Empty offices leave public services £700,000 short in lost business rates

Isabel Brazil & Jeremy Hilton chat with 69 London Road in background

Gloucester City Council has been unable to collect nearly £700,000 in business rates because two office blocks in Gloucester have been laid empty for years.

The HM Revenue & Customs reduced the rateable value on 67 and 69 London Road to zero meaning the owners, Pall Mall Estates, do not have to pay business rates on either property.

It is understood that HMRC reduced the valuation to zero on the August 29, 2011.

Before the reduction the rateable value of both properties stood at £269,500 and meant that business rates were worth £118,732 per year to Gloucester City Council.

The properties were subject to a debate at the city council in May led by Liberal Democrat councillors Jeremy Hilton and Isabel Brazil, who represent Kingsholm Ward.

Their motion was passed unanimously calling for the buildings to be acquired for residential redevelopment, with a Compulsory Purchase Order being used if a reasonable purchase terms could not be agreed.

Councillor Hilton said: “The owners stripped out the services within the buildings a few years ago. This probably helped them secure a zero rating on their business rates.

“The loss of £700,000 in business rates since 2011 is scandalous. I understand the owners have had offers from potential buyers but turned them down.

“If they had to pay business rates on the office blocks they may have sold them by now.

“Private householders aren’t allowed to hang on to empty properties for year after year and not pay any council tax.

“Why should wealthy corporations get away with not paying their fair share of taxes? The system is corrupt.

Councillor Isabel Brazil said: “The buildings are run down and can no longer be easily let.

“The owners shouldn’t be allowed to sit on a property asset for year after year and not pay tax on them.

“The £700,000 lost in business rates could of been spent on supporting public services.”

Vanishing council to lock front doors once a month

Liberal Democrat leader, Cllr. Jeremy Hilton has responded to the decision of the Conservative controlled Gloucester City Council to close its customer advice reception and contact centre to the public on the last Wednesday of every month. The first closure will be on the 30th of May.

Cllr. Hilton has described the decision made by Cllr. David Norman as another example of the ‘vanishing council’.

Cllr.Jeremy Hilton (Lib Dem – Kingsholm & Wotton) said:

“Under Conservative control the city council continues to contract and services to the community diminish. It has certainly become a ‘vanishing council’.

“Last year the cabinet cut the hours the reception was open every day. It now closes at 3pm rather than 5pm as it once did. In future the doors will be closed once a month for a whole day.

“Residents arriving at the council on the last Wednesday of the month will be shocked and annoyed to see the doors locked to the council offices. If they phone the contact centre they will find their call will be unanswered. They will be frustrated they cannot speak to a person face to face to help solve their enquiry.

“Due to staff cuts imposed by the Tories, the council’s customer service team is overstretched and no longer has the resilience to cope with the demands placed on it.

“A good council would keeps its customer reception and contact centre open every working day. It should be able to organise staff training without locking the front doors.

“This vanishing council is letting the people of Gloucester down. It’s customer advice reception and contact centre should be open every day Monday to Friday.”

Any new court should be in Gloucester city centre, say Lib Dem’s

Jeremy Hilton outside the Crown Court building in Gloucester

There are calls for a new civil justice centre to be built in Gloucester city centre rather than in Quedgeley.

Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Jeremy Hilton said that if a new crown, county and magistrates court complex was to be built in the city then it should be in a central location, rather than at the Waterwells business park.

There is now only one magistrates court operating in Gloucestershire, which is in Cheltenham, after Gloucester and Stroud’s shut in 2015 as part of a nationwide closure programme.

Councillor Hilton spoke out after it emerged that Conservative MPs Richard Graham and Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown have met recently with Chief Constable Rod Hansen and Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl to discuss lobbying the Government for a new crown and magistrates court next to Gloucestershire Police HQ.

“There is no doubt that Gloucester needs a new court complex. Gloucester’s magistrates court was rather dilapidated for several years before it finally closed,” Councillor Hilton, who represents Kingsholm Ward, said.

“Gloucester’s crown court is a lovely 19th century building and a proper old courtroom but it is also in poor condition and needs updating.

“If is justice is to be served then it needs to be accessible to everyone from across Gloucestershire.

“With the new court located in the city centre it would be close to the bus and rail stations and also have good parking facilities.”

Councillor Hilton added: “A potential site for the new court building could be as part of the Kings Quarter development.

“A new court in Gloucester could also mean that high-profile and more serious cases are dealt with in the city rather than people having to travel to Bristol.”

Lib Dem councillors want to use compulsory purchase powers to acquire 67/69 London Road

Jeremy Hilton with the run down buildings on London Road in the background

Liberal Democrat councillors for Kingsholm & Wotton, Jeremy Hilton & Isabel Brazil have issued a challenge to the Tory run city council to acquire 67/69 London Road for a housing development.

The two former office buildings on London Road have remained empty for many years and they are deteriorating and becoming eyesores within an important conservation area.

