Leeds: Call to cut cash spent on empty civic buildings

Cash-strapped Leeds City Council has forked out £858,000 on empty buildings over the past three years.

The bulk of the money was spent on rates and the maintenance and security of buildings left empty while awaiting sale or for the council to find other uses for them.

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With the council seeking big savings in the face of government grant cuts, councillors are calling for the costs to be tackled.

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The issue of council buildings left vacant, in some cases for years, was highlighted by the controversy surrounding the former Royal Park Primary School - empty since it closed in 2004. Councillors have now agreed it can be transferred to a community group that wants to refurbish the building for community use.

Coun Ben Chastney (Lib Dem, Weetwood) told the council's central and corporate scrutiny board, said: "Royal Park illustrates the wider point about other buildings going through a similar pattern - they are allowed to stand empty for a long time and fall into disrepair."

When a council department no longer needs a building, it will be considered for re-use by the council.

If no other council departments needs it, the building will be listed with the property services section for disposal or demolition.

While vacant, it is the responsibility of the council's corporate property management team (CPM), which was formed three years ago.

Figures show that in 2008-09 418,000 was spent on looking after empty properties, 254,000 in 09-10 and 186,000 so far in the current financial year.

A report to the scrutiny board said the fall in costs illustrated the efforts CPM and the council's City Development Department were making to reduce the length of time buildings were left empty.

Board members said the former York Road baths and St Anne's Mills in Kirkstall were examples of buildings left empty for years.

Coun Pauleen Grahame, who chairs the board, said: "A lot of money is being thrown at empty buildings and nothing is being done with them."

PIC: James Hardisty

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