Welwyn Hatfield Council statement Re: Civic Centre

PUBLISHED: 11:32 09 January 2008 | UPDATED: 21:23 26 October 2009

Statement in full from Welwyn Hatfield Council following the decision by Welwyn Parish Council to call a public meeting about the future of Welwyn Civic Centre. Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council was surprised to be informed that Welwyn Parish Council

Statement in full from Welwyn Hatfield Council following the decision by Welwyn Parish Council to call a public meeting about the future of Welwyn Civic Centre

"Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council was surprised to be informed that Welwyn Parish Council has decided to hold a public meeting under the title 'threat to the future of the Welwyn Civic Centre' as the Borough Council was not informed or consulted about the meeting prior to its general announcement. We believe that public disquiet could have been avoided by proper consideration of the issues. We are concerned that some of the statements in the leaflet are potentially misleading. The level of Council tax paid by Welwyn Parish Council residents will be unaffected by the rental increase.

This is the result of the scheme of special expenses/income operated by WHBC since 1996.

Special expenses is a scheme for apportioning costs to specific areas so that anomalies such as WGC where no Town/Parish Council exists receives its fair share of the Borough's costs.

In effect what will happen is that the Parish element of the Council tax will increase to cover the increased rental charge. This will be income to the Borough Council which will be credited back to Welwyn Parish as part of the Special Expenses calculation. The net change to the Council Tax payer in Welwyn Parish will be nil. It will merely show on the statement as being an increased amount being raised by the Parish and a corresponding reduced amount due to the Borough.

The Parish of course can reduce its liability by raising the rents on any of its tenants. This is only something the Parish can do. The reason for the change is to put responsibility for costs on the correct authority and for the Parish to be seen to be providing a community facility at an appropriate cost.

The Borough Council has a duty to collect rents on behalf of all its taxpayers and the amount of rent value has been set independently by the District Valuer at £38,600. In the spirit of compromise WHBC has offered a rental amount of £30,000. In exercising its duty to collect an appropriate rent the Borough is conforming to the requirements of the Audit Commission in ensuring best value in utilising its property.

The precise amount of the rental has yet to be agreed and WHBC would like to continue the negotiations with the Parish in a spirit of compromise. Indeed the Borough Council has already offered.

# A low start stepped rent at a figure significantly below the parish council's own valuation

# A period of 25 years over which to clear the debt

# To waive any interest payable on the arrears

# To extend the lease out to 31 March 2065.

We are happy to proceed to arbitration but would hope to avoid this as we feel the two authorities should be able to resolve the matter between themselves.'

Answers to additional questions put by WHT editor Terry Mitchinson.

Why has the borough decided on this increase at all? (bearing in mind the parish took it off the council's hands in the first place at the then district council's request and that it makes no profit from the facility)

This is because when the original lease was granted in 1994, it was recognised by both parties that the lease to the County Council had a rent review in 1999 (1st April). This was expected to produce a significant uplift in the rental income the Parish Council received and so the parties agreed that there should be a review in the Parish Council's rent.

Why would anyone wish to extend a lease which is obviously so patently ridiculous?

This was offered because the current lease gives the Parish Council no security of tenure and they were concerned that WHBC may seek to take the building off them in 2014. Including the lease within the Act and extending it to 2065 was intended to provide the Parish with a degree of comfort

And how has an original estimation of around £15,000 per annum leapt by over double to £30,000 plus?

This happened because the Parish asked WHC to ask the DV to review his original valuation. All of WHBC's valuations were produced by the District Valuer to ensure that they are totally independent both in fact and in appearance. The DV took the opportunity to reconsider his position and came back with the new figure.

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