Decision due on Hammersmith asset sales

LB Hammersmith & Fulham’s Cabinet will decide on 7 February whether or not to sell nine council buildings in order to help pay off its £133 million historic debt and reduce the impact of the public sector funding squeeze on its frontline services. The council says debt costs it £5 million in interest per year.

The council carried out a consultation last autumn on the proposals and on the relocation of services and organisations affected, which has produced a report.

The report recommends that Cabinet:
• approve the sale of Fulham Town Hall, Palingswick House, the Distillery Lane centre, 58 Bulwer Street, Askham Centre and the Greswell centre;
• approve that leases on Cambridge House, Barclay House and 20 Hammersmith Broadway are not renewed;
• revoke the Cabinet decision of January 2009 to extend the lease of the Irish Cultural Centre so that it can be offered for sale to the sitting tenant – the Irish Cultural Centre Hammersmith Ltd.
• defer the decision on 50 Commonwealth Avenue pending the outcome of the Day Opportunities review and until an alternative site is agreed for the existing occupants.

A separate report recommends approval of the proposed sale of Sands End Community Centre.

Council Leader, Councillor Stephen Greenhalgh says: “If we do not sell these buildings, we will have to find £20million more from service budgets.”

The council now has 1,928 fewer staff than it did in 2006, so it needs less office space. This means Fulham Town Hall, Barclay House and Cambridge House are all surplus to the council’s needs. The council plans to reduce its workforce by a further 700 staff over the next three years, to make its overall footprint about half that which it was in 2006.

The main sites:

Irish Centre
The centre is managed by the Irish Cultural Centre, Hammersmith (ICCH) Ltd. It and Irish Support and Advice (which the council currently also helps fund) both have offices in the building. The council subsidises the centre by £137k a year which it can no longer afford to do and is encouraging it to move to self-sufficiency, along the lines of the nearby Polish Centre. Its lease on the building expires in March 2012 and the council is giving ICCH first right of refusal to buy the property which would be the council’s preferred option.

If ICCH are unable to raise the funds, the council would not be in a position to renew the lease and will offer the property for sale to other interested parties.

Sands End Community Centre
The centre has been under-used for many years and is expensive to run, says the Council. 75% of the 549 respondents in the consultation opposed the relocation of services away from Sands End. However, the council says given its budget position and preference to protect spending on frontline services rather than buildings, the Cabinet is recommended to approve the sale.

Fulham Town Hall
Fulham Town Hall is 40 per cent empty. The building also requires renovation. Council officers recommend that selling the site provides the most likely route to preserving the building and bringing it back to life. Fulham Town Hall could be part of a major regeneration plan for the town centre, says the report, bringing “new business and vitality to the heart of Fulham”.

Palingswick House
Palingswick House is recommended for sale because it could generate a significant capital receipt and bcause it needs £450k of maintenance works. The council has indicated that, if the decision is taken to sell Palingswick House, it would be interested in considering proposals from the West London Free School to buy the site.

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