Council looking to offload 75 Edinburgh properties

Chesser House. Picture: Paul Parke

Chesser House. Picture: Paul Parke

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THE council is planning to hire a team of advisers on a multi-million-pound fee to streamline its property portfolio, saving around £50 million in the process.

Up to 75 properties are to be sold off by the authority in an effort to slash its annual running costs by 15 per cent over the next three years.

Westwood House

Westwood House

The council, which currently owns and occupies more than 500 properties around the Capital, has advertised for advisers to help it undertake the new strategy via the Official Journal of the European Union.

It is understood the contract could be worth up to £3m based on performance and budget savings achieved by the council.

But the recruitment drive has been blasted by critics who have labelled it “bizarre”.

Green finance spokesman Councillor Gavin Corbett revealed “surprise” at the plan, which could see a number of key buildings ring-fenced away from a sales or merger drive.

Springwell House

Springwell House

“As a member of finance committee which oversees property disposal, I would expect to get prior notice of any plan of this scale,” he said. “I’ll be asking why this appears to be have bypassed that process.

“I am fully behind efforts to make better use of assets that are lying idle or half-used. However, I also want to see the council being imaginative with surplus properties – rather than just flogging them off, I’d like to see us letting to gain an income, or using property to draw in investment. At best, assets could be used in partnership with community bodies.”

Real estate service firms CBRE, Jones Lang LaSalle and GVA have each advised the council on commercial property in the past and are thought to be forerunners for the contract, which has a May 6 closing date for applications.

Robert Oxley of TaxpayerScotland slammed the plans.

He said: “It’s bizarre that a council which must find significant savings is happily throwing so much taxpayers’ cash at external consultants. Outside help should only be required on large scale projects, and when it is brought in to find savings, fees should be based on money saved rather than doling out generous upfront payments.

“If council leaders and officers need so much help to save cash, Edinburgh residents will be left wondering why they are paying so much for them in the first place.”

A council spokeswoman said: “The council believes there are significant savings that can be achieved by rationalising our estate and making better use of the properties we own in the city.”

The council has to find £95m of savings in the next five years.

Hitlist of lesser landmarks

KEY buildings such as council HQ and City Chambers are to be kept but city landmarks such as Chesser House and Westwood House in Gorgie, the advice shop on South Bridge and 12 social work centres across the city are to be offloaded.

The lease on Chesser House expires in June 2014 and its sale could net an expected saving of £3.5 million every full year.

Meadowbank Stadium has been in limbo since a 2004 plan to sell off the site for housing – to help pay for a new stadium in Sighthill – fell through.