Council told to sell off more of its family silver

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CALDERDALE Council has been told that it must publish a list of land buildings which could be sold to avoid cutting services.

The government coalition has produced a map showing property belonging to the council and the health authority in a bid to start the ball rolling.

But it has lost some credibility by mainly featuring schools and even the privately owned Spire Hospital, in Elland.

Between 2000 and 2010, when the council was administered by Conservative councillors, millions of pounds worth of land and buildings were sold – £6.7 million in 2004, £5.3 million in 2005 and £3.5 million in 2006.

The 2007 banking collapse and recession in 2008/9 slowed the process but more recently the Lib-Lab administration has presided over the sale of buildings such as Brighouse Town Hall and Stainland Mechanics Institute.

It is now marketing the former Brighouse swimming pool and has transferred Hebden Bridge Council Offices to a community group for management, with similar proposals in the pipeline.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has urged all councils to take a “good hard look” at their assets.

“People probably have no idea of the sheer scale and scope of property and land on the public sector’s books. In many cases it goes way beyond traditional front line services.

“I want the public sector to take a good hard look at what they own. By cataloguing each and every asset councils can help government find innovative new ways to utilise them, improve local services, keep council running costs down and save taxpayers’ money.”

Calderdale’s asset management plan shows that it owns more than 1,000 operational sites, including schools and libraries, offices, museums, sports centres, swimming pools, car parks, community centres, shops and depots which are together valued at £390 million.

As long ago as 1996, it produced a list of almost 100 sites which could be sold, including Halifax Borough market, which had a price tag of £12.5 million and Cow Green multi-storey car park which was valued at £450,000.