Sheffield Council made £36 million selling spaces to balance books

Sheffield Council made more than £36 million in four years selling places including schools, historic buildings, libraries and playing fields to help balance its books.

Thursday, 13th June 2019, 1:47 pm
Photo by Andrew Matthews

The figures were revealed in Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Out of 313 spaces sold in that timeframe, a former school site – King Ecgbert, in Dore – fetched the most amount of money, making over £6.3 million in 2016.

That same year, councils were given new powers allowing them to sell such spaces to help fill their coffers.

Map of all spaces sold by the council in the past four years

The following year, in 2017, Sheffield Council had a spike in the number of spots it sold, raising £4.8 million from 78 spaces.

Council officers insist ‘releasing vacant and unused land isn’t just about raising money’.

In one case the authority sold what it called an ‘outdated’ library in Woodseats to a local GP practice which helped develop a shared library and doctors’ surgery, which the council says led to a 50 per cent increase in people using the new facilities.

Edward Highfield, director of city growth, said in the last five years the council got rid of around 173 acres of land or associated buildings to build 3,000 new homes.

Coun Douglas Johnson outside the former Sheffield Coroner's Court.

He said: “It provides land for new homes and jobs for local people. Putting land to new uses also generates increased revenue for the council through business rates and council tax which the council needs to maintain service delivery.

“In all of these cases, the value to the local economy in terms of ongoing regeneration, jobs and well-being has far outweighed the sale price achieved and shows our commitment to getting the very best out of often redundant or unused land.”

But Douglas Johnson, City ward councillor, said it was an attempt by the authority to reduce its workload.

He said: “Obviously the council does sometimes have reason to sell off surplus properties but a lot of the time, it seems to be to get rid of responsibilities.

“And there have been really controversial sell-offs like Mount Pleasant in Sharrow and the threatened sale of Birley Spa Bath House.”

He said the sale of Mount Pleasant, in Sharrow, was a ‘particularly disappointing one’. A community group put forward a business plan for the building but was refused in favour of a nursing home scheme.

Coun Johnson said: “It reinforced the idea that the council has a suspicion about the voluntary sector and community groups.”

In the case of Birley Spa Bath House, a 177-year-old Grade II-listed Victorian property, the council planned to sell it off with a guide price of up to £100,000, without consultation.

This sparked outrage in the community and a friends group was set up to fight to keep it in the public’s hands.

After some time the council decided to postpone the sale for further talks. The group successfully made the site an asset of community value, meaning members can now raise money and bid for it. Some other places have not been as successful.

Locality, a national charity, has helped campaigners in Sheffield save sites such as Greenhill Library which was nearly sold off to developers but was kept in the community’s hands. Now it is a thriving volunteer-run hub with a bigger library, farmer’s market and various clubs and events.

Tony Armstrong, CEO of Locality, said: “While we sympathise with councils, like Sheffield, who due to central government cuts are under huge financial pressure, when we look at plugging budget holes, once these places are sold they are lost forever. It’s a short term way of thinking that does not see the long term impact.

“Part of the problem is that most councils don’t have any policies in place to think about alternatives to selling off our buildings to the highest private bidder.

“It’s not surprising that people feel increasingly isolated if there is nowhere for people to physically get together. This is why buildings, like Greenhill community library are essential, as well as for the education and aspiration they offer.

“By mobilising the power of community and creating opportunity for community ownership not only can we save these valuable places, but we can create and maintain community spirit – vital for a successful society.”

Nick Roscoe, of Hallamshire Historic Buildings, said such places were important to social wellbeing.

He said: “Clearly these are hard times for local authorities. We need to be careful that important heritage assets, which are valuable to the community, are not lost in the process.

“Selling assets off helps solve funding problems in the short term, but in the long term we can end up worse off.

“Heritage assets, like our parks, trees and surrounding countryside, all contribute directly to a feeling of social wellbeing for very many people.”

