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Sell-off of former school and farmland agreed as Norfolk County Council looks to plug £95m funding gap

PUBLISHED: 13:00 04 September 2018 | UPDATED: 13:49 04 September 2018

The Elm Road Centre in Thetford. Pic: Archant.

The Elm Road Centre in Thetford. Pic: Archant.

Archant

A former school, along with acres of farmland, are to be sold off by council bosses looking to plug a funding gap of almost £100m.

Terry Jermy, Labour county councillor for Thetford West. Pic: Labour Party.Terry Jermy, Labour county councillor for Thetford West. Pic: Labour Party.

But the decision to sell the former Elm Road Centre in Thetford was criticised as short-sighted by one councillor, who questioned whether that brought the best deal for taxpayers.

Norfolk County Council is facing a budget gap of £94.6m, on top of the £78.5m it needs to save, between now and the end of the financial year in 2022.

Officers have been looking to generate cash by selling off some of the properties it no longer requires, and the centre was one identified to be sold at public auction.

The former infant school, which dates back to the 1960s had been used by children’s services in recent years. The council had been prepared to spend £800,000 on revamping it to make it a ‘hub’ for adult social care.

Ian Mackie, Conservative county councillor for Thorpe St Andrew. Photo: Dominic Gilbert.Ian Mackie, Conservative county councillor for Thorpe St Andrew. Photo: Dominic Gilbert.

That would have helped save £250,000 in transport costs, because service users in the Thetford area would no longer have to go to Norwich for services.

But, at a meeting of the business and property committee today, it councillors were asked to agree to sell it.

Terry Jermy, Labour county councillor for Thetford West, opposed the sale, saying the council had already spent money on getting planning permission and almost £100,000 on managing the site while it was empty.

He said: “It seems illogical to pay all that money to get planning permission, raise the community’s expectations and then abandon it. I feel as if we are rushing towards this for no good reason.”

But Conservative Ian Mackie, who represents Thorpe St Andrew, said the site had been vacant since 2011 and the adult social care department had said they did not require it.

He said: “It seems to me this is a saving that needs to go into our overall budget to meet the enormity of the gap that we are facing.”

Labour’s Mike Sands had put forward a proposal that the matter be referred back to the adult social care committee. But that was lost, by eight votes to three.

The committee then voted, by eight votes to three, to agree to dispose of the properties, which also includes land at Attleborough, Costessey, Mileham, Long Stratton, Brockdish, Needham and Reepham.

What else would be sold?

Attleborough: Land near Hargham Road. Part of the county farms estate, the 16.6 acres would be sold off, for homes to be built there.

Brockdish: Two patches of land of 4 acres and 4.4 acres would be sold at public auction. Bought for a highway scheme, but not used.

Costessey: Land at Kestrel Avenue. Bought for education purposes, but now declared as surplus. Has been offered to Costessey Town Council at full market value. The town council has expressed and interest, but if there is no agreement, it would be sold at auction.

Long Stratton: An auction is planned for a small area off land near Shrub Cottage, in Ipswich Road, bought for a highway scheme, but not used.

Mileham: A 2.5-acre farm off Litcham Road would be sold at auction.

Needham: Public auction for land at Gravel Pits acquired for a highway scheme, but not used.

Reepham: Auction for three strips of land at Old Lane not needed for a highway scheme.

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