February 10, 2016
The dash for cash
With only a few short months until communities have new powers to request that a public asset be transferred to them (to use, manage, lease or own) – effectively constraining a public body’s freedom to dispose of the asset on the open market – there are worrying signs that some Councils are being spooked into knee jerk reactions. After 4 years of careful negotiations with their Council, a local group in Blairgowrie have been gobsmacked to learn that the only thing that really matters is the Council’s bottom line.
Position Statement from the Ericht Trust Board
It is now three months since the Ericht Trust was informed through our lawyer that we were not the preferred bidder for the Old Hill Primary Site in Blairgowrie. Since then the Trust has met on several occasions to consider its position.
To bring you up to date, the site has been offered to Corryard, a developer from Crieff. It is their intention to convert the 3 buildings into residential properties. They are currently surveying the buildings.
Since November Hamilton Scott, who owns the Blairgowrie Printers, has had to consider how to deal with a listed building and valuable print machinery. He is currently in discussion with the Conservation Officer from the Perth and Kinross Council and officers from Historic Environment Scotland to find a solution. They all viewed moving the Blairgowrie Printers to the Old School as the ideal solution but that is no longer an option.
The Ericht Trust has been approached on several occasions in the last few weeks about possible alternative sites in the town for our development. We have investigated all of these but to date consider none would be suitable.
The Ericht Trust has spent over £60,000 in developing plans for the Old Hill Primary site all of which was raised through grants or donations. We have carried out a full Building Condition Survey, a Bat Survey, a Topographical Survey, a Structural Survey, Mechanical and Engineering Survey, a Measured Survey, Slater’s Roof Survey, a Valuation Survey and an Asbestos Survey. An architect was commissioned to produce detailed drawings, a quantity surveyor produced a full costing plan. Acoustic and Fire Engineers were consulted and a Cinema Consultant was engaged. A business consultant provided a full breakdown of profit and loss over an initial 5-year period and extensive constructive consultations were undertaken with PKC Planning Department and Historic Environment Scotland. In the last 6 months we have employed a funding director, a heritage consultant and a catering consultant. All of these reports would have been used to make the lottery application for development costs had we been the preferred bidder. We also had in place the offer of a grant from SSE to buy the building.
To transfer all of this work to another site is not possible. To split it between a number of sites would not be financially viable. The plans worked because the commercial aspects of the development supported the museum and the print works which would not have been profitable in isolation. In considering another site, the Trust would have to commission much of this work again and having received grants for the initial investigations it is unlikely that the various bodies would award a further grant for basically the same work.
Perth and Kinross Council wrote to our lawyer in November informing him that Corryard was the preferred bidder, but if they failed to proceed within a reasonable timescale, the Ericht Trust would be approached again. No detail of any timescale was given but this will not be an option for the Trust as the offer of the grant to buy the building will have lapsed and all the costs will need to be revised. The print works may also have been sold and the whole business plan would have to be reworked. The Trust would need to raise considerable funds to complete this work again.
We, as Trustees are extremely disappointed at the outcome after 4 years work especially as the Community Empowerment Bill, which received Royal Assent in 2015 makes it clear that the Government wish communities to become the dominant voice in local development. To quote “Community Bodies will have the right to buy, lease or manage land and buildings belonging to local authorities. There will be a presumption of agreement to requests unless there are reasonable grounds for refusal”
We do not think there were reasonable grounds to refuse the bid from the Ericht Trust and we should have been allowed to make the lottery bid. If that had failed the council would still have been in a position to sell the buildings for development. Much needed facilities have been lost to the town and are unlikely to be developed in the near future because PKC focus is entirely on developing more housing with no additional facilities. As the largest town in Perthshire, Blairgowrie is severely lacking any indoor attractions, which is what we were trying to provide. Entertainment and leisure facilities should be an integral part of a cohesive society if the town is to be more than a dormitory town.
Some members of the community would like an enquiry into the decision making process, others have talked of a judicial review.
The Ericht Trust would like our three locally elected representatives to establish how the bids were scored on the Criteria for Best Consideration and Best Value sheet, and give reasons why we did not succeed. Why was a community based project judged using a competitive process against a commercial bid? It is in the public interest that these decisions are made openly and transparently if we are to believe in a democratic government.
To date all this information has been denied to the Trust, the Press and the Community Council.