They plan to sell off assets at what might be the ‘worst time’ while the property market has dipped to its lowest for years, says Liberal Democrat county councillor Alan Connett.
The county council Cabinet was due to meet yesterday to give the green light to a plan to sell off the first six properties.
Among those listed for sale is Exeter’s Larkbeare House, the former judges’ lodgings on Topsham Road, along with other properties including the Ivybank office in St David’s Hill and Compass House in Magdalen Road, used for mental health support work. In Barnstaple, the St George’s Road Youth Centre and an industrial unit in the town will be handed to agents to sell for the cash-strapped county council.
‘Instead of taking action when these properties could have fetched a much better price, the Conservatives have dithered and now ordered a fire-sale of assets - just when the market is at its lowest for years,’ said Cllr Connett.
Also included in the fire sale is a prime piece of Exeter real estate - land at County Hall on which old offices were recently demolished. The county council says the land has potential for residential use.
‘Here again, questions need to be asked about whether the council intends the land is used for luxury houses and apartments or much needed affordable homes for health and care workers,’ he added.
He continued: ‘It seems only the Conservatives didn’t know the property market has crashed and it’s now that Devon County Council is deciding to flog off assets. This could have been done several years ago and possibly achieved a much better price for council tax payers.’
Councillors will hear that the county council owns, leases or occupies more than 1,000 assets in the county including around 300 ‘operational buildings’ including offices, Children’s Centres, libraries, an industrial estate and 64 farms in Devon.
Since the pandemic, the number of staff returning to work in the council’s offices has increased but they are still only occupied at around 20% to 30% each day, meaning that about 70per cent of offices are empty every day, added Cllr Connett.
‘The Conservatives once prided themselves on being able to run the county council now they seem to be running it into the ground.
‘They’re being forced into this fire sale of buildings and land by their own incompetence and failing to keep control of the budget. For example, the council is predicting a total £160million deficit on special educational need services this year and it needs around £167 million to fix Devon’s roads, continued Cllr Connett.