Community Asset Transfer
*** IMPORTANT UPDATE - VGT RESPONSE TO REJECTION RECOMMENDATION OF COMMUNITY ASSET TRANSFER ***
The Viewpark Gardens Trust wishes to explain and clarify some of the information that has been presented about the Community Asset Transfer and the process we have undertaken.
We know this post is detailed and lengthy. However, due to the nature of events that have occurred this week it is necessary to explain the situation in full to enable the key points to be addressed.
1) We expect a formal decision letter, which sets out all the reasons for the rejection by 15th February 2021. We immediately have the right to appeal protected by the Community Asset Transfer process. Had we not applied using this legislation we would have no right of appeal. The fight to keep the gardens for the community goes on!
2) We have asked for a 5 year peppercorn lease to start the work on raising the significant funds to purchase and then restore the gardens. Our full application documents clearly articulate all of our aims and experience to enable us to realise this. Unfortunately, these documents are not publicly visible on the North Lanarkshire Council website anymore. This can be found here. They should still be available however they seem to have been removed, and we hope that NLC will correct that area of their website soon.
3) There has only been one other asset transfer request in the NLC area under Part 5 of the Community Empowerment Act 2015, which is clearly stated as giving eligible community groups the right to ask for an asset transfer at below market value. This was the Coatbridge Bowling Club and it was agreed at below the market value, recognising the many benefits the group would bring to the area.This information should be freely available as it is a matter of public record from council meetings, just as this one was. We are unaware of any other successful asset transfer using Section 5 of the Community Empowerment Act 2015. In the committee meeting on Wednesday 10th February 2021 Leader of North Lanarkshire Council Jim Logue stated “there have been a number of transfers which have been sourced over the last year since we formulated the policy in 2019”. We will be asking for further clarification on this point and the 2019 policy referred to.
4) There was a lease agreed on site at the Viewpark Gardens for the old bothy and adjoining building in July 2020 around the same time as our CAT request. This is for £300 per month, well below the figure of £36,000 that was suggested as a yearly rental during the meeting and can also be seen stated on the report. It is very difficult to see how the value of £36000 is arrived at when the buildings are in poor repair and the gardens have no real commercial value as gardens. Details of this amount will be sought in full.
5) In the NLC decision reports, also linked here, it is made clear that NLC regards the site as worth £1.52 million for the area we have requested. They state that work was underway to market the site. In Appendix 2 Section 1 of the NLC report it states “This asset was being prepared for the market prior to receipt of the current CAT request...Through disposal of the cleared site and additional adjacent land the Council could generate a significant capital receipt potentially in region £2.5 million.” The only way to realise that return is to sell the gardens for development. This is precisely what we feared and why we set up the VGT. We started a Change.org petition to Save the Viewpark Gardens which gathered 2500 signatures by March 2020. We attended the consultation events about the Viewpark Gardens future in February 2020 organised by NLC and attended by numerous groups, the community, and NLC staff.
We believed that NLC was open to a community solution for the gardens by the very virtue of having the consultation itself. There was no admittance that plans were made to market the site for development during both this meeting and the CAT process.
6) We set up these aspiration, to keep the gardens for the community and to work with all partners to bring them back to their former glory. We grew up here and we know these gardens are more vital than ever in a community hit hard by Covid and a lack of investment in local amenities. The Viewpark area alone remains in the top 5% of most deprived areas in Scotland. It is clear why the gardens are a necessity to the local community and wider North Lanarkshire. Although we have no track record of running services in the gardens (they were well managed by NLC until October 2019) and the VGT is a new charity, we are not new to managing projects, horticulture or raising funding as individuals, again this information was in our Asset Transfer application. We have qualifications in teaching ,community youth arts and soil science as well as many years of horticultural experience, organising, and running large cross community projects. Our “about us” section can be found here.
7) Anyone of voting age in the Thorniewood Community Council area can become a member and we need everyone who wants to support us to join. We were pleased that NLC recognised that despite Covid, we have done a good job of gathering community support. We already have 230 members. Everyone is welcome. Those out with the area can join as Associate members.
8) We have been working with the COSS (Community Ownership Support Service), a specialist service to support community asset transfers funded by the Scottish Government, since the February 2020 event. This was to ensure our CAT application met with the legislative procedure. It was submitted to NLC in June 2020 and verified.
9) To address the statements made that the VGT has refused NLC meetings regarding the CAT process we would like to explain as follows. We chose not to meet with NLC officers at the latter stage of this initial decision process as we asked for communication in writing on the aim of these proposed meetings and to have them properly recorded. We were clear we did not want to come out of the CAT process or to seek an extension. This is the reason we did not have an informal meeting with NLC. By removing ourselves from the CAT process we would not be representing the community to the best of our ability. We had already agreed an extension to 15th February and submitted additional information in August 2020. The only other meeting that was requested by NLC was in November 2020 and this was in direct relation to available funding of £50,000 for the groups at the Viewpark Gardens that we had not been made aware of. We agreed to this meeting if it was recorded and minuted. Again we have documented proof of this. We have catalogued all emails to show that we had difficulty establishing communication with NLC throughout the earlier stages of the process. An extension to allow us to establish funding would not have been beneficial as all lenders interested in funding us have stated we need a long term lease especially during covid recovery times.This is the reason we did not have an informal meeting with NLC in February 2021. We explained this in full via an email and asked them to make a decision by 15th February as agreed previously with NLC. By removing ourselves from the CAT process we would not be representing the community to the best of our ability.
10) We are not a commercial group and although we have enterprising ideas to keep the site maintained, our main focus is on keeping and restoring the gardens and the buildings for and with the community and ensuring the gardens remain free for the community to access. The VGT are here to represent the aspirations and hopes of the community. A community who has supported us and valued the gardens as much as everyone here at the charity.
This is our vision and we are obviously very disappointed that NLC could not support us by giving us 5 years to achieve this. We know how much you all love the gardens. We are aware of the desperate need for facilities and a green safe space in Thorniewood. The Trust is here to represent every one of you with the knowledge that the loss of the Viewpark Gardens to subsequent sale then development would be a loss that this community would find almost impossible to recover from. With your support we believe this area can create something amazing. We know the people, we know how important this is. This community has the skills, ability and determination to realise the garden's potential. Not just post-Covid but for generations to come.
Therefore the VGT will follow the Community Asset Transfer process of internal review first and then, if needed, to seek a review from Scottish Ministers. We carry on undeterred.
As always we thank all of you for your support and determination. We couldn't do this without you!
NLC DECISION REPORT
OCTOBER 2019, PRIOR TO CLOSURE
AUGUST 2020, AFTER GAINING ACCESS