The fire service has defended its U-turn decision to pull Budleigh Salterton’s former fire station from auction in favour of selling it through sealed bids.
At the end of July, when the building was first advertised for sale, Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) told East Devon News auctioning the property ‘enables a transparent, certain and fair route to sale’.
A fortnight before the auction, DSFRS aborted its plans in favour of sealed bids, which closed yesterday, September 2, saying it had been advised the move would ‘achieve best value’.
The change of plan – revealed on Friday, August 28 – came as a ‘cruel’ blow to the Budleigh Community Workshop Trust (BCWT).
The charity group hopes to buy the building for the town. It successfully raised £50,000 during August to add to more than £150,000 in donations and pledges to be in ‘a strong position’ to bid for the former Station Road fire station.
But much of the money raised by BCWT was crowdfunded and expected to be released in time for next week’s auction, leaving the group days to find funds to submit the best sealed bid by yesterday’s 5pm deadline.
On deadline day Bill McDermott, BCWT chairman, said he feared the charity group would not have sufficient funds available in time to win the sale.
Mr McDermott said: “Nail-biting doesn’t cover it.
“It’s cruel. We would rather have an auction and have the open competition and see what it’s costing us.”
A spokesperson for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said: “We appreciate there is a lot of interest in the future of the site of the former fire station in Budleigh Salterton.
“As a public service, our aim is to secure the best price for any land we sell.
“The proceeds from the sale are to help us to reinvest in our work to make communities safer, so we want to make sure we get the best outcome.
“We have advertised to sell the site by auction, but we have been advised that inviting sealed bids will achieve best value and gives all interested parties the opportunity to bid.
“We will review these bids before a decision is made.”
When the Budleigh Community Workshop Trust launched its campaign to raise funds to buy the two-storey former fire station, the group knew it needed ‘significant money’ to be able to compete at auction.
When the auction was aborted in favour of sealed bids, BCWT said it hoped it could still win the sale.
Mr McDermott said: “This has come as a blow to the trust as they thought they had until next week to get all the funds together, but hope they can still make an acceptable offer.
“Hopefully the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, the freeholders and sellers, will look favourably on the community bid understanding how much it would mean to so many people.”
BCWT’s plan is to turn the former fire station into a community workshop where people can share and learn new skills, and make friends.
The project would be run on similar lines to the Men’s Shed, and a repair shop, where young adults and older residents could mix and share skills, plus space for people to chat and socialise with a cuppa.
The two-storey fire base, in Station Road, was permanently closed at the start of April 2020, as part of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service’s cost cutting consultation, Safer Together.
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