We are not selling off the family silver but protecting our town, says council chief
Selling off land at Scrivener Drive for the Aldi development and off-loading the Fisons building is helping Ipswich Borough Council protect the town for generations to come, says council leader David Ellesmere in his latest column.
A report last month highlighted the huge national sale of council assets that has occurred over the last four years.
The headline was that desperate councils are being forced to sell off properties to balance the books
That is certainly the case for some councils. Northamptonshire County Council has had to sell its new HQ for £53m and lease it back. Desperate times.
Other councils are giving away assets to community groups or parish councils to avoid the running costs.
But that isn’t the whole story.
The £5m of property sales by Ipswich Borough Council mentioned in the report were not a fire sale of assets to shore up our finances, but to bring forward economic development.
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Last week I mentioned the sale of the freehold of the former Fisons building to enable the Connexions development.
We have also sold land at Scrivener Drive to enable the building of the Aldi, pub and vets there.
We sold the former West Villa homeless families’ unit to enable the development of the new Two Rivers GP surgery.
And the report only covers the sale of assets, it doesn’t take into account replacement purchases.
For example, we have done the opposite to Northamptonshire. Ipswich Borough Council’s HQ was built by a private developer and then leased to the council.
We bought the building in 2015 and its value is now more than all the asset sales put together. It is delivering a huge saving to the council because the borrowing costs of the purchase are hundreds of thousands of pounds less each year than we were paying in rent.
When we sold the former West Villa site, we used the proceeds to buy a redundant sheltered housing scheme from a Housing Association and turned this into much better homeless families’ accommodation than the previous one.
We have bought commercial property worth ten times the value of the land we have sold. This is bringing in around £2.25m income a year to protect services from Government cuts.
Some councils may be selling off the family silver but the current generation of Ipswich Borough councillors will be leaving behind a much bigger asset base than the one they inherited.