An SNP councillor at Glasgow City Council has claimed that the transfer of land to an arm’s length vehicle is fraught with risk and could see council taxpayers paying higher charges to use previously free or low-cost amenities.
He claims that it may also result in land being sold off at below true value in a depressed property market.
Nationalist councillor Grant Thoms says that the council faces a situation where private developers will purchase land cheaply in the current economic conditions and charge premiums for its use at a later date.
“I think under economic pressures some local authorities like Glasgow will look for a quick saving by offloading surplus property to the highest bidder without necessarily thinking through what is a sustainable approach to land and property use and then might regret either their inability to impose conditions on what land and property can be used for at a later date. I worry that key areas of land and property which can be used for regeneration could be lost to the private sector.
“City Property LLP is now I believe fully operational.
There is certainly a huge list of surplus property and land which is being transferred from the council to that arm’s length joint venture and it is very clear from the way officers have described this company that once property and land is transferred over, it can only be used for community use at a commercial rate which will be a major constraint for potential regeneration by housing associations, community groups and green space organisations who traditionally rely on low cost transfer of ownership in order to provide significant benefit to the council,” he says.
Currently listed properties include former schools such as Broomlea Primary School, St Julie’s Primary School and Newark Nursery .
City Property LLP says its aim is to “take a fresh and innovative approach to the disposal and management of all its properties”.
On its website, City Property LLP states: “City Property (Glasgow) LLP consists of an accomplished team of experienced professionals in key positions whose aim is to deliver a range of exciting property opportunities to the market. The company will strive to master and continually excel on the fundamental mechanics of property management and disposal. In carrying out this important role, City Property (Glasgow) LLP aims to provide the highest standards of professionalism, competence and integrity at all times.” Thoms says that despite being council-controlled, City Property LLP will have a legal obligation to put increasing revenue for the vehicle ahead of the needs of council taxpayers: “Once the council has made the transfer over although the City Property company is controlled by councillors they have a duty to protect the assets and interests of that limited liability partnership before the needs of the city.” A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: “We are seeking to maximise our income but that is not the same as increasing income. For example if a community group wanted to lease a bit of green space then we would treat every case on its own merits and look at the intended use and so on.
“We might come to an agreement with them. Say they wanted to clean up the land and improve it and make a contribution to the local community, we would see that as maximising the land rather than increasing the lease.” The spokesman added that groups with current leases for the use of public land would have them reviewed when the leases reached full term.