Exeter: ‘Selling off Civic Centre could raise millions’

Exeter City Council has been urged to sell the Civic Centre as a way of raising the cash it needs to stay afloat as government support ebbs away.

It has been estimated that the authority could raise at least £2.5million by selling the five-storey 1960s building in Paris Street and renting offices from Devon County Council at County Hall instead.

The sell-off was part of a package of measures put to the Labour-run council by the Progressive Group, which is made up of opposition Green and Liberal Democrat councillors, writes Local Democracy Reporter Guy Henderson.

They also called for more investment in street cleaning, doorstep glass recycling and an investment in allotments alongside a reversal of the hike in allotment fees planned for next year.

The demands were made at a meeting of the full council at which budgets for the coming year were set and the level of council tax fixed.

Progressive Group co-leader Councillor Diana Moore said: “The Conservative government has underfunded the local services that councils deliver for years, but the Labour administration running the city council has failed to focus on ensuring the council’s essential services are properly supported.”

Other opposition councillors agreed. “It’s obvious that we need new ideas,” said former Labour councillor Rob Hannaford.

Cllr Peter Holland said a planned increase in parking charges would hit the city’s retailers and unfairly target motorists.

But council leader Phil Bialyk said the budget showed a council performing well despite financial pressures

“Finances remain tight,” he said. “The cost of providing our services is increasing by more than we are receiving from central government to pay for them.”

He said the council had to reduce costs by being more efficient, cutting services or raising fees. And, he said, the council anticipated an even tougher budget next year.

“Exeter is not alone in facing these challenges,” he said. “Everyone will be aware of the high profile cases of other councils in trouble, but due to good stewardship this is not a position Exeter finds itself in.

“Exeter continues to be a successful and prosperous city. It is performing well, and there is much to look forward to in the years ahead.”

Having voted against the Progressive group’s amendments, the Labour-controlled council voted overwhelmingly in favour of the budget proposed by Cllr Bialyk.

It means an average Band D property in Exeter will pay the city council £180.37 in council tax, an increase of £5.24. On top of that, households pay just over £1,700 to Devon County Council, £275 for police services and £100 for the fire service.

“Setting a budget is all about priorities and making choices,” said Cllr Bialyk. “We end up not pleasing everybody, but we are still here.”

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