The annual meeting of the city council (21st May) will debate a motion proposed by Jeremy Hilton & seconded by Isabel Brazil calling on the council to acquire the dilapidated buildings for housing.

Cllr Hilton said: “Local residents are fed up with these empty buildings being an eyesore on London Road. Our motion hopefully, will get things moving.”

Cllr. Isabel Brazil agreed: “The buildings are run down and can no longer be easily let. The draft city plan suggests at least 30 residential units could be provided on the site. The council should now buy the properties for a housing project.”

The motion from the Kingsholm & Wotton councillors calls for compulsory purchase powers to be used if reasonable terms cannot be agreed.

Jeremy Hilton concluded: “The owners have failed look after the properties, we cannot allow them to continue to remain empty for year after year.

“The council must now buy them for a new housing project, using some of the £80m it set aside for such developments. If a negotiated purchase fails the council must use compulsory purchase powers to acquire the site.”

Ends….

Text of motion lodged with city council (dated 1st May 2018 11:12 am)

“This council notes that both 67 and 69 London Road, former offices, have been empty for a number of years and that these buildings are continuing to deteriorate.

They have become an eyesore on London Road, which is a conservation area and also one of the main routes into the city centre.

This council also notes that the combined site is listed in the draft city plan as being suitable for residential development.

This council, therefore, asks the leader to use city council resources to acquire 67 and 69 London Road for a residential regeneration project.

This council also agrees that the city council should use compulsory purchase powers to acquire the site if reasonable purchase terms cannot be agreed by negotiation with the current landowner.”

Proposed by Jeremy Hilton

Seconded by Isabel Brazil

Air Pollution report published

Tackling air pollution in Gloucestershire from vehicle emissions is set to be an important priority for Gloucestershire County Council. Today the report of the air pollution task group, chaired by Cllr. Jeremy Hilton (Lib Dem Kingsholm & Wotton), is published.

According to Public Health England, poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, and the Royal College of Physicians has estimated that poor air quality is responsible for 40,000 premature deaths in the UK annually.

Exposure to air pollution can affect health by contributing to the development of cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases, and can limit an individual’s quality of life.

Cllr. Jeremy Hilton said: “Public bodies in Gloucestershire need to do much more to reduce vehicle air pollution. We have a number of poor air quality hot spots in the county. Nitrogen Dioxides and particulate matter from vehicle emissions is a hazard to everyone’s health in the county. We have to take action to reduce these pollutants.

“I shall be taking the report of the air pollution task group to the Environment & Community Scrutiny Committee next week, where I hope it is approved, before it is sent on to the county cabinet on the 6th of June.”

The report has a dozen recommendations that include the establishment of a Gloucestershire Air Quality Partnership to oversee future work. This will be helped by better air quality monitoring with a focus on particulate matter. Changes to planning policies are suggested. Highway interventions are recommended to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.

The task group wishes to encourage the greater use of electric vehicles and also to set stronger targets to increase journeys by bicycle, on foot and public transport. It wants to see the use low emissions buses etc.

Cllr Hilton concluded: “This report is just a start. I would like to that everyone who came along to the workshop we held in January and to the members of the air pollution task group that helped draft the report.”

Objections expected to flood in over 100 homes plans for Civil Service sports ground

Isabel Brazil and Jeremy Hilton with the former Civil Service sports ground in background

Plans have been submitted to build 100 homes on the grounds of the former Civil Service club in Kingsholm.

Liberal Democrat councillors are opposed to so many properties being built on the Estcourt Road site because it will take away valuable green space for local people.

The application by Redrow Homes to Gloucester City Council is an increase of 11 properties on a previous application of 89 homes, which is yet to be determined by the planning committee.

Councillor Jeremy Hilton, who represents Kingsholm Ward on the city council, said the new application is in contravention of several council polices.

“The area has less public open space than the council says is necessary for the local population,” said Councillor Hilton.

“This application will take away valuable green space in the heart of Kingsholm. We do need more houses, but not so many at this location.

“The council’s draft city plan says the maximum on the site should be 20. This would leave the large field untouched and available for sport and recreation.

“Sport England raised objections to the previous application of 89 houses I imagine they will do the same for 100 dwellings.”

It is expected that the council will receive many objections as it did on the previous application, added Councillor Hilton.

Councillor Isabel Brazil, who also represents Kingsholm Ward, said: “We need to protect the green spaces in Kingsholm. There just isn’t enough locally, especially public open space.

“We are supporting plans for new housing on London Road and off Great Western Road, but the maximum permitted at Civil Service Club must be 20.”

Councillor Hilton added: “Redrow has been unable to find an alternative sports site nearby, so they are proposing as a sop to the council a cash contribution to be spent on sports fields in the south of Gloucester.

“Kingsholm will lose out. This is unfair.”

