A DISUSED doctors surgery in Winchester city centre is to be demolished to create a temporary open space.

The knocking down of Friarsgate surgery, the prominent 1960s building, emerged in answer about the city council’s Strategic Asset Purchase Scheme which buys property with a view to generating income.

It was created when the Conservatives were running the city council up until 2019.

Conservative group leader Caroline Horrill said at full Council: “The Strategic Asset Purchase Scheme was established to create economic, social and environmental wins for the District, as well as to generate financial revenue to reduce the tax burden on residents.”
She probed the ruling Lib Dem over the progress of the scheme and what “new opportunities have been explored, rejected and why by this administration.”

Assets purchased:

l Bus Station (£4.7m). Currently generates a gross income of circa £130,000 a year. This site forms part of the Central Winchester Regeneration (CWR) regeneration project aka Silver Hill and is likely to be redeveloped in the longer term;

l Friarsgate Medical Centre (£5.2m) – no income generated – the dilapidations claim has been settled and there are plans to demolish the building and create a temporary public open space. Occupation by 'property guardians' was investigated however bringing the building back into use temporarily was uneconomic, as it would entail paying business rates and paying for maintenance;

l 158-165 High Street (The Broadway) (£4.3m) comprising:

- 158/159 High Street. A period property that is structurally unsound and unsafe for letting without considerable investment. The viability of this cannot be justified and so the property remains vacant pending redevelopment. Money has been spent on external decorations to maintain the external appearance;

- 160 High Street: Let to Coral who continue to pay a market rent. The future of this building is subject to progress of Central Winchester Regeneration and will most probably be redeveloped due to it occupying a strategic point of entry into a new development;

- 163/164 High Street: Let to Ghandi restaurant at a commercial rent;

- 165 High Street. Let to Subway at a commercial rent. The three-bedroom flat above remains vacant pending a suitable corporate letting;

l Vaultex site at Bar End(£1.7m) – building demolished and £5.6m grant from LEP to build decked car park;

l Garages – in total, garages with an existing use value of £4.0m were transferred from the Housing Revenue Account to the General Fund in 2018/19 and 2019/20 and in

2019/20 generated a net income of circa £230,000. The final tranche of garages are expected to transfer in 2020/21 at an estimated value of up to £3.5m (external valuation currently underway).

Cllr Horrill and the Conservative group have accused the Lib Dems of wasting opportunities

Cllr Kelsie Learney, cabinet member for housing and asset management, said: "We have considered a number of properties for acquisition in Winchester over the past year. However, none of them were considered either viable or practical purchases at the prices being asked. HM Treasury has recently revised the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) lending terms which mean that the council would be restricted from borrowing from PWLB for any purpose, including our new housing programme, should it make any asset purchases primarily to generate yield revenue."

Other council have in recent years been buying major properties which in hindsight have not appeared so attractive.

For example, Surrey County Council is the owner of the Debenhams building on the High Street which is currently standing unused.