers, Equality Data, Absence and Well Being, Starters and Leavers, reasons for leaving (i.e. retirement, redundancy, dismissal, settlement agreement) and Agency staff numbers.