Both councillors are recommending that local people send in individual letters of objection, which can be also be done online at www.gloucester.gov.uk The planning document reference is 18/00306/FUL

Business rates windfall to support cultural and community projects – Lib Dem’s

Liberal Democrats on the city council will propose amendments to the council budget on Thursday (22nd Feb) concentrating on cultural and community activities.

They will use a third of the unallocated £800,000 expected windfall from the 100% business rates retention pilot to fund five key projects.

In total the Lib Dems will suggest additional spending of £270,000. This will not require a further increase in the council tax above the 3% rise set by the Tory cabinet.

Among the proposals from the Lib Dems is to hold a Gloucester Narrow Boat Festival at the Docks, spending £10,000 installing drinking water fountains in public areas and doubling the amount of money city councillors allocate to community projects in their wards.

The Lib Dems also plan to tackle the backlog of cataloguing artefacts held by the museum service and start a fund to invest in new public art for Gloucester.

Councillor Jeremy Hilton, Lib Dem group leader, said:

“We are concentrating our amendments on community and cultural projects. We plan to wisely use part of the expected windfall from the business rates retention pilot to deal with the 16,000 historic artefacts that have not received basic cataloguing by the museums service. We will also allocate £100,000 for new public art. Something about the Siege of Gloucester or Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians would be top of my list. Liberal Democrat plans would not increase the council tax further.

Councillor Declan Wilson, Lib Dem deputy group leader and finance spokesman, added:

“The Lib Dem proposals will see a real investment in Gloucester’s arts and heritage. A new narrow boat festival at the Docks is in our plans as is the installation of drinking water fountains in public spaces. We also plan to boost grants for community activities around the city over the next two years by £40,000. We hope that both Tory and Labour councillors will support us.”

800 homes empty in Gloucester

Jeremy Hilton campaigning to resolve the empty homes problem

Nearly 800 homes in Gloucester are empty, research by the Liberal Democrats has revealed. The figures, uncovered through Freedom of Information requests, show that there are 791 homes across the city that have been empty for six months or more.

Of these, 299 had been empty for two years or more, 95 for five years or more, and 37 have stood empty for at least 10 years in Gloucester.

Across the country more than 11,000 homes have been lying empty for longer than a decade, the Lib Dem figures show.

Conservative-controlled Gloucester City Council has failed to make use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO) in the last five years – powers used by local authorities to take over properties that have been empty for at least six months.

This is despite the fact that some people in Gloucester have spent Christmas without a permanent home – living in temporary accommodation.

Nationally only 19 of the 247 councils in England and Wales that responded had used an EDMO in the past five years. Of these only six had used one in the past year.

Councillor Jeremy Hilton, the Liberal Democrat group leader on Gloucester City Council, said: “At a time when the homelessness crisis is worsening and more and more people are sleeping out in the cold on our streets, it is a scandal that so many homes locally are sitting empty.

“These homes could be turned into affordable places to live for those that need it in Gloucester.

“The Government needs to urgently review the current system which is clearly not working and Gloucester City Council needs to be given the powers and resources to bring empty homes back into use.

“It is shameful that Gloucester City Council has failed to use existing powers to end this scandal. People have spent Christmas without a permanent home because of Conservative inaction and ineptitude.”

Councillor David Brown, the Liberal Democrat housing spokesman on Gloucester City Council, added: “These desperately needed reforms must form part of a wider package to tackle the housing crisis, including building more homes on unused public sector land and clamping down on land-banking.”

Time to sack Amey and bring the streetcare service back in-house says Hilton

Jeremy Hilton with a food caddy full of food waste remaining uncollected by Amey

The Liberal Democrat leader on Gloucester City Council, Jeremy Hilton (Kingsholm & Wotton) has today called for an early end of the council’s streetcare contract with Amey PLC. The fifteen year contract is due to end on 31st March 2022 and is valued at £5.7m per year. Amey are contracted to provide street cleaning, grounds maintenance, recycling and refuse collection services.

The call by Jeremy Hilton to end the contract early, comes as councillors email inboxes have been flooded with complaints from residents about missed bin collections over the Christmas period. This follows on from a similar problem with bins not being collected last year due to insufficient drivers being employed by Amey. The quality of the street cleaning and grounds maintenance services is also problematic.

The streetcare service will be discussed at the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Monday 8th January and Jeremy Hilton will call for an ending of the contract earlier rather later and for all options to be considered, including bringing the service back in-house with a direct labour organisation.

Previously, Richard Cook the cabinet member in charge has described the contract as the worst he has ever seen.

Jeremy Hilton said: “It is time that the administration took action and cancelled the contract because of poor performance. The sooner we reorganise the streetcare services the better. I favour serious consideration to bringing the service back in-house with council employing and managing staff directly rather than through a third party. We have had a number of failures on the refuse collection service in the last twelve months, grounds maintenance is inadequate and street cleaning in Gloucester is just not good enough.”