New property investment strategy
A new property investment strategy has been drawn up by St Albans City and District Council.
The strategy is intended to provide a framework for Council decisions involving the acquisition, disposal and maintenance of its properties.
Among the provisions are a commitment to supporting the Council’s four main priorities.
These are tackling climate change, delivering more social housing, helping local business and enhancing communities across the District.
A draft of the strategy is to be considered by the Council’s Cabinet at its meeting on Thursday 18 March.
If Cabinet approves it, the strategy will then be referred to a Council Scrutiny Committee for further examination.
Councillor Robert Donald, Portfolio Holder for Commercial, Development and Wellbeing, commented:
This is the first time the Council has had such a comprehensive and detailed strategy.
When adopted it will guide our decision-making on the complex challenges we face in developing our property portfolio.
It will ensure that the work of our Commercial and Development department will be laser focused on achieving our four main objectives including combating the climate emergency and delivering more social housing.
We are currently undertaking a number of ambitious developments to improve the District, including the regeneration of the area around the Alban Arena, and this strategy will be like an operating manual for how we move forward with these projects.
The Government changed the borrowing terms for all Councils last November and we now have to demonstrate how any developments we undertake using Treasury loans meet these new funding rules.
The strategy covers around 520 property assets other than the Council’s 5,000 social housing properties.
These include car parks, offices, community centres, sport facilities, recreation areas, playgrounds, heritage sites, commercial space and arts venues
As part of the strategy, the Council will commit to an annual review to ensure its assets meet high standards of sustainability and are in keeping with the other priorities.
All development projects will have to pass strategic and financial tests set out in the new document.
This is intended to provide strategic guidance not previously available in the selection and choice of projects for the Council.
It also provides transparency for the public, allowing them to understand what big projects the Council is doing and to see how their money is being spent.
Cllr Donald added:
I hope Cabinet will approve the strategy so that we can take it to the next stage, a review by a Scrutiny Committee, before adopting it later this year.
The Commercial and Development department was set up five years ago to help the Council raise extra money for its core activities. That role is even more important now with our finances having been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recent changes in the Treasury’s borrowing rules have also negatively affected the Council. These mean the Council must only use the rental income it receives from new property investments in specifically permitted ways. Fortunately, these do include funding for housing and regeneration projects.
Importantly, however, new investment income can no longer help to fill a Council budget deficit or pay towards the provision of most frontline public services.
It is vital that our property portfolio is used and developed to its maximum potential therefore in the years ahead to help fund new housing and regeneration projects across the District.
Compliance with these new rules will be essential in future if we want to obtain a Government loan for these development projects.
I believe this property investment strategy will help us to do just that.
Picture: how CCOS South, one of the Council's property projects, may look when completed.
Councillor Robert Donald, Portfolio Holder for Property, Commercial, Development and Wellbeing for St Albans City and District Council: firstname.lastname@example.org, 01727 841647.