Acquiring local assets from Dorset Council could be easier in the future

Verwood-based Cllr Toni Coombs says the procedure for local groups to take over Dorset Council-owned assets should be a more transparent process.

A new, simplified, two-stage process is being considered – where those who want to take on a building, or parcel of land, initially put in an expression of interest.

At that point Dorset Council judge whether the asset is available and if it can be transferred before moving to the more detailed stage where the organisation involved has to prove it can maintain and run whatever it is asking for and also protect its future for community use.

Some assets, including car parks and small areas of land, have already been transferred since Dorset Council came into being almost five years ago – but it still has 1,500 assets, many of which could be eligible for transfer.

Cllr Toni Coombs said she worried about organisations signing a deal with Dorset Council only to later discover hidden costs because of the underlying state of a building.

She said that, in Verwood, when the youth centre building was taken over by the community after being closed for two years a full structural survey discovered leaks and a boiler which had been installed in the mid-1980s.

“That puts a lot of onus on a community group, or local council, taking on the building – so if we are going to go with a transfer it should come with a full structural survey so that those groups know what they are taking on,” she said.

Cllr Coombs said she was also against a clause in the contract which said that Dorset Council could then continue to use the building, if needed, without any cost.

“So we would be handing a building over, without any capital costs, and then we (Dorset Council) want to have free access once we have transferred it… I don’t agree with that,” she said.

Executive director for Place Jan Britton said that it was normal procedure for those taking on a property to arrange their own survey, although said he agreed with the comment about Dorset Council being allowed to continue using a building, for free, as “high handed”. He said the policy would be looked at.

The new policy for handing over assets to the community is expected to come into operation after the May elections, with a two-month deadline for responding to those making an initial request, with a further six months for a business case to be then be submitted.

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