Definitive business plan

I HAVE read with dismay the reports confirming North Somerset Council have approved a move and acquisition of Castlewood at Clevedon.

I HAVE read with dismay the reports confirming North Somerset Council have approved a move and acquisition of Castlewood at Clevedon.

I wish to comment with regard to the Question and Answer session reported in the paper on January 14.

I note Councillor Ashton repeatedly refers to the fact that items are not yet known. This cannot, I hope, be the case, for, as he is our (i.e. the ratepayers') appointed representative to manage our business, i.e. North Somerset, surely, as other correspondents to your publication have mentioned, there must be a definitive business plan.

I note the number of council offices owned and leased shown in the paper and also the lease end and break clauses referred to. I have ascertained the break clause for Locking Road was exercised in December, being the normal requirement of six months to be effective in June 2010. I assume this was exercised because there was no need for this accommodation and the employees located in Locking Road can be accommodated elsewhere in existing premises. This break clause being exercised before full council had approved the proposal to acquire Castlewood.


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The only other premises where a lease is to end during 2010 is in Somerset Square, Nailsea, such lease expiring in October. There is therefore some nine months in respect of the latter premises in which to make appropriate arrangements which undoubtedly in the current climate could involve a limited short-term extension of that lease.

I fail therefore to understand the urgency of making a decision in what is a buyer's market. The likelihood of Castlewood being snapped up by another potential occupier is limited and therefore the urgency does not exist. Other leases do not expire until November 2011 or later, thereby giving more time to consider the costings and ramifications of a move.

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I have dealt with commercial property for more than 30 years and know that there are significant costs which will be incurred in vacating any leasehold property, particularly where full repairing obligations exist and this could run to many hundreds of thousands of pounds in respect of the leases held. I anticipate therefore the actual cost of relocating to Castlewood will be very significant in this respect alone.

The impact on Weston will I fear be very signifanct, but I am reassured to some extent by Councillors Ashton's comment "the Town Hall will remain the civic hub. It is our single largest office base, being 20 per cent larger than Castlewood...". However, my reassurance is short-lived for by investigating and considering the areas of both the Town Hall and Castlewood by reference to the district valuer's website, i.e. a government department which has measured and assessed the size of both premises for rating purposes, I note that the Town Hall is stated to have a total area of 7.144.1 sq m giving a rateable value of �640,000. Conversely, Castlewood is measured and stated to have an area of 8,818.4 sq m with a resultant rateable value of �1,130,000. Both these ratings assessments being effective from April 1 next.

I therefore question Cllr Ashton's assertion, for the Town Hall, rather than being 20 per cent larger than Castlewood, the converse applies it is in fact some 19 per cent smaller.

This is a major variation and if Cllr Ashton and his colleagues have made such an assumption and major error, I raise the question as to whether other calculations made have similar errors and therefore this proposal to relocate is not realistic nor of any economic merit.

I assume contracts for the purchase of Castlewood have yet to be exchanged and hope there for questions can be raised and the matter reconsidered. I urge councillors who have fallen in line with their leader's proposals to ask more questions and make representations to have this matter reconsidered and, if appropriate, reversed.

I hope it is not too late for commonsense to prevail.

M T RIPLEY

Stephen & Co

Next to Town Hall, Weston

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