TOP PRICED SALES OF THE PAST FOUR YEARS:

King Ecgbert School (Site Of Former), Furniss Avenue. SALE PRICE £6,328,171. SOLD TO Bellway Homes. DATE OF DISPOSAL 27/01/2016. DISPOSAL TYPE. Freehold Sale.

NAME MOSSDALE AVENUE & WESTFIELD CAMPUS – LAND AT. SALE PRICE £5,539,290. SOLD TO Miller Homes. DATE OF DISPOSAL 04/08/2016. DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME MATTHEWS LANE – FORMER TALBOT AND OAKES PARK SCHOOLS SALE PRICE £3,002,727 SOLD TO Miller Homes DATE OF DISPOSAL29/03/2016 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME Drakehouse Way SALE PRICE £2,964,439 SOLD TO CPG DATE OF DISPOSAL 06/07/2016 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME Bannerdale Leasehold Interest Disposal SALE PRICE £2,325,000 SOLD TO Barratt David Wilson DATE OF DISPOSAL 29/05/2018 DISPOSAL TYPE Leasehold sale.

NAME Carbrook Offices, Carbrook Hall Road SALE PRICE£2,000,000 SOLD TO Alba Investments DATE OF DISPOSAL 08/07/2016 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME Beighton Road, Woodhouse SALE PRICE £1,037,315 SOLD TO Persimmon DATE OF DISPOSAL 07/04/2017 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME MANOR SITE 8, FRETSON RD/QUEEN MARY RD SALE PRICE £931,000 SOLD TO Gleesons DATE OF DISPOSAL 15/08/2016DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME DAVID LANE, MAYFIELD – ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES CENTRE SALE PRICE £751,000 SOLD TOMR & MRS PRINCE DATE OF DISPOSAL16/04/2015 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME Rockingham Street/Newcastle Street SALE PRICE £750,000 SOLD TO Rockingham Street Student Limited DATE OF DISPOSAL 14/02/2017 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Reversion Sale.

NAME HASTINGS ROAD – ABBEYDALE GRANGE SCHOOL SALE PRICE £740,790 SOLD TO Avant Homes DATE OF DISPOSAL 17/06/2016 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME HALIFAX ROAD & CHAUCER ROAD SALE PRICE £550,000 SOLD TO Marstons Brewery DATE OF DISPOSAL 08/05/2017 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME HALLAMGATE ROAD 16 – HALLAMGATE DAY CENTRE SALE PRICE £525,000 SOLD TO Ciro Cantrello DATE OF DISPOSAL 16/06/2016 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME DAISY WALK, BROWNELL STREET, WELL MEADOW DRIVE (WESTGATE PHASE 1) SALE PRICE £425,000 SOLD TO Panacea Property Development DATE OF DISPOSAL 26/06/2015 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Reversion Sale.

NAME UPPER HANOVER STREET 171 – LAND R/O SALE PRICE £400,000 SOLD TO B M Development Services DATE OF DISPOSAL 28/02/2018 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME SPITAL HILL 35 – (FORUM HOUSE) SALE PRICE £400,000 SOLD TO Etl Properties Ltd DATE OF DISPOSAL 07/07/2016 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME BRIERLEY FIELDS – 42 ABBEY BROOK DRIVE SALE PRICE £385,000 SOLD TO Brierley Field Ltd DATE OF DISPOSAL 15/11/2016 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME Wordsworth Avenue And Deerlands Avenue (Opposite Asda) SALE PRICE £350,000 SOLD TO Farm Foods DATE OF DISPOSAL 15/08/2016 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME OLYMPIC LEGACY PARK – ADVANCED WELLBEING RESEARCH CENTRE SALE PRICE £275,000 SOLD TO Sheffield Hallam University DATE OF DISPOSAL 16/02/2018 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.

NAME SPRINGVALE ROAD 140 SALE PRICE £260,000 SOLD TO Young Womens Housing Group DATE OF DISPOSAL 31/03/2017 DISPOSAL TYPE Freehold Sale.