Burchatts Farm Barn is a picturesque 18th Century barn at the north end of Stoke Park. For many years it was a venue for weddings and parties but in 2017 the Council closed it claiming that bookings had fallen and leased it to a local business. The decision was unpopular and there was a large number of objections. The new Council in 2020 asked the Council’s auditors, KPMG, to look into the process of disposal and a draft report was published in November 2020. The report was very critical of the Councils neglect of process
KPMG Draft Report critical of Council
One of the most important conclusions for me was: “We found there to be no consistent procedures, policies or governance structures in place for the disposal of Community Assets.”
What is even worse is that: “The council put in place a robust Asset Management Strategy and Framework in 2014 that outlines that value to the community should be considered alongside financial viability when making decisions about the future of assets, but the document has not been reviewed or updated since its creation and is not representative of current council operations.”
Coverage in Media
You can read about the response to the report in the Guildford Dragon
- Exposed: How Tory Council mishandled Burchatts Farm Lease
- Former Council leader claims officers anti-Tory
- KPMG should listen to all relevant Councillors
Response to KPMG Draft Report
My own observations were that the decision was entirely financial and yet the financial arguments were flawed. I have presented the evidence for this in a separate report. (Click here to view PDF)
Heritage Assets should be handled by appropriate deparments
The KPMG draft report into Burchatts Farm Barn looks at the process for disposing of assets and identifies many problems. (Click Here) However, from a heritage point of view the big problem is that the Asset Management team was allowed to decide the future of community and heritage buildings. It is understandable they wanted to clear their books of unprofitable buildings but the Executive should have taken a broader view. Indeed one of the major failings identified by the draft report is the Council’s a failure to consider its own “robust Asset Management Strategy and Framework that outlines that value to the community should be considered alongside financial viability when making decisions about the future of assets”.
According to the report, in January 2014 the Lead Councillor for Asset Management set a strategic priority to improve the return on assets. The Property Review Group then identified assets that were not making a return. And so it began. One by one the council started to pick off heritage buildings around the town. It was very clear to those of us who protested that the Executive did not want to understand the value of heritage or want to listen who people who did. Even the Guildhall was not immune. Rentals were hiked preventing its use for arts and charity events that could have made it a flagship for the town. See Gordon Bridger’s excellent article in the Guildford Dragon
The big irony is that the asset management team do excellent work raising money for the town through investments. Previous Councillors for Asset Management were regularly in the news not usually commercial successes. Some people may remember an article on the Odeon was acquired to allow the town to open up the riverside (Click here). However, this, to my knowledge, was a rare article compared with the were dozens and dozens of articles and letters over heritage. Remember the plans to close Guildford Museum? What about the shocking and unwarranted legal action against the Surrey Archaeological Society? The pointless removal of their library to create a room that’s been almost continuously empty for three years? The decision to sell West Lodge that would have inevitably led to its demolition by a new owner? The claims that West lodge was not very historic despite council commissioned reports stating it was an “integral part” of a scheduled monument? Then there was the decision to “privatise” the Chantries Campsite. Thankfully plans to dispose of the medieval Wanborough Barn were headed off internally by officers before the issue blew up in the council’s face. No wonder people rallied round over Burchatts Farm Barn and thank goodness a report officially recognises what went on. And thank goodness we have a paper like the Guildford Dragon which provides a record of everything I have just said.
On Thursday (19th November 2020) at the Governance Meeting, Councillor Spooner blamed officers over Burchatts Farn Barn. Some poor practices are indeed embedded in the council but it was his Executive that rail roaded the above decisions through. The Executive were not puppets of the officers. They could have stopped all of the above. They just had to listen to the factual arguments and logic of campaigners who addressed them at council meetings. In their single minded determination to clean up the asset management’s list of properties the Executive allowed unacceptable behaviour (e.g. legal action against a valued charity), severely damaged the reputation of the council and shamed our town in the eyes of heritage bodies and others around the country.