Council sells Grimsby's iconic Salvation Army building for 'just £225,000'
GRIMSBY'S old Salvation Army building has been privately sold by North East Lincolnshire Council – for £225,000.
It has been claimed that the authority has sold the iconic building on Brighowgate for £225,000 to a private buyer – less than the price of a four-bedroom house on Scartho Top – without consulting councillors or advertising.
It was bought by Adrian Smith, the director of the company that bought the former Thrunscoe Infants' School site on Highgate, Cleethorpes – which also wasn't advertised – for £516,000.
Both sites are now owned by separate developers; the Grimsby site is set to become a house of multiple occupancy, while a plan to build 35 homes on the site in Cleethorpes has been announced.
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The council's strategic partner Balfour Beatty, which arranged the sale of the former Salvation Army hostel in June, was originally sent plans to convert the landmark into student accommodation.
Now, the developer has said it will be used for single rooms, with a number of shared facilities.
And it has emerged that NELC recently had to "take legal action" to remove people living in the dilapidated Grade II listed property, which is not yet licensed for residential use.
Jason Longhurst, head of development at the council, said: "The developers were advised in July that various consents and approvals would be needed before the rooms could be residentially let.
"Despite this, the council became aware that some rooms were being occupied by tenants and legal action has been taken to prevent residential use until a resolution can be agreed." The building's new owner, Laurie Gillan, claims that only security guards had been living on the site. Assistant Paul Stevens claimed they were now working with the council to resolve any issues.
Mr Stevens said: "We had a lengthily meeting with the council and they were in the dark about our plans before, but now we are working together to eliminate any issues.
"Security guards were living in the property but have been moved out, although the council will be happy for residents to move in once fire hazards have been removed."
The way in which the sale was handled has prompted calls for "more transparency".
Councillor Andrew De Freitas said: "I agree with the council's policy to dispose of assets but this is not the proper way to do it.
"Council assets of this sort should be put out to tender so that the process is transparent and we can ensure the best price possible."
Councillor Christina McGilligan-Fell, who was told about the sale by a neighbour, said: "If we, as councillors, are not informed then the council and Balfour Beatty cannot claim to be open and transparent.
"Having to be told about this sale by a neighbour is simply not good enough. In such circumstances, how can we be expected to carry out our duties?"
Both councillors feel the building is worth more than the £225,000 it was sold for, however, the council insist that councillors would have been informed if it was sold for less than market value.
As reported, NELC is making headway in disposing of surplus assets so money can be used elsewhere.
Staff have already been moved out of five buildings as part of a plan to save £1 million a year through the Agile Working project, which was set up to reduce the number of buildings NELC occupies from 20 to four or five.
When staff eventually vacate those premises, property worth up to £3,941,500 could go on the market.
Angie Ridgwell, chief finance officer at NELC, said: "It is the council's current policy to sell off surplus land and property.
"The council always seeks to achieve best consideration on disposal of an asset and gets a valuation report.
"All properties for disposal are agreed in principle by Cabinet and only referred back to Cabinet if a less-than-market value disposal is considered. None of the buildings marketed recently have fallen into this category."
Lawrence Brown, a commercial property valuer and partner with Scotts, expressed doubt that the property was undervalued.
"Our firm was not involved in the sale so I could not accurately comment on the value of the site. However, there are some very able people at Balfour Beatty and some very stringent checking processes," he said.
"The value of a property depends on a number of factors. This a grade II-listed building, which complicates development.
"It is important to remember that the valuation must factor in a profit for the developer or there is no motivation to develop it."
Councillor Mick Burnett (Lab, Croft Baker) saw no problem with the sale of the Thrunscoe site, which sits in his ward.
"As long as the council gets the best deal for the property then I am happy. I have no problem with the way the sale was conducted."
As reported, Snape Properties has announced plans to build 35 homes there.
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