Public property: Sell the poor performers, pressure group says

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Jersey Taxpayers’ Alliance president Roger Bale has called for the States to carry out a full audit of its property portfolio, which he believes is mismanaged, and says the government should consider selling any buildings that generate less than a four per cent return to help fund expensive public projects.

His comments come after it was revealed last month that Piquet House, a historic building in the Royal Square that the States voted to keep in public ownership in 2014, would remain empty for at least another 18 months.

Four years ago, the States voted in favour of cancelling the proposed sale of the building to a private buyer to instead investigate making it available for ‘public or community’ use.

Infrastructure Minister Kevin Lewis said, however, that the cost of refurbishment, which stands at between £750,000 and £1 million, had proved to be ‘a stumbling block’ and that funding would not be available until at least 2020.

Environment Minister John Young, who lodged the proposition to block the building’s sale, said last week that the States needed to review how it managed its property portfolio.

But Mr Bale, the former chairman of Huelin Renouf shipping, said that he believed that the building could easily have been converted for business purposes by a private owner and should have been sold.

‘The States, in their wisdom, decided not sell this property because it was selling the family silver,’ he said.

‘But, if they had sold it they would still be able to control its planning and use. For example, if someone wanted to build a nightclub there they could block it.

‘Since the decision not to sell, the building has continued in a worsening state of repair, contributing virtually nothing in the way of revenue to the States.’

He added: ‘You could sell it to a private owner to raise capital. What could work there is to build a restaurant and offices in what would be a prime location.

‘We have a new hospital that needs to be funded and there is plenty of underutilised property that the States could sell to raise capital.’

Mr Bale said that he believed a full ‘audit’ of the States property portfolio was required and that buildings that were not making a decent return should be sold.

‘All of the States properties should be valued and those which, say, do not have a four per cent return could be sold to raise capital,’ he said.

‘If properties are privately owned then you have to make them work for you. If they are States-owned, then you just need to administer them.’

The Jersey Taxpayers’ Alliance was formed earlier this year to give a voice to taxpayers and to campaign to reform taxes and control public spending.

More details can be found at taxpayersalliance.je.

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