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Fears raised over £10m sell off of Norfolk County Council land and buildings

PUBLISHED: 17:05 09 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:05 09 October 2018

The Elm Road Centre in Thetford. Pic: Archant Library.

The Elm Road Centre in Thetford. Pic: Archant Library.

Archant

Fears have been raised that Norfolk is in danger of “selling off the family silver” as County Hall gets ready to step up disposal of council property.

James Kearns, who founded The Kearns Foundation. Picture: ANTONY KELLYJames Kearns, who founded The Kearns Foundation. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Fears have been raised that Norfolk is in danger of “selling off the family silver” as County Hall gets ready to step up disposal of council property.

As it looks to plug a multi-million pound spending gap, Norfolk County Council is looking to save £10m by selling its assets.

Finance director Simon George said officers were working up exactly what could be sold.

He said the council, on average, disposed of £4.5m of property each year.

Neighbour Colin Mason at the land off Gimingham Road, Trimingham, which could be sold. Picture: David BaleNeighbour Colin Mason at the land off Gimingham Road, Trimingham, which could be sold. Picture: David Bale

He said: “For us to bring forward that £10m, we will have to look at our list of assets and identify some chunkier ones to bring forward.”

But Labour’s Colleen Walker told a meeting of the council’s business and property committee: “I do worry about selling the family silver. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Conservative chairman Barry Stone said officers would always look at other options to generate revenue before suggesting disposal.

Meanwhile, as part of the current programme of disposing of assets, councillors agreed to put acres more land up for sale.

Norfolk county councillor Colleen Walker.
 PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAYNorfolk county councillor Colleen Walker. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Among land which councillors agreed could be sold at auction is a 3.7 acre campsite at Trimingham in north Norfolk, which was once used by children’s services.

Swallowtails Glamping in Holt won a tender for the site – which sparked concern about traffic among people living nearby. But that offer has been withdrawn.

The council has received approaches from the local community around acquiring the site, but committee members agreed that, if no acceptable offer is received, the site will be auctioned off after next February.

The site is also home to the Kearns Foundation, a volunteer-run charity for young people, whose camping sites are used by more than 200 young people every year.

At today’s meeting, James Kearns, founder and trustee, said the disposal could “potentially have a number of negative impacts on young people in Norfolk and on the Kearns Foundation charity in particular.”

Committee chairman Mr Stone said: “By disposing of this land there is no intended impact on young people currently receiving a service from this tenant as it does not impact on the terms of the current lease.”

He said any freehold sale would be subject to the lease to the charity, which has about 22 years to run, with tenant only breaks.

Mr Kearns said there was a restrictive covenant on the site’s use, but officers said their searches had not found evidence of such a covenant.

Just under two acres of land at Jeffery Close, in King’s Lynn, will also be sold, along with land next to Burlingham Barn in North Burlingham.

But a former school in Thetford has been given a reprieve from being sold just yet.

At a meeting last month the council agreed that the Elm Road centre should be disposed of.

However, Thetford Town Council applied to register it as an asset of community value, to give local people the chance to try to take it on.

Roy Brame, Conservative councillor for Thetford East, said a postponement on sale until the end of the year would give an opportunity for the community to put forward business plans.

He said: “What this has done in Thetford has been brilliant.

“The community has really got behind it and have come up with all sorts of ideas.”

The committee also agreed to a 25-year lease with Norwich City Council for the Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

While the city owns the castle site, the museum service itself is jointly-run with the county.

And, under the terms of the recent £9.2m award to revamp the castle’s keep, lottery bosses need there to be a lease in place.

It would not change the current financial or operational responsibilities for the castle.

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