Sunday 16 June 2024
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Councillors fear community facilities sell-off is to the detriment of Nottingham people

Councillors fear that community facilities in Nottingham are being sold off to generate cash but to the detriment of local people.

Nottingham City Council is selling off land and buildings it no longer requires or which are not making a substantial return.

The council says it has no other option but to sell off assets to reduce its debts and ensure major projects are delivered for city residents.

This includes not reopening the Victoria Embankment paddling pool as there is currently not enough money in the pot to make vital improvements.

The council currently has debts of around £900m, with the authority paying around £2m a year to service this debt.

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The council is also being monitored by a government-appointed improvement board following a number of financial failings.

If it can’t become ‘financially resilient’, government commissioners could take over the running of the authority in the future.

At an Overview and Scrutiny meeting on Wednesday, June 8, councillors questioned leader of the city council, David Mellen, about the plans to sell off assets it no longer requires or are not making a substantial return.

This includes community facilities across the city.

The Labour-led council is already proposing to close five of its nine children’s centres as part of plans to save £38m over the next four years.

The council is exploring the possibility of community groups taking over the affected sites, but there is a potential they could be sold off.

The council also made the decision to close the John Carroll Leisure Centre in Denman Street Central in June 2021 describing it as the “least used facility with the highest council subsidy”.

It caused an outcry among local residents which said hundreds of families would have nowhere else to go.

The council spoke to a number of community organisations to explore the possibility of them taking over the building in some form.

It was not deemed ‘viable’ for any of these organisations to do this, and therefore the site could be potentially sold on.

Cllr Mellen told the committee: “We are in an unusual situation compared to other councils because the advice from the improvement board is we are not in a position to borrow money and want to reduce our borrowing.

“We have done that successfully and have reduced it by £250m but if we want to do something new and fulfil our expectations we can do it in two ways.

“We can apply for grants from the government or sell property and land we no longer need.

“We have owned a number of farms outside the city but these are not an asset for us. We have sold quite a few farms. We are not planning to sell Loxley House but that is one of our assets.”

The council says it currently owns more than 3,600 property assets, with an asset value of over £1bn. But not all assets can be sold on.

It says the current value of properties identified for disposal equates to more than £90m.

From 2020/21 to 2021/22, the council has so far made £30.7m. Key sites that have been sold include Firth Way, Housing Aid, and Carlton Textile Workshops.

High value assets for sale in the city include the Grade II listed former court room, The Guildhall, and Angel Row, where the former Central Library used to be.

Cllr Samuel Gardiner (Lab), chair of the committee, said: “We have got to get that balance right. When we are disposing assets that we are protecting the local economy and the local community.”

Cllr Merlita Bryan (Lab) added: “All the community can see is selling, selling and selling. The way things are going – our young people are getting into trouble because they have got nowhere to go. We should have more investment in our community than just looking about making money.”

Cllr Mellen said: “We are in a situation where we are starved of funding and that is why we are going through this.

“We are offering our children’s centres to other groups. I would love for us not to close any of these buildings but we are in this situation.

“It is not our aim to sell them for the highest amount, it is finding a similar use.

“We have also got to protect other costs coming back to us. Buildings have been given to groups of people on a peppercorn rent and then they say the roof is falling or the boiler is broken, we are not in a position to do that.

“We are no longer in a position where we can give peppercorn rents at £1 a year.

“We know that taking away youth and play will be a detriment but what if other people can help and provide these facilities – that has to be our aim.

“We need to balance the needs of the community with the financial challenges and balancing these things is not easy.”

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