After £1m discount on lease, charity now wants council loan

A year after LibDem-controlled Sutton Council agreed to hand over a piece of public property at a generous £1 million discount to a charity of which LibDem MP Tom Brake is a trustee, and renovation work has yet to start on The Lodge in Carshalton.

Tom Brake: if his seat is split up, he may find it hard to remain an MP

LibDem Tom Brake: ‘preferential treatment’, say Sutton Tories

Now the trust getting the benefit of the juicy deal – EcoLocal – wants to go back to the Sutton Council to ask for a loan so that it can pay for its cut-price lease.

The 125-year lease on the landmark building by Carshalton ponds caused controversy this time last year when it emerged that two of the Sutton councillors who voted for the discount deal on the council-owned property also just happen to be members of  Brake’s own staff, something they failed to mention among the disclosures of interest before the decision was taken.

Brake, who represents Carshalton and Wallington, is the last LibDem MP in a London seat. He has no pecuniary interest in EcoLocal.

EcoLocal’s long-term lease for The Lodge was agreed by Sutton Council at just £600,000. But just weeks before agreeing that amount, Sutton Council had the building valued as being worth up to £1.7million. Since then, thanks to London’s rapidly rising property market, estimates put the value of The Lodge at £2million, at least.

EcoLocal wants to convert part of the building into nine flats. The prestigious address, surrounded by parkland and overlooking the picturesque Carshalton ponds, could see EcoLocal net a cool £4million from the sale of the flats.

But after 12 months, no work has been carried out on the site, with opposition Tories on Sutton Council accusing the LibDems of giving EcoLocal “preferential treatment”.

The Lodge: a former diocesan home, used as a children's home, it is valued at £1.7m. Brake's charity is getting it for £600,000

The Lodge: a former diocesan home, used as a children’s home, it is valued today at close to £2m. EcoLocal is getting it for £600,000

Trevor Lancefield, another director of EcoLocal, told the Sutton Guardian that the charity intends to apply to the council for development funding. “We are asking for a short-term loan for building works and to cover the initial purchase of the asset from Sutton Council. EcoLocal have a good chance of raising this loan, but it is not yet guaranteed.”

Lancefield told the local paper in July this year that “… our lawyers are finalising the technical legal requirements of all the parties involved, so that our application to the bank can be finalised. This has involved our lawyers talking to the local authority as well as the bank and ourselves – the process is detailed from a legal point of view. But no problems are anticipated”.

Tim Crowley, the leader of the Tory group on Sutton Council, said, “The decision to grant them the Lodge was made a year ago and at the strategy and resource committee meeting last week it was said that any organisation that takes over a building should be able to demonstrate how the immediate capital works and how it would be funded, but EcoLocal have not demonstrated that.

“It seems like one rule for one and another rule for another. I’m pretty annoyed about it and it seems EcoLocal have had preferential treatment.”


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2 Responses to After £1m discount on lease, charity now wants council loan

  1. Lewis White says:

    The proposals seem to be framed to generate enough income to cover the cost of maintaining the Lodge building , via the conversion of a section of the building to flats for leasehold ( ecolocal seek 999 year leases) and a few for rent. see website entry

    http://www.ecolocal.org.uk/project-detail.php?id=124

    The public will continue to get access to the section of the building retained by Ecolocal as their offices and work base.

    This to me seems likely to preserve more access for the public than the likely alternatives, which would seem to be selling off the whole Lodge to the private sector for conversion to offices or private residential.

    The location for this –in Sutton Ecology Centre– makes good sense, as long as the Ecology Centre remains. Presumably, children being taught in the Ecolocal proposed “Starw bale classroom” will be able to go out into the Ecology Centre to study nature.

    Oldi-ish buildings like this (character buildings, but not good enough to be Listed )are problematical, when it comes to finding appropriate new uses, particularly when owned by councils (ie by the public). Far too many such buildings have slipped into dereliction, which this building has so far avoided. There are derelict areas, nonetheless, in need of reconstruction.

    But above all, an old building needs a purpose. It begs the question– what new uses can a building like this be converted to, if Ecolocal were not in being?
    Offices- wedding venue– hotel– flats? Who would pay for the conversion? How would the building be kept open to the public? What would be viable long term?

    No doubt, a straight sale on the open market as a whole building suitable for conversion to flats would initially bring in more money to Sutton Council, but –if Freehold– would take the building out of the ownership of Sutton. It would also create a private enclave in the middle of a public open space area (the Ecology Centre), and it would exclude the public from the building itself.

    This proposal seems to be able to generate enough funding to restore and run the place.

    Of course, the whole of the building and the adjacent land (once its gardens, now the Ecology Centre) could be sold off, and even developed with many more buildings at intervals around the gardens as a”gated community” . That would make someone some serious money. But probably not the council, as this never seems to happen.

    I would urge “Inside Croydon” fellow readers to look at the proposals, and make up their own mind.

    While mentioning this area centred on Carshalton Ponds, it should be mentioned that Sutton are seeking to cut the funding available to the heritage service, cutting council officer posts, which will immediately affect the nearby Honeywood Museum’s future viability. Also, to consider the future of the adjacent “Old Rectory”–a beauty of a William and Mary building that would be very much at home in Colonial Virginia or New England, and The Grove– the quirky Victorian / Edwardian building on the slopes beyond the Eastern pond.. There is still a consultation on at the moment — could I encourage readers to look at the Friends of Honeywood website and send in any thoughts and comments about the future of these fantastic heritage gems to Sutton Council as quickly as possible. But we need to be quick.

    .

    • Think you’ve missed the point, Lewis.

      The objections, in the main, are not with what is proposed, but with why a local authority should favour a charity with such a a large financial discount for the transference of public property into private hands. And now, that charity is returning to the council to ask it to fund its development plans, too.

      If it is to finance the refurbishment work, the council could have taken on this project itself, and any proceeds from apartment sales used to avoid the other cuts in its heritage and arts services.

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