It wasn’t just
Belvedere Beach and
park sales on last week’s Cabinet Agenda.
Taking back Hall Place from the Bexley Heritage Trust also figured large.
The Council is doing its best to make the failure of the Heritage Trust a good news story but if it was considered beneficial to hand Hall Place to the Trust after the Conservatives came to power in Bexley, how can it be an equally good thing to take it back? The simple fact is that Bexley Council gave the Trust lots of money and it wasn't enough for the Trust to survive, so now the Council will have to pick up all the bills themselves. That is the gist of it but the Cabinet discussion added a little flesh to those bones.
Deputy Director Toni Ainge said the changes will take place next March after notice was given by the Trust that they would surrender the lease two months ago in September.
Their reasons were obvious enough, Bexley Council had taken their grant away.
The Council accepted that Hall Place must be maintained and it would be “business as normal from 1st April 2017”.
Cabinet Member Don Massey said he “can’t understand why Trustees decide at some point that they don’t believe that something is ideal’ which as a statement doesn’t appear to make a lot of sense. Maybe he pulled his punch mid-sentence.
"There are lots of lessons to be learned from the Kidscape debacle and it has very much concentrated minds of a number of Trustees around the country. You have to remember we lent a substantial amount of money and we have never even had any interest on it let alone a repayment”.
“There are some advantages to the Council taking it back. The Trust did not have the resources to take on investment propositions [such as a children’s playground]. We have to take it back but there are no fixed plans on what to do. It is unfortunate.”
Cabinet Member Peter Craske said that taking back Danson House had been a success. “It is one of the greatest places in London and the South East and probably the whole country.” Everything the unremittinly optimostic Peter Craske has a hand in is always best, biggest, cheapest, fairest or fastest.
Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) asked for how long the Council could afford to maintain Hall Place, “the Trust couldn’t make it work” even though they had been loaned £2·5 million in 2008”.
In response to a question from Labour Leader Alan Deadman, both Teresa O’Neill and Councillor Massey said that the Council always had been responsible for structural maintenance and that would not change. Relinquishing the lease was at relatively short notice because it was only a few months ago that the Trust had said “they were confident, Danson House having been handed back, they would be able to carry on [with Hall Place]. There are lots of questions and not many answers but I expect Hall Place to remain at the forefront of leisure activities and wedding activities and everything else it provides.”
Finance Director Alison Griffin had something to say about the unrepaid loan. “There may be some assets [by March 2017] that might be set against that outstanding balance of £2·5 million. However given the situation we made full provision before this loan in our bad debt provision so we will be in a position to write off the loan fully if we need to and it is already accounted for in our financial plan”.
The decision to take back Hall Place and the associated £2·5 million hit took up a whole ten minutes of the meeting, but The Trust had dropped Bexley Council into an impossible position so there was little choice. I still can’t see how the Bexley Heritage Trust’s effective bankruptcy can be good for the borough but I am not a PR expert.