Lancaster City Council's Cabinet is meeting today and will consider the future of St Leonard's House on St Leonardgate.
Discussion is an exempt item, meaning both press and public cannot be attend that part of the Cabenet meeting, but virtual-lancaster understands current tenants of the grade II listed building – who include the Lancaster Community Mental Health Team, One Voice Disability Services, Access Counselling and others – have been served with notice that their leases will not be renewed for "strategic development reasons and planned major redevelopment and refurbishment".
We also understand that the report suggests the building's use may be changed – at some considerable cost – and the proposals for alternative use include its conversion into flats for students and young workers.
While the Council would not confirm items in the exempt report, in an official statement Councillor Tim Hamilton Cox, Cabinet member with responsibility for property, confirmed the building's future was under discussion as part of an ongoing review of the Council's properties.
"The City Council’s property portfolio has to be managed in a way that ensures value for money so as to protect other council services to the public," he told virtual-lancaster. "St Leonard’s House has not been fully utilised as office accommodation for a number of years and it is no secret that the building's future has been under review for some time.
"The reasons for looking at alternative uses for the building derive from the rents falling a long way short of the running costs and in particular from the very sizeable capital investment required in the building's fabric and services.
"St Leonard’s House is a listed building," he continued, "and the costs of repairs and maintenance reflect both the age of the building and the scale of the improvements necessary to meet modern building standards.
"With the city council budget having to be cut year-on-year because of government funding reductions the city council's cabinet is clear that in order to maintain services as far as possible the cost of the council's building estate has to be reduced, placing ‘services before buildings’.
"During the review tenants have only been provided with short term leases," he says of the notices tenants have received, "but as the stage has now been reached where options are being brought forward for alternative uses of the building they have been notified that their leases are being brought to an end.
"These notifications have been sent to give tenants as much time as possible to plan ahead and find alternative accommodation.
"We're acutely conscious that many socially necessary charities and non-profit businesses are based in St. Leonard's House and we'll try to help them find alternative office space.
"The review is being led by Property Group which has been a shared service between Lancaster City Council and Lancashire County Council since May 2012 and Carillion has been appointed as the county council’s regeneration partner covering the Lancaster district through what is referred to as an Official Journal of the European Union procurement exercise.
"Cabinet will consider an update report at its meeting on 21st January 2014," he confirmed. "This report is exempt as it contains confidential commercially sensitive information. For this reason we cannot comment further at this time on what the proposals may include."