C AMBRIDGESHIRE: Outdoor centres, caretaker flats and Wisbech buildings targeted in new review

By JOHN ELWORTHY SCHOOL caretaker houses and flats above libraries could be hived off to housing associations and outdoor centres such as Grafham Water sold off by Cambridgeshire County Council. The council simply doesn t have the skills and experience

By JOHN ELWORTHY

SCHOOL caretaker houses and flats above libraries could be hived off to housing associations and outdoor centres such as Grafham Water sold off by Cambridgeshire County Council.

The council simply doesn't have "the skills and experience to act as a landlord for 'domestic' style tenants" says Nick Dawes, director of finance, property and performance.

And of educational establishments such as Grafham Water and environmental studies centres such as Stibbington and Upware he wonders if they could be best run by others.


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"The dispersion and operation of these units will require further consideration," says Mr Dawes in a report to the corporate policy development group.

The report also hints at wide spread sales of under performing buildings as part of a new BUPA programme- Better Utilisation of Property Assets.

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Workshops are being held this month in Chatteris and Cambridge at which county councillors and officials will hammer out preliminary thoughts on the programme which could lead to biggest shake up for a generation in the way the council deals with its assets.

With hot desking and flexible working becoming stronger, the council has discovered that most desks are occupied for less than half the working day. Their solution? To reduce floor areas for its 5000 staff by as much as 20 per cent, and move to a desk to staff ratio of 7:10.

The county is also working towards the release of the value locked up in land and buildings, and are working on the assumption of a £27 million net release of cash over 10 years. The council says it hopes to net £112 million from asset sales and spend £85 million of the proceeds on improvements.

"The BUPA programme is a large programme in terms of scale, value and duration," says Mr Dawes.

Wisbech and St Neots are two towns likely to attract considerable attention from the corporate policy development working on the programme. Both towns have a larger than normal number of county council owned properties and could form part of a regeneration focus.

Two years ago the council valued its property portfolio assets at around £600 million and comprising of over 600 assets varying from schools to farm estates.

For example there are 238 schools, 32 libraries, 15 travellers' sites and over 40 residential/day-care centres. Other properties include caretaking housing, park and ride sites, register offices and county farms.

Mr Dawes and his team believe that changes will make the council more efficient and easier to run, will reduce the authority's carbon footprint, and create regeneration and improved community impact by possibly sharing facilities with the public, private and voluntary sector.

County Council Cabinet Member for Corporate Services John Reynolds, said: "The council continuously reviews its property assets. We need to ensure our buildings are efficient and fit for purpose. We need buildings that are sustainable and meet modern environmental and energy use requirements.

"It is essential we keep firm control of our fixed costs reducing them whenever possible. In this way resources are maximised to meet the needs of providing services such as social care and transport, schools and roads.

"There are no proposals to change who runs the outdoor centres which

will continue to be a key part of Children's Services. The review is about these fixed building costs. The process is at an early stage and all stakeholders, employees and partners will be consulted before any decision is made. Any decision to change current arrangements would be on the basis of improving services.

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