Thursday, 18 February 2010

Hyper local bloggers report better than the Guardian

It’s a bit of a complex story, but a summary is that local bloggers are often now doing a better job than the national media.

In 2005 in Kennington a secondary school called Lilian Baylis got moved to a new site.

The use of the old site has been much debated locally since then.

The Guardian today majored on a report that claimed that Lambeth council is about to become a ‘John Lewis’ council, using this site as the primary case study.

It turns out, if you do good old fashioned journalism (as the Lurking about SE11 blog has), that the Guardian have been completely spun by the council’s press officers – and have bought the story that the lovely council have saved the site from being privatised – and instead have turned it into a lovely cuddly mutual. Instead it seems that the truth is a lot more complex.

I won’t try and explain a very complex story any further, but it struck me as interesting that even the Guardian (with relatively large journalistic resources) have failed to do basic journalism (like talking to more than one side of a story). Lurking about SE11's email and article are below:

Former Lilian Baylis costing tax payer £380,000 per year. Election Looming. Answers please.

Posted: 18 Feb 2010 05:12 AM PST

So, I may not be the South London press and I might not get paid, and I haven't been to Journalist School (see Jason Cobb's recent comment battle on the SLP), but this blog has a fair old readership now, so I think it's fair to point out, once again, that the former Lilian Baylis site is costing Lambeth taxpayers £380,000 per year to maintain, there's been no progress in terms of developing it or selling it to a community organisation or private buyer, and there's an election coming up.

Back on October 22nd 2009, I sent a query about the former Lilian Baylis site to Steve Reed, asking, "Has the council issued statement on status of former Lilian Baylis bid by ANC? Rumour says the bid is off, but pls confirm." I received a Direct Message from Steve Reed, advising that the council were, "Still negotiating a consortium to run the old school site, details public soon, intending it shd represent the whole community not just part".

Fair enough. I can wait, I thought. After all, the thing only kicked off in 2005, so we wouldn't want to rush matters. (For a comprehensive post, and history, see my catchup on the definitive history of the former Lilian Baylis.)

Eventually, on the 14th December 2009, Lambeth council issued a decision to decommission the project from having as its focus the All Nations Church (ANC). Reasons as to why they did this vary slightly, depending on whom you ask. There was some local opposition to the ANC (a faith group) having the "lead partner" stake in buying a Council building that is currently essentially a community resource. However, there are also rumours that the ANC were, by last year, only able to buy the building for a considerably smaller amount than they had originally offered (bear in mind that the Council would have given them a favourable rate, compared to the land's market value). The Council state in a report dated 14th December, (this one is quite an interesting document which I'll dissect below), "Ultimately, the terms of the offers by ANC presented an unacceptable risk of challenge to the council and other elements of the proposed leasehold terms were also unacceptable in principle." and also, "The offer proposed by ANC entailed a substantial discount below market value, which the council could not justify through demonstartion of public benefit."

Remember back in February 2009 (see old council .pdf here) that the "hub" group were to comprise the ANC, the Sport's Action Zone (SAZ) and Ethelred Nursery. It appears now that the ANC have been "dropped" from official plans (although, apparently, "The decision not to progress negotiations with ANC does not prejudice or preclude ANC’s involvement in alternative delivery arrangements."). However, the new December 14th plan is to try and move forward with both Sports Action Zone (Kate Hoey is the patron of this organisation) and the Ethelred Nursery. It is highly unlikely that either of these organisations have any money (SAZ isn't even a legal entity), so...

What might Lambeth Council do?

Let's see what they suggest in the December 14th plan:

1. "Pursuit of a maximised social and community outcomes approach is likely to be an overall capital cost to the council council, i.e., the cost of development would be greater than any capital receipt."

Translation: It costs money to pay for community facilities, when we wouldn't make money from those facilities. And in any case, we're not terribly interested in providing Leisure facilities. See Jason Cobb's post on the privatisation of Lambeth leisure facilities.

2. "The overall capital gain to the council would be maximised if the site were disposed on the open market."

Translation: Actually, we'd make more money (and we don't have much of this right now), if we were to sell the development.

