End of cheap council rents could hit charities

Gorgie City Farm currently survives because market rate rent is not charged for its premises. Picture: Neil Hanna

Gorgie City Farm currently survives because market rate rent is not charged for its premises. Picture: Neil Hanna

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CHARITIES and community groups paying “peppercorn rent” for council-owned properties fear being forced out of the areas they were set up to help if forced to pay full price.

A proposal to be discussed by the council tomorrow would see the policy of leasing council land and buildings at less than market value ended, in a bid to shore up council finances.

It would be a huge change to the current policy allowing organisations whose aims or agendas are in keeping with the Council’s own to lease well-positioned properties for a nominal or greatly reduced fee.

A huge range of organisations, from youth centres andsports clubs to community outreach programmes, charities, trusts, galleries, museums and even beloved institutions such as Gorgie City Farm could see rents skyrocket.

Ross Mackenzie, General Manager at Gorgie City Farm, said: “It would make things very difficult. Should Gorgie City Farm be asked to pay full rent we would need to apply for support of this kind or face closure. However, it does look like the council are trying to find ways to continue to offer support should concessionary rents end, for example by increasing funding to make up the difference.”

It is understood that exceptions to the new policy could be made at the discretion of the Finance and Resources Committee, or the full council.

Charities or organisations unable to meet rent payments would also have the option to apply for extra funding – but with many charities already facing significant cuts in council funding it is unclear how many organisations could be supported this way.

The Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations’ Council is helping with consultation over the proposals. EVOC Director Ella Simpson said: “The changes could impact organisations who have historically used council property to deliver services to the community, but these impacts will differ depending on individual business models.”

In December 2010 Glasgow City Council voted to remove concessionary rents from commercial properties for Third Sector organisations, the first council in Scotland to do so.

“The changes hit roughly 200 charities operating within the city, and caused tensions between the council and business owners, who claimed it has led to property in prime locations being left vacant.

An Edinburgh Council spokesperson said: “Committee members will discuss proposals to adopt a policy of acknowledging concessionary lets are in fact a grant from the Council when dealing with new leases of land and to review existing concessionary lets to bring them in line with the policy, subject to criteria.

“Following the committee feedback, relevant organisations will be invited, in association with Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations’ Council, to comment before a report is brought back to the Finance and Resources Committee in the spring.”