Byrne Avenue Recreation Centre, Byrne Avenue, Rock Ferry
Decision Maker: Cabinet
Decision status: For Determination
Is Key decision?: Yes
Is subject to call in?: Yes
Councillor Chris Meaden left the meeting whilst this matter was under consideration.
A report by the Head of Universal and Infrastructure Services summarised the present position in respect of the Byrne Avenue Recreation Centre, sought authority to take possession of the building from the Byrne Avenue Community Trust, declare the property surplus to the Council’s requirements and progress with disposal of the property.
Ben Harrison of the Byrne Avenue Community Trust (BACT) was in attendance at the meeting and Councillor Phil Davies invited him to address the Cabinet. Mr Harrison relayed the history of the Recreation Centre and informed of the very interesting journey the Trust had embarked upon as it had campaigned to reopen the building, signed the lease in 2011 and struggled to find bodies, that were not already oversubscribed, that would provide grants to assist the project. The fact that the building was closed had meant that the Trust was not eligible for a lot of grants.
Mr Harrison informed that there had been set backs. The building had been broken in to and lead had been stolen from the roof. However, some progress had been made. A project manager had been recruited and some low level funding had been secured to make the building look more presentable.
The Director’s report informed that the BACT had been unsuccessful in securing funding to completely refurbish the building. Its proposal to carry out the work in two phases, using the Community Fund £350,000 for phase one, gave no assurances that the funds for phase two would be secured. In the absence of a Business Plan, any phased development would be difficult to support as Phase one would see the refurbishing of the pool which was commonly the loss-making activity in a Sports Centre and would need to be supported by more profitable dry activities.
The building could, therefore, remain partly refurbished indefinitely. The lease had been subject to the condition that BACT would secure all the funding within twelve months of signing the lease and the building would be completely refurbished, prior to opening. The deadline for securing the funding and submitting the business plan had been 10 February 2013 and, therefore, the lease had expired.
The Council’s Disposal Policy set out the procedure for the disposal of surplus assets. The sale could proceed on the open market with the existing building or a cleared site. It was noted that the sale of the existing building would remove all liability from the Council and there would be no delay in marketing the building. The market would determine whether the building was refurbished and reused or demolished and the site redeveloped. The risk was that, on disposal, the Council would have no further control over the building which could be left vacant and unused by the purchaser and, therefore, may become vandalised and detrimental to the surrounding area.
A sale of the cleared site would require the demolition of the building. Demolition costs, including a type three asbestos survey, were estimated at £160,000. There was no budget identified to meet this expenditure. This option would ensure the building was not left empty for a long period but would remove the possibility of the building being reutilised.
The Cabinet was informed that any delay in disposing of the building would result in additional empty property costs.
BACT now wanted to move forward in phases utilising the £350,000 from the Community Fund, drawing it down in tranches. Mr Harrison told the Cabinet that there was match funding secured. Scottish Power would provide £20,000 and an anonymous business man had come forward and offered to donate £300,000 and would also make up any shortfall. Mr Harrison considered that this presented a golden opportunity to preserve a historic building, to create up to twenty new jobs and provide a good sporting and community facility.
The Assistant Chief Executive was in attendance at the meeting and Councillor Phil Davies invited him to respond to Mr Harrison. He informed that the Council had given Byrne Avenue Recreation Centre careful consideration and was aware of its importance to local people. People had been trying to make the building work since 1995. It was a surplus asset to the Council. There was generous pool provision in the Borough so this initiative was not about meeting a need.
The building had continued to deteriorate and no business case had been provided. The Assistant Chief Executive now estimated that three or four times the initial amount that had been proposed was now required to bring the Recreation Centre up to an appropriate standard. The building had significant maintenance needs and the Structural Engineer had informed that it had a particular structural problem and it had been estimated that it would cost £1m to carry out the work required.
The Assistant Chief Executive informed that however, well intentioned BACT was, it may not be successful in obtaining the funding required to refurbish the building. He informed that over the last ten years the Council had built nine Sports Halls. Consequently, the Borough had enough wet and dry capacity already.
The Assistant Chief Executive reported that £700,000 would not be enough to set the building up for a long term future. It would have to be brought up to a modern standard. The more the Council looked at it the more concerns it had e.g. blocking, the quantity of asbestos etc. There was no quick solution and the temporary way the building had been secured would need to be rechecked. It was in such a state of disrepair, to the extent that it was not a good neighbour to the neighbouring properties.
Councillor Adrian Jones informed that he was unhappy at the prospect of losing part of local history. However, he accepted that the professional report and photographs showed that the Recreation Centre had incredibly advanced rot and decay. The generous amount promised from the anonymous donor would only, at best, allow the building to be patched up. In its present state, the Recreation Centre would need £2 to £3m spent on it. Therefore, the only realistic option, unfortunately, was to support the recommendations set out in the report.
Councillor Phil Davies told the Cabinet that the Recreation Centre was in a desperately sad condition which was more serious than originally thought. £700,000 would not be enough to bring it up to the standard of safety required for public use. There were alternative facilities nearby e.g. Prenton School for Girls, The Oval. Consequently, an investment of £350,000 in the building, regretfully, could not be seen as a wise investment for the Council to make.
(1) possession of Byrne Avenue Recreation Centre be taken from the Byrne Avenue Recreation Trust as the lease ended on 10 February 2013, as the Trust was unsuccessful in securing the necessary funds for the refurbishment;
(2) the grant of £350,000 from the Community Fund be withdrawn and re-allocated to support other Community Asset Transfer activities;
(3) the asset be declared surplus to the Council’s requirements and authority be granted for its disposal in accordance with the Council’s disposal policy; and
(4) in the event that the asset is to be sold on the open market the existing building be sold by auction.
The Assistant Chief Executive told Mr Harrison that he acknowledged that the Cabinet’s decision was not what the Trust would want. However, the Council would work with it to make a photographic record and would consider what could be recovered to conserve the Recreation Centre’s memory.
Councillor Chris Meaden returned to the meeting.
Report author: David Armstrong
Publication date: 19/11/2013
Date of decision: 07/11/2013
Decided at meeting: 07/11/2013 - Cabinet
Effective from: 27/11/2013