£2.25m city office for disposal by DSD
A LONDONDERRY city centre office valued at between £1,250,000 and £2,250,000 and deemed surplus by the Department of Social Development (DSD) is amongst a range of properties listed for disposal over the next three years.
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland says he wants to dispose of Richmond Chambers in the next three years.
Two years ago the Sentinel reported that DSD was due to sell the lease on the office - then home to over 150 civil servants - if no other public body wanted to acquire it.
DSD argued the disposal of the lease to the property at Richmond Chambers would help attract private tenants and lessen the financial burden on the Department.
The 2010 move followed a decade-old Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) report on the management of Richmond Chambers that found DSD was paying a heavy service charge under the terms of its lease for the office space.
According to the March 2000 audit report DSD was required to pay a service-charge which included items such as security, maintenance, cleaning and management costs.
Now Mr McCausland has reiterated DSD’s intention to dispose of the block in response to an Assembly Question.
Other land for disposal includes a small portion of land being transferred to Derry City Council to facilitate the construction of Guildhall terrace and ramp to Harbour Museum. The land is currently valued at £1,000.
Equally, DSD plans to lease part of the site to the North West Regional Science Park in 2013/14 although DSD will retain the freehold for the site, but the land will be controlled by the Science Park.
Regarding the Richmond Chambers offices, the costly service charges (approximately £220,000 for 1999-2000) were the same for the unoccupied, unheated, uncleaned office accommodation in Richmond Chambers as for the busy retail units in the adjoining shopping centre.
This prompted the Department’s decision to dispose of the property by transfer to another public body or by open market sale.
A DSD spokesperson told the Sentinel in 2010 it would dispose of Richmond Chambers in accordance with Land and Property Services (LPS) guidelines for the Disposal of Surplus Public Sector Property in Northern Ireland.
“The first stage in this process involves LPS doing a trawl round other relevant public sector organisations to determine if they have any interest in acquiring the surplus property before it is considered for an open market sale.
“In the absence of interest from public sector bodies LPS will select and appoint a selling agent in accordance with the relevant government procurement guidelines to market the property,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson also confirmed to the Sentinel the surplus property in question was the office suite “currently occupied by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the Department for Social Development and the Department for Education and Learning.”
The spokesperson also confirmed the NIAO report of 2000 inspired the decision to dispose of the office.
“The management of the Richmond Chambers was the subject of a Northern Ireland Audit Office Report at which time it was recommended that the Department should dispose of the lease to the property to attract private sector tenants thereby alleviating the continuing financial burden on the Department in terms of achieving and sustaining full occupation.
“This approach would be in keeping with the Department’s Regeneration focus of seeking to attract private sector investment.”
The lease on the office runs until 2112. The property is owned by Friends Provident Life Office but DSD holds the office accommodation on a 125 year lease from 1987.
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