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Asset transfer

Source: Public Sector Executive Jan/Feb 12

A council-owned outdoor activity site sitting vacant since 2004 is being revitalised after private sector investment, showing that there can be value to others in unsustainable local authority assets, say mayor of Doncaster Peter Davies and Paul Gilbert, deputy chief executive of Kingswood.

The former Earth Centre in South Yorkshire, a Landmark Millennium project, never achieved the visitor numbers it hoped to, and it closed in 2004.

But it was still costing Doncaster Council £200,000 a year to maintain the vacant site by 2010, when it became determined to do something better with it. The site was sold to outdoor activity specialists Kingswood in 2011, which is now construcing a new facility, the Dearne Valley Centre, on the site. It will open later this year.

Paul Gilbert, deputy chief executive of Kingswood, told PSE: “Working with Doncaster Council, we identified that it was a resource that we wished to proceed with and rebuild and re-launch, whilst maintaining the core concept of it as an environmental, educational, sustainable facility. We could make available to the local community a resource that literally wasn’t there – or wasn’t operating – before we got involved.

“Like any council, Doncaster are facing increasing pressure on their expenditure. They were maintaining a centre that was not operational; we have taken that cost off the council and then invested significant millions to redevelop the site. With Willmott Dixon as our contractor, we’ve have local people involved in that redevelopment, which generates revenue in the local area. We’ve also worked with and agreed with the council that we will support the local schools by providing subsidies. This is increasingly important, because as the councils face this increase in expenditure pressure, we as a commercial provider firmly believe that we have an increasing responsibility to ensure we provide inclusive options and entitlements to all the schools and councils that work with.”

Gilbert presents the partnership as a winwin for the council, which has got rid of a site that was proving a huge drain on its resources, while having its residents and schools benefit from a great new facility.

He added: “If anything, we have provided additional options to them for ensuring that their schools and teachers have learning outside the classroom opportunities that are greatly increased from what was there before.”

Elected mayor of Doncaster, Peter Davies, has been a particular backer of the project. He told PSE: “We inherited a failed attraction which was costing the council money to maintain. I was delighted when Kingswood appeared with a solution to the problem which was beneficial to the children and young people of the borough. Kingswood are creating a top class educational activity centre and I am delighted to see the former Earth Centre put to good use. I have every confidence that they will make a success of the project.”

Gilbert explained: “It’s about meeting the people involved, understanding their requirements; their aims and objectives from the educational perspective. We also have to meet and understand the aims and objectives from the capital and property perspective of the council.

“We don’t envisage any major challenges because we established a core understanding between both parties from the start. We both want to provide opportunities for local children: to enrich their educational experiences by taking learning outside the classroom.”

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