Wivenhoe Town Council Statement on the office redevelopment and the Royal Mail lease.

Published: 13th July 2021

June 2021

Background

  • The building was acquired by Wivenhoe Urban District Council as their main base in the town.
  • The premises were extended by the UDC in 1964.
  • In 1974 with Local Government Reorganisation the UDC ceased to exist, and the premises were transferred, free of charge, to Colchester Borough Council.
  • Wivenhoe Town Council was created from 1st April 1974 and rented as its base part of the premises from Colchester Borough Council.
  • Colchester BC rented the ground floor of the premises to third parties including Royal Mail.
  • Royal Mail have leased the ground floor of the premises for at least 20 years, at a modest rent.
  • The last renewal of the lease was over 10 years ago and was negotiated between Colchester BC and Royal Mail.
  • In 2016, Wivenhoe Town Council purchased the property from Colchester BC, and inherited the unexpired years of the lease with Royal Mail.
  • The purchase was funded by loan, and it was always intended that the acquisition would enable the Town Council to make much needed improvements to the building.

Statement

The Royal Mail lease with WTC was due for renewal in January 2020. In June 2019 the Town Clerk engaged an agent to commence negotiations with the Royal Mail for a new lease. Solicitors acting for the Royal Mail confirmed their refusal to engage in negotiations. We were advised by the agent that the Royal Mail were paying much lower rent than the market expectation.  The use of the space by the Royal Mail had also changed considerably over the years. For example, the increased number of diesel vans using the yard.

This situation led WTC to consider the options available and seek legal advice. One of the options was to redevelop the premises as it was in major need of redevelopment. Full council voted in favour of this in October 2019 at a closed meeting due to business sensitivities.

The building will be redeveloped for the following reasons:

  1. To create an environmentally compliant space for the staff and for the town on the ground floor. The current building is old and outdated regards energy efficiency, although it is structurally sound. The redeveloped building will meet with the decision made by Full Council in 2019 to consider the environment in all of its projects and Full Council’s acknowledgement of the climate emergency, also in 2019.
  2. To create an additional community space which the residents can hire and an extended council chamber so that more members of the public can attend our meetings.
  3. To provide disabled access and disabled parking.
  4. To create a welcoming reception area which will also house an information space and public wifi access.

 

WTC’s plans for the premises will be shared with the town soon. We are currently engaging an architect.

It should be noted that when the solicitors for the Royal Mail did engage with WTC about terms of a new lease, this wasn’t until February 2021 and the offer of rent made to WTC was less than that currently paid. In fact, the rent offered would not be sufficient to rent a flat in the town. The first floor will also be redeveloped and available to rent. Following advice from a commercial letting agent the expected rent for the first floor will be double than that offered in February 2021 by the Royal Mail.

By February 2021, the Council had decided that the premises were already in need of a major refurbishment and the lease should not be renewed as it was not in the town’s interests, including its’ financial interests. We have a duty to the public to achieve the best value from our assets and to protect public funds. The Royal Mail requested an extension until February 2022 to vacate and find a new premises, which we have granted.

This decision taken by WTC was based on sound legal and business advice. It is not for WTC to consider a new location for the sorting office.

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