Slow progress to sell coucil properties

A local councillor has criticised the length of time it takes the council to get surplus to requirements properties marketed.

After a policy of property rationalisation to cut costs was agreed in 2013, vacated council-owned properties such as Newton Stewart’s Community Centre and Brewery House are still not up for sale.

After Wednesday’s Area Committee meeting when elected members were given an update by council officials on the costs and savings linked to property rationalisation, Mid Galloway Councillor Graham Nicol said: “This was supposed to be revenue budget savings some time ago and obviously because of the slow process of closing and disposing of these properties it is impossible to achieve these savings within the timescales indicated by council officers at the time.

“This is proving to be frustrating for members who approved the savings some time ago with the best of intentions.”

Newton stewart groups who previously used the community centre had been using the old dining hall at the Douglas Ewart but this is to be demolished and a new facility built.

The Old Town Hall in Newton Stewart’s Victoria Street will see £25,000 spent on improving the outside of the building after £8,752 was spent on the inside to move two staff from the McMillan Hall into offices space there.

In Stranraer, the cost to the council of moving social work services staff out of offices in George Street and into Ashwood House stands at £159,000 with an approximate annual saving of £84,100.

At Ashwood House, alterations to the reception and the car park have cost £120,000 and a further £350,000 is due to be spent on the building in the next three years to upgrade heating infrastructure and the building fabric and to move more staff from offices in Ailsa House and Lewis Street.

These financial revelations prompted Wigtown West councillor Grahame Forster to comment: “I think it’s crazy to spend half a million to save £100,000.”

Councillor also questioned the logic behind changing the reception area at Ashwood House when it had been modernised 15 years ago.

Mid Galloway councillor Alistair Geddes was critical of new design of the reception area as the two time lock doors took to so long to close “all the heat has dissipated out of reception before I had finished sighing the resister”, he raged, while Councillor Roberta Tuckfield called the costs involved “extortionate.”

During the last three years the local authority has saved approximately £215,191 through property rationalisation. The release of these properties has realised £70,000 in capital receipts with two further properties to be sold. Further rationalisations are planned which will release approximately £36,400 annual revenue savings, and, if the properties are disposed of, avoid the council having to pay out money to maintain them.

Four properties, Ashwood House, Stranraer Library, Aird Building and the Old Town Hall in Newton Stewart, have all benefited from capital investment of £275,000 to ensure they are sustainable and suit the council’s needs.

Lewis Street and Milton House in Stranraer are potential office locations for the “Big Noise / Sistema” projects, an orchestra programme that aims to use music making to foster confidence, teamwork, pride and aspiration in children taking part, run by the charity Sistema Scotland, should the council progress with the idea.