More questions than answers

I noticed your article ‘Council agrees to buy its new seafront home’ on page 2 of last Friday’s paper.

his whole issue raises a number of questions, which were not answered in the article.

The one question that did have an answer was ‘How much rent does Hastings Borough Council pay for the offices at Aquila House (AH)?’ A: £236,000 per annum.

I never managed to find this out when I objected to HBC selling some land at Summerfields, where the registrar used to be, and where there are two perfectly useable office buildings (as well as under-used space in the Town Hall).

If these were used for council offices etc, then all that rent money would be saved, and could be used in a few years to build new offices on council-owned land at Summerfields.

HBC claimed they had no money for new buildings.

I particularly object to council taxpayers’ money being spent on AH (whether as rent or purchase) because the owners are an offshore company, registered in the British Virgin Islands, so whoever they are, they’re avoiding paying UK tax on the profit they derive from our council tax payments, which we cannot avoid.

The Land Registry also states that HBC took out a lease on December 9, 2014, for most of the building.

Two shop units have similar short leases taken out on April 4 and November 30, 2012, for 10 and 12 years, and there’s an electricity sub-station on a long lease (99 years from 1970).

Your article suggests that HBC will buy the whole building, but these leases would be the only income gained with which the purchase could be funded.

What is the annual income from these leases?

What is the purchase price for AH? In an era of austerity and council budget cutbacks (and when they say they have no money to build on their own land), how will HBC fund the difference?

With regard to the purchase price, the Land Registry says that Nationwide Building Society has a charge on AH, for a mortgage of £9,550,000, from November 18, 2005, presumably taken out by the offshore company when they bought AH.

It is reasonable to think that the purchase price then was greater than the mortgage, and property prices have risen.

Since HBC has only recently had the expense of moving into AH, the vendor will surely try to take advantage and charge above the ‘going rate’.

There is also the question of AH’s long-term condition, given that it is still clad in scaffolding, as part of circa £1.5m of essential repairs.

There is a rumour that the offshore company has gone into liquidation, but no notice of this has appeared in the London Gazette.

I do wonder if the motive for deciding to buy AH was to cover up the sheer folly of HBC giving the offshore company £250,000 of council taxpayers’ money to construct a new Council Chamber in AH (and when there is only 11 years left to run on the lease), if said offshore company is in financial trouble.

It is impossible to find this out, as offshore companies do not have to register their accounts at Companies’ House.

Potentially, the whole of that £250,000 could be lost if someone else were to buy AH.

A similar sum has been spent on moving the contact centre from AH to the Town Hall, and the Information Centre in the opposite direction. This has been a financial disaster for the Information Centre and for the town’s image.

The decision to move the Council Chamber to AH was another waste of our council tax (enough money to build a Council Chamber with loos on council-owned land).

The Town Hall was not ‘taken over by the register office’: HBC chose to offer the registrar the Town Hall’s upper floor, without reserving use of the Council Chamber in the evenings, or making the former Information Centre, now the contact centre, dual-purpose; either should have cost much less than £250,000.

Here’s another question: How much did HBC spend on alterations to the Town Hall to accommodate the Registrar? Also, how much rent is the Registrar (ESCC) paying? And how much did they pay at Summerfields (we contribute to ESCC too)?

Heather Grief

Tower Road West

St Leonards

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