Up to £30m of property will be sold-off by Bromley Council over the next two years, under new plans aimed at raising a funding strongbox to drive new housing projects across the borough.
It comes as concerns are raised about the lack of public detail surrounding one of their potential sales currently underway – that of the Chislehurst Library.
Members of the executive, resources and contracts scrutiny committee debated both matters at their September 10 meeting.
It saw them discuss the plan to raise £30m by selling off council-owned properties which would be deemed not to be “core to the council’s operations”.
Future reports on individual properties will go to either the executive or scrutiny and policy development committees, it was clarified, for scrutiny.
It’ll see the council budget for hiring staff to help with the sales on three or six-month short-term contracts “as and when they’re needed” according to council officers.
Cllr Simon Fawthrop, who chairs the committee, quipped he’d do the job “for a fiver” – but did raise concerns the council was “over egging” the initiative.
“(I hope we’re) not doing a fire sale thing – not doing things at the bottom of the market to meet a £30m target…that is not a good way to go about this type of sale in my view,” he said.
A council officer said reports would be prepared on properties owned by the authority and they’d only be sold if they weren’t generating income or were leaking cash – “if there isn’t the scale of activity, we roll back the costs”.
Portfolio holder for resources, commissioning and contract management, Graham Arthur, weighed in on what he described as the “complete revamping of the property department”.
He said the move would make the department “far more streamlined, far more commercial and far more independent” as well as driving forward affordable housing.
The council also discussed concerns surrounding the potential selling-off of Chislehurst Library.
The authority is set to pursue a plan to sell off the historic building to one of 16 developers who have vied for ownership of the site, with a redevelopment of the building including a new library and homes supported by the council.
Details of the development have been kept tightly under wraps by the council – until the last minute of a September 2 scrutiny meeting, where bare details surrounding the process and potential future use were revealed.
Clock House ward Cllr Ian Dunn raised the issue at the meeting saying the information revealed thus far included “nothing…in the interest of resident”.
“I just feel there is a bit of lack of open government here,” he said.
Fellow Labour councillor Angela Wilkins added the late decision to allow some conversation on the item on September 2 meant residents didn’t have the opportunity to ask questions about the proposal.
Cllr Dunn said the discussion also contained no “substantive information because if we say who the successful bidder is, you’re giving away something… if you say what the development is, you’re giving away something”.
Cllr Fawthrop agreed, saying the “point being made is that legitimately members of the public wouldn’t have an opportunity to get involved”.
He acknowledged “a process lapse”, with councillors agreeing on more details being subsequently posted in the meeting minutes.
The meeting also saw questions raised about transparency as a proposal to review temporary decision-making powers given to senior councillors in January was voted through – 10 months after they were ushered in.