Councillors to stop giving out peppercorn rent agreements for community groups

Cliff Jordan

Cliff Jordan - Credit: Submitted

Voluntary groups and community organisations will no longer be able to pay cheap rents to use council-owned buildings.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell at The Silver Road Community Centre. Pictured with Clive Lewis MP a

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell at The Silver Road Community Centre. Pictured with Clive Lewis MP and city and county councillor Julie Brociek-Coulton. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Voluntary groups and community organisations will no longer be able to pay cheap rents to use council-owned buildings.

Norfolk County Council will no longer grant so-called peppercorn rents - very small payments as low as £1 a year - to organisations using council-owned buildings.

The decision to 'regularise' the system and get all groups of businesses to pay full market rents was passed by the council's policy and resources committee yesterday.

Rents on council-owned buildings, including village halls to Scout huts, are reviewed when leases are due to expire.

A mother and baby group at the Silver Road Community Centre in Norwich. Picture: JULIE BROCIEK-COULT

A mother and baby group at the Silver Road Community Centre in Norwich. Picture: JULIE BROCIEK-COULTON - Credit: JULIE BROCIEK-COULTON


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They can vary in length, including one, five and 25 years, and current peppercorn rates will not be withdrawn until leases finish.

Simon George, executive director of the council's finance and commercial service, told members money received from rents could go back into organisations via grant applications.

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Seven councillors voted against raising all leases during renewal periods to full market value.

They claimed the changes were 'premature', 'foolhardy' and 'short-sighted' with many calling for evidence on its potential impact.

There were nine councillors who backed the policy and said it would allow money to go to 'vital services' at community centres and voluntary organisation bases.

Councillor Cliff Jordan said: 'We are trying to regularise the system. It is a change that puts people back in the driving seat.

'Everybody will have to pay market rent assessed by a district valuer.'

He added the authority was trying to avoid organisations and groups feeling upset and distressed.

Out of the current 721 council leases across Norfolk, 40pc or 291 are on a raised rent.

The remaining leases are based on peppercorn rents.

And out of 143 agreements for community groups and charities, 77 pay higher rents.

Committee member Alison Thomas said: 'Some groups or organisations will get council help because they are delivering services we feel are a priority to Norfolk people.'

Councillor George Nobbs, who opposed the policy change, said: 'This is very foolhardy. It would cause a lot of grief and hardship to a lot of worthy organisations and the return would be very minimal. This is short-sighted and potentially damaging.'

Silver Road Community Centre case study

The leader of a popular Norwich community centre has warned vital groups could close following a hike in council rent.

Julie Brociek-Coulton, manager of the Silver Road Community Centre, said Norfolk County Council's decision to stop granting low peppercorn rents to organisations was 'incredibly nasty'.

The charity has been using the council-owned community centre for the past two years and has a peppercorn rent of £1 per year for the next 23 years.

Mrs Brociek-Coulton said: 'If the council was to charge us the full rate we would go bust.

'The council is trying to encourage communities to do more activities they can no longer afford. It is robbing Peter to pay Paul.'

'There are going to be groups that have to close or be worse off.'

She added the community centre charity also has to maintain the 100-year-old building which caters for between 150 and 200 people each week.

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