THE biggest-ever rationalisation of South Tyneside Council’s portfolio of 770 buildings is moving forward quickly, councillors have been told.
Facing having to make financial savings of £90m over the last three years and reducing staff numbers by more than 1,000, the local authority is selling off some of its “not fit for purpose” buildings in a bid to protect front-line services.
Among those regarded surplus to requirements are South Shields Central Library in Prince Georg Square, and the former youth offending service headquarters at Commercial House in Commercial Road, South Shields, in addition to other buildings.
At a meeting of the council’s Place Select Committee yesterday, Paul Scrafton, the council’s head of asset management, outlined the sell-off strategy and updated councillors on the progress of ongoing renovation work at South Shields Town Hall – where many staff from municipal buildings will be re-housed.
Although the council does have 770 separate buildings to its name, they come in all shapes and forms – from schools and civic premises such as leisure and community centres, to bus stops and public toilets.
Mr Scrafton said: “Our strategy is focused on retaining our core, key buildings.
“We have to consider whether buildings are being efficiently used, are in the right location, are fit for purpose and highlight those that may be costing us money and may be in the wrong place.
“Our strategy is focused on rationalisation of buildings, but I would want to stress it is not about taking services or buildings away from communities where they are needed. It’s about consolidating our buildings.
“There is one particular area where there are about 10 council-owned properties in one square mile, and there are opportunities to bring all services within those into fewer buildings.
“That will save us money and divert those funds to services. That’s what this property strategy is all about.”
Last week, Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for innovation and resources, denied the strategy was a bid to “sell-off the family silver”.
Members were also informed that a major revamp of South Shields Town Hall should be complete by February of next year.
Work on South Shields Community Hub, at the former Wouldhave House building in the Market Place, is expected to start in the autumn.