CROYDON IN CRISIS: Four public-owned properties, not mentioned in the council’s original disposals list, are now being sold off as the Town Hall gets itself out of the hotels business. By PEARL LEE, our south of the borough correspondent
The cash-strapped council’s fire sale continues, with a former primary school, garages, a scout hut and a hotel and golf course among the latest public assets that are being flogged off to try to plug the gaping holes in the Town Hall finances caused by Tony Newman and his numpties.
Included on the same council report as the controversial plan to lease Heathfield House to a special needs school, last week’s cabinet meeting also rubber-stamped proposals for the sale of the former CALAT adult education centre in Coulsdon, as well as a garage site on Windmill Road (both had been sites earmarked for development by Brick by Brick) and the vacated scout hut on Peppermint Walk.
None of these properties were included in the original listing of sites for disposal published by the council in February. The council lacks the cash to maintain or repair some of the more run-down buildings.
The sale of the CALAT site admits, officially for the first time in four years, the abject failure of Brick by Brick to pull together the development of three sites in Coulsdon, where residents were promised a new health centre and community centre in return for building dozens more flats.
Under the dire circumstances that the Town Hall’s Labour administration created, the sale of under-used or surplus assets might seem a reasonable course to take. And unlike the sweetheart deal to sell Brick by Brick at a discount of around £100million to one “preferential bidder”, the government inspectors overseeing the council’s business have this time not stepped in to block any of the deals.
Even so, none of the four sites, according to the council’s own report, have “been subject to marketing as it is considered that all are subject to ‘special purchaser’ criteria that demonstrates either an uplift in value on likely market values or significant benefits to the council/local area in addition to achieving best consideration”.
Of course, the council being the council, none of the terms agreed on these potentially multi-million-pound property deals have been divulged to the public.
The council report, which was drafted by Sarah Hayward, as the interim director of Place, claims that “all assets have been valued by an external valuer as part of the disposal process and the terms agreed have been approved by the head of asset management before being put through the formal governance process”.
The cabinet report also sees the council firmly exiting the hotel business.
Councils in Croydon had owned local hotels long before the dodgy deal that discredited former council leader Tony Newman helped to push through for the purchase of the Croydon Park Hotel.
In fact, the Coulsdon and Purley Urban District Council bought the grand country house that was known then as Coulsdon Court in 1937. The accompanying golf course, which was opened as a private club in 1926, has been a public golf course for the last 84 years and, importantly, the sale deal agreed by the council this week includes a condition that that status remains.
Bespoke Hotels have operated the re-styled Coulsdon Manor Hotel and golf course for the past 21 years, and it was they who approached Croydon Council to take the property off their hands.
Coulsdon Manor and the surrounding 140 acres, once the home of the Byron family, is on the Local List of Historic Parks and Gardens.
Coulsdon Court Woods form part of a Site of Nature Conservation Importance, and the entire site is in the Metropolitan Green Belt. But the house is not listed.
The golf course is currently let under the terms of a 125-year lease, with 103 years remaining.
The hotel operators paid an initial premium of £150,000 in 1999, when taking on the business, and according to the council report they have paid a seemingly modest annual rental of around £19,000, “based upon a percentage of the turnover income”.
The council says that the 42-room hotel, with its function rooms and restaurant “is let on a separate lease of a similar length with 103 years remaining but is on a peppercorn rent. An initial premium of £600,000 was paid in 1999 for the lease”.
The terms of the sale to Bespoke Hotels have been kept secret by the council.
This is not the first time that Croydon Council has sold off a golf course: in 2014, the sale of the Addington Palace golf club was one of the first secretive property deals carried out by Simon Hall, the finance chief in Newman’s cabinet. The price paid for that valuable piece of Green Belt real estate has never been released, and so the public have been denied an opportunity to assess whether it represented best value.
The sale of the Coulsdon Manor is different, at least because it is to remain a public course, open to anyone to use after paying a daily greens fee. Most golf clubs require players to stump up thousands of pounds in annual membership, making them a bastion for the rich and privileged. As a public course, therefore, Coulsdon Manor is a rarity in what used to be known as the Surrey Stockbroker Belt.
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