Leeds community groups ‘must have first dibs on any asset sell-off’

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ANY sell off of Leeds’s taxpayer-owned buildings and land should offer first dibs to community groups who could be interested in taking them over, senior councillors have said.

The call came after the YEP reported almost £100m worth of Leeds City Council’s property portfolio is to be sold off in the next five years as the authority bids to claw back the gap left by big Government funding cuts.

The council 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 also saved £6.5m on the upkeep of the assets it has sold.

Councillor Andrew Carter, leader of the main opposition Conservative group, said: “The risk is that buildings valued by local people could get swallowed up by central efficiency targets. Providing the opportunity for community asset transfer, where appropriate, will be a key part of making the strategy work. Thorough consultation is vital if the council is to avoid making cuts that end up having a detrimental effect on local communities.”

Coun Stewart Golton, Lib Dem group leader, added: “Local communities should have a real say in their future. We should be considering asset transfers to local community groups and voluntary enterprises where possible, or using the land to build new community facilities such as schools or housing.”

Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Huge financial pressure means the council simply can’t afford to hold on to all of its buildings or provide services in the way it has done until now which has forced us to look at a number of different alternatives for what are significant and valuable assets for the city.

“Community Asset Transfer is one way for local people or voluntary groups to step in and take charge of buildings so that they continue to benefit the community. As the example of Bramley Baths shows, these innovative arrangements have the potential to really make the most of the talent, drive and determination of residents and voluntary groups.

“I would encourage any local group interested in community asset transfer to come and talk to the council about their ideas.

“But when making any decisions about the future of any council-owned assets, we also have a duty to find the solution which provides the best value for money for the people of Leeds.”