[I can see that this one is going to be a bit troublesome, come the election, since the Lib Dems wanted to sell the building off, before they changed their minds, a few years ago... So, you can see the accusations flying, Labour: "you wanted to sell", Lib Dem: "you said you'd develop, Lab: "you changed your mind", Lib Dem: "we didn't exactly... but in any case, you want to sell now", blah, blah, blah, let's pre-empt that boring old battle...]

3. "Potentially, the overall capital gain might be greater if other sites in the area were included in the redevelopment process allowing for the reconfiguration and consolidation of community outcomes on particular sites and realisation of the full development value of other sites."

Translation: We could make even more money, if we were to sell off some other bits of land. (This might allude to the Beaufoy, Lollard St playground and Kerrin point (or all of them). Would be useful to know the proposals because it's a far reaching statement.

4. "Note that the listed building status conferred on the site restricts the scope for development and agree for officers to investigate how this might be addressed in order to enable suitable development options." and "The listing of buildings of this period is not without controversy and presents a number of problems and constraints in this instance."

Translation: Let's try to get the building delisted, because then we can sell it off for more money, and don't have to worry about English Heritage. Interestingly, even the car park is listed (a result of some kind of ancient Council vendetta). We need to get all of this stuff delisted ASAP, so that we can get this building off our hands.

5. "To date the council have resisted pursuing the possible delisting of the site on the basis that there is little prospect of the Secretary of State agreeing. The council failed to stop the listing originally and no new evidence has been forthcoming to challenge the English Heritage assessment of the building’s special interest."

Translation: We're a bit doomed, really!

6. "Increasing this estimate by construction inflation and factoring in the likely further deterioration in the condition of the property, a capital investment of as much as £10m may be required to bring the buildings back into an acceptable condition."

Translation: We're even more doomed. These buildings cost a fortune to repair, we have no money, and nobody will pay enough for them, considering that they're listed, and we can't figure out how to delist them, and the Secretary of State will never do it. Wah!

7. "The site and buildings are insured as part of the council’s building insurance contract which includes a regular programme of health and safety inspection. It is possible that future inspections will identify works which would need to completed in order to ensure continuity of use and as a consequence may affect the Council’s ability to maintain the continued insurance of the property."

Translation: If the building fails a health and safety inspection, we don't have enough money to fix it, and nobody will be able to use it at all. We need to sell it off really really quickly.

8. "Since 2005 SAZ have been successful in attracting considerable external investment (Nike, Barclays Spaces for Sports, Football Foundation) and voluntary investment which has helped to transform the complex into a successful community facility. SAZ is negotiating currently to bring in up to £4m of capital funding for a community basketball initiative, with an ambition to provide a basketball facility and venue of international standard."

Translation: Even though the building might fail a health and safety inspection, we really like this SAZ organisation, and they're good for the area. Also, they're backed by Kate Hoey, so it would be politically embarrassing to try and dispose of them.

9. "Over the past month more detailed work has taken place across Council departments to specify the outcomes sought from the site, in particular with Cultural Services with view to a significant sports/leisure focus of activity on the site and with CYPS around education, young persons and play facilities, including provision for a new ENCC."

Translation: We installed a 12 metre (yes, that is right) swimming pool. What else do you want?


To be fair, at the 14th December meeting, Cllr Ashley Lumsden (Opposition leader), ask whether the Council outcomes stated in the December 14th 2009 report were the same ones as desired by the residents. Well, you may indeed ask! I certainly would.

Make of that what you will, but I doubt any movement (in terms of either sale or significant development) will be made in, ooh, let's say, the next 12 months (even with a change in administration). I'll write another post next year, around February 2011, keeping you up to date.

The question is, Cllr Reed, who is the consortium you said would be running the old school site? The clock is ticking, and the election looms....

[Believe it or not, I had not read Peter Walker's Guardian article here, in which he seems utterly unaware that the current administration has suggested selling the site (and possibly other sites) to maximise capital, but it's a prime example of why hyperlocal bloggers do possess a much broader picture than some of the national press.]

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