Council to sell off £17M of assets

PUBLICLY-OWNED land and buildings worth more than £17million will be sold off in west Suffolk over the next four years.Tight-lipped officers at St Edmundsbury Borough Council have refused to disclose details of the assets affected under the plans because the information is classed as “exempt” from public disclosure.

PUBLICLY-OWNED land and buildings worth more than £17million will be sold off in west Suffolk over the next four years.

Tight-lipped officers at St Edmundsbury Borough Council have refused to disclose details of the assets affected under the plans because the information is classed as “exempt” from public disclosure.

This has been challenged by the EADT, which has lodged a request for the names and values of all affected properties using the Freedom of Information Act.

Questions about the secret for sale list were raised yesterday by the chairman of the Bury Society, who called for greater openness about how publicly-owned land was dealt with.


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Under the council's plans, millions of pounds of assets will be declared “surplus to requirements” and then sold off on the private market.

Council chiefs hope to sell £6.7m worth in the coming year, £4m in 2007/2008, £4.4m the following year and £2m in 2009/2010. Altogether, the move is expected to raise £17.23m.

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Speaking yesterday from Corsica, Nigel Aitkens, the council's cabinet member for economy and asset management, was more open about the assets that might be sold off.

He said they include a former old people's home site in Queens Road, the borough offices in Angel Hill, country parks - which are currently being reviewed - and the Manor House Museum.

But he stated categorically that West Stow Country Park, Market Cross and the Athenaeum building in Angel Hill would not be sold off.

Explaining the plans, Mr Aitkens said: “The council is the custodian of these assets. They can take a lot of officer time and money to maintain and look after so it can make sense for the ones that do not meet our needs to go to those who can use them properly.”

Mr Aitkens said the reason the property sell-off list was being kept largely secret was because of commercial concerns and because some of the buildings had tenants in them who did not know their building was being considered for sale.

Simon Pott, chairman of the Bury Society, said he applauded the council's decision to review its assets and property holding but raised a number of questions about the way the council had drawn up its for sale list.

He said: “I am not saying the council is wrong at all, but let's have a look at it. Having been involved in property for many years, selling property is frequently something that can be regretted in the future.

“Who has come up with this plan? Is this a full-blown plan? Is it officer-driven or is it member-driven?

“At a time of greater and greater need for clarity, I continue to be very concerned by the way we are simply not getting answers to questions.

“I entirely accept commercial sensitivity but these are our assets and we should know more and should have clarity.”

laurence.cawley@eadt.co.uk

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