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The great £209million Camden Council buildings sell-off, but no cash to save services

07:00 18 February 2016

The Camden Town Hall Extension was sold for nearly £60million. Picture: Danny Robinson

The Camden Town Hall Extension was sold for nearly £60million. Picture: Danny Robinson

Archant

Camden Council raked in nearly a quarter of a billion pounds from the sale of unwanted buildings last year – but its finance boss warned that it is still not enough to prevent cuts to services.

43 Carol Street garden, which was sold off for £2.4million in January 2015. Picture: Polly Hancock43 Carol Street garden, which was sold off for £2.4million in January 2015. Picture: Polly Hancock

The authority made more than £209million from 50 sales of council-owned property in the 2014/2015 financial year, a 1,000 per cent increase on what it banked the previous year.

But Cllr Theo Blackwell, cabinet member for finance, said it would be “bad economics” to use the money to plug its predicted £70m deficit and prevent cuts to frontline services, including libraries and youth services.

He explained: “We could only do it one time, to plug a gap which is growing every single year.

“That would just be putting off a difficult decision for another year.

Flask Cottages were sold for £1.4million in December 2014. Picture: Polly HancockFlask Cottages were sold for £1.4million in December 2014. Picture: Polly Hancock

“You wouldn’t do it in your own life. If you had a small amount of savings, and someone has told you to take a pay cut in your job, you wouldn’t then get the same amount of money by using up your savings, unless there was a really pressing reason.

“It wouldn’t make sense for a person, so it wouldn’t make sense for a council.”

Instead of plugging the deficit, the money made from building sales is reinvested into the council’s flagship Capital Investment Programme (CIP), which funds the creation and redevelopment of social housing, schools, and community facilities.

But Conservative councillor Claire-Louise Leyland, Camden’s leader of the opposition, said: “A lot of that £209m could have been available to us to adapt services and make more gradual changes.”

The land south of 3 Malden Road, in Kentish Town, which was sold for £2.3million in December 2014. Picture: Polly HancockThe land south of 3 Malden Road, in Kentish Town, which was sold for £2.3million in December 2014. Picture: Polly Hancock

She added: “As a local authority, I would hope we would use the opportunity to protect residents from these frontline cuts until we think things through.”

Between April 2013 and 2014, the council only completed 18 building sales, totalling just over £18.3m.

But the following year, this leapfrogged to 50 sales, with profits skyrocketing tenfold.

The most valuable sale was the Town Hall Extension in King’s Cross for £59.9m, when the council was in the process of moving its headquarters to 5 Pancras Square.

It was followed by the sale of social housing on the Netley development in Euston for £46.3m.

The council went on to redevelop the flats, creating 10 new council homes, and build an education campus, where Netley Primary School is now based.

Other big figure sales include former council office Bidborough House in King’s Cross to University College London (UCL) for £28.9m, and six lock-up garages in New End Square, Hampstead, for £1.4m.

The information was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and via public documents.

This year, the council is set to sell off far less, though it has already made £24.4m from sales between April and December 2015.

Explaining why there were so many more sales of council buildings to third parties in 2014/2015 than any other year, Cllr Blackwell said: “We got £60m for the Town Hall Extension and £28m for Bidborough House, so that pushed the figures up a little bit.

“When we started the CIP in 2010, we delayed the sale of some properties because we thought the housing market was going up, and we were right.

“So the sales in that year reflect that we wanted to maximise the amount of money we could reinvest.”

What price was paid?

- The Town Hall Extension (council offices): £59.9million, December 2014

- Netley Flats (social housing): £46.3million, August 2014

- Biborough House (council offices): £28.9million, October 2014

- Parker House (hostel): £24million, October 2015

- 79 Camden Road/98-100 St Pancras Way (council offices): £18.9million, October 2014

- Saffron Hill car park: £13million, March 2015

- The James Hartnoll Estate (social housing): £6million, March 2015

- Ingestre Road (social housing and community facilities): £4.5million

- 101 and 102 Camley Street (delivery depot and warehouse): £3.4million

- 43 Carol Street garden (community centre garden): £2.4million, January 2015

- Land south of 3 Malden (land): £2.3million, December 2014

- Flask Cottages (garages): £1.4million, December 2014

- Willingham garages: £1.4million, January 2015

- Grangefield garages and storage sheds: £1.4million, January 2015

- 2 Gayton Crescent (council flat): £1.2million, September 2014

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