LEEDS City Council may be selling off almost £100m worth of its property portfolio in the coming financially difficult years as it bids to claw back the gap left by big Government funding cuts.
A report just approved by the council’s cabinet says the authority has made a capital profit of £27m on surplus assets - such as land, unused buildings, etc- sold over the past three years and it aims to sell off £66m more in the next five years.
It has saved £6.5m on the upkeep and maintenance of the assets it has offloaded.
The council’s property portfolio, valued at around £8 billion, includes around 9,700 hectares of land, and 59,000 individual properties including council homes and schools.
It also includes the Town Hall, venues such as the Arena and community facilities, parks, offices, libraries and sports centres.
There is no suggestion that any major heritage assets or key buildings are being sold off as part of the new drive.
Councillor Richard Lewis, the council’s chief cabinet spokesman on the economy and development, said: “It is important to point out that this review is not just about reducing our assets for the sake of it.
“Due to significant government cuts we have fewer staff than a few years ago so there is now less need for office space.
“We are however always looking to reduce the costs of our most expensive assets.
“We need to dispose of assets we don’t need because part of that disposal can contribute to regeneration, both of city centre sites like the Victoria Gate development, or of parcels of brownfield land on existing housing estates to increase supply of housing.”
Despite the reassurances, there were words of warning for the Labour administration from senior opposition councillors.
Coun Stewart Golton, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Leeds City Council, said: “The council needs to be sure it’s not selling off the family silver.
“If we aren’t using, or getting a good return on our investment on buildings or land it makes sense to sell them, but local communities should have a real say in their future.
Councillor Andrew Carter, leader of the main opposition Conservative group, added: “With the budget challenges facing the city, it’s only right that we look to see if efficiencies can be made in the council’s vast land and property portfolio.
“The council still leaves far too many buildings empty, paying for security for the site instead of disposing of the asset.
“Buildings and land that are not fit for purpose and proving a burden on the public purse should be looked at very carefully to see if savings can be made.
“This is a preferable alternative to cutting frontline services.
“However, we would want to see each building and piece of land judged on its own merits. The risk is that buildings valued by local people could get swallowed up by central efficiency targets, resulting in poorer service delivery at a local level.
“Thorough consultation is vital if the council is to avoid making cuts that end up having a detrimental effect on local communities.”
A Leeds City Council spokeswoman said any sell-offs were part of “future ambitions to become a more efficient and enterprising council”.
“We need to look closely at our land and property portfolio to ensure we are using all our assets in the most effective way,” she said.
“To date we have already made budget savings of £6.5m through reviewing our assets, and need to find another £4.5million savings before 2017, as part of our contributions to overall council savings.
“Our plans aim to make best use of council property and to make current and future assets contribute to tackling the revenue challenges currently facing the council, including saving on running costs and maximising income from property holdings.”