Labour’s Council Offices Auction Betrayal

CBH
14 Dec 2023

Rothwell Council Offices now no longer belongs to Leeds City Council. After 128 years of public ownership and service, the building has been sold at auction for £364,000 to a private individual or business for a purpose that has yet to be revealed.

Over recent years, the Council has been in talks with community group Friends of Rothwell Civic Enterprise (FoRCE) who had plans to breathe new life into the building. They developed a business case to create a community enterprise centre, with permanent and flexible office accommodation, a cafe, a meeting and exhibition space, badly needed additional space for NHS services, a new home for Rothwell Temperance Band and, potentially, a small cinema space.

Local councillors and residents are furious that the Labour-led Council has arrogantly ended those discussions, ignored those carefully negotiated plans without explanation, and rushed through a ‘fire sale’ of our heritage to shore up the Council coffers.

Cllr Conrad Hart-Brooke said:
“The sneaky way the Council did this is appalling, and disrespectful to all those local people who wanted to see this building open and back at the heart of community activity - Councillors received an email in the first week of October telling us the building was going up for auction; that we needed to clear it of anything valuable by November 1st; as that is when it would be handed over to the auctioneers, in readiness for a December 5th sales date! No justification was given as to why the community asset transfer to FORCE was not now happening, and no attempt has been made to explain or apologise to FORCE in writing or face to face why their proposal was dropped and the building had to be sold so quickly.”

Despite an auction date being set, local LibDem councillors were determined that the sell off was not going to happen without a fight.

Cllr Diane Chapman said: “My colleague Stewart Golton has focussed on trying to the halt the sale by challenging Council bosses on how the decision to sell has not followed the Council’s own decision making rules, and has ignored the needs of local NHS partners who were hoping to take up space in the building. I myself have joined other members of FoRCE and Rothwell Neighbourhood Forum in getting petition signatures, as well as the depressing task of trying to save as much of the heritage items inside the building from ending up in a skip. We have also held demonstrations outside the building itself, which Cllr Hart-Brooke has ensured have got as much publicity as possible, with well appreciated coverage in the Yorkshire Evening Post. What a pity we don’t have the Rothwell Record any more to help bang the drum.”

People protesting in front of the office
Outside picture of the offices
Lib Dem Councillors standing in front of the offices
Old photo of the offices from when it was originally built

Even though the building has now been sold, Rothwell LibDem councillors are still determined that the Labour-run Council account for their actions.

Cllr Stewart Golton said: “The correct route for the Council to take when proposing to sell off a building of such significance to the local community is to evaluate the pros and cons of such a sale, and justify why they have come to this decision in a formal agenda item for discussion at the Council’s Executive Board. This level of transparent decision making is even more needed when there has been years of negotiation to arrange a community asset transfer to a local community group, as it is common courtesy to explain why this proposal has now been rejected by the Council. What they have done is cowardly, and I have corresponded with the Council Chief Executive, and the Leader of Council making these points. However, the Council hierarchy are sticking to their guns that they are within their rights to dispose of the building as they wish without explanation.”

The Council Leadership has also refused to listen to others who have tried to halt the sale of the building.

Cllr Stewart Golton added: I wrote to the MPs Alec Shelbrooke, Simon Lightwood, and Andrea Jenkyns. Alec wrote a response in support, Andrea never answered, and Simon backed his Labour party colleagues in Leeds who made the decision. Our local NHS GP Practice wrote an appeal for the sale to be halted as the building was their only option to get the space they need locally to train more doctors, accommodate more nursing staff and offer more treatments. The Deputy Leader shamefully told them to join the queue and put in a bid at the auction. In both the responses to the MPs, local councillors and NHS partners, the Council hierarchy have been economical with the truth, and misrepresenting the facts, and I am currently preparing a case for the Local Government Ombudsman, to have that behaviour addressed.”

The Rothwell LibDem team will continue to keep you updated on any new developments on the Rothwell Council Offices debacle.

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