Edinburgh Council has cashed in £68m from selling off buildings and assets in last five years

Officials have warned that all the "low hanging fruit" has gone amid 114 buildings and assets being sold off by the council.

Friday, 10th January 2020, 6:00 am
Lothian Chambers, Leith Waterworld and public toilets have been sold off by Edinburgh Council

Fears have been raised over council chiefs having a “trigger happy approach” to selling off public buildings – with more than £68m cashed in from dozens of assets over a five-year period.

Edinburgh City Council has generated £68.5m since 2014 by selling off buildings and land that the authority owns – with some of the cash reinvested into new facilities. But last year, the council’s head of property and facilities management, Peter Watton, warned councillors that all the “low hanging fruit” had gone amid concerns the authority was “selling off the furniture”.

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The Leith Waterworld swimming pool

Included in the 114-strong list of assets sold off are schools, care homes, plots of land and public toilets. The most extensive asset to be sold off was Lutton Court for £6.3m to Crosslane in December 2015 while a plot at the Fountainbridge regeneration site was transferred to Vastint in March 2019 for £5.5m.

Public toilets at Canonmills, Royal Terrace and on Gorgie Road have also been sold off – while Tower Care Home, the Bonnington Resource Centre were disposed of. Part of the Central Library on the corner of Cowgate and Victoria Street was handed over to Jansons at a cost of £3.5m and Lothian Chambers, now the French Institute for Scotland, was sold for £2.9m in December 2017.

Land at the former Forrester’s and St Augustine's high schools at South Gyle Wynd was sold to Persimmon in three chunks – for £2.9m in December 2014, £2.9m in December 2015 and £3.5m in June 2016.

Leith Waterworld was also sold by the council to A&G Properties in two chunks of £1m in September 2014 and then £850,00 in January 2016. Te popular Easter Road swimming pool, which opened in 1992 with a £14m price-tag is now a children’s soft play venue, despite a campaign to save the pool from closure.

Cllr Alasdair Rankin, the council’s finance and resources convener, said: “We’ve sold a wide variety of properties and land for a number of reasons. Some include schools which have been replaced and other buildings which we no longer need to deliver our services and are therefore surplus to requirements. The funds received are then reinvested in our new properties.

“The rationalisation of our buildings is a key part of changing how we manage our estate to make sure that all of our building are fit for current operational and future needs. Making best use of our property portfolio forms a key part of this long-term change programme.”

Last year, the council was criticised after planning permission was granted to turn part of City Chambers on the High Street into holiday accommodation – with the council agreeing a long-term lease with Lateral City Limited.

Opposition councillors have urged that going forward, the council should attempt to keep ownership of any buildings and assets it no longer needs.

Green finance spokesperson, Cllr Gavin Corbett, said: “A big part of how the council funds investment in new or improved facilities is selling land and buildings and, at times that can make sense if, for example, the land can be better used by a housing association. However, I’ve said for a number of years that I’m alarmed at the sheer scale of sales.

“Ownership of land is one of the few really big levers the council has to shape the city and I’d like to see far more use of long leases and joint ventures rather than outright sale, so that the council retains more control.

“I don’t want to see future councillors in 20 years time lamenting a trigger-happy approach to sales at the present time.”