Fringe Box



Constitutional Hall to be Resold After Just 15 Months – Expected Profit £ .8m

Published on: 14 Feb, 2013
Updated on: 18 Jun, 2013
Constitutional Hall, 170 High Street, Guildford

Constitutional Hall, 170 High Street, Guildford

A High Street building, now a shop, sold at auction by Guildford Borough Council for £1.23m just 15 months ago, is again being advertised for sale. Offers of around £2.1m are invited by Mann Smith, Chartered Surveyors.

The auction sale caused controversy at the time. Some objected to this historic property asset, built as a meeting hall, being sold at all, especially in the light of its expected rental value. The current tenants Dwell, a furniture store, pay £185k per annum. Others favoured a plan to make it a cinema which some felt would be a community asset for the town.

Some local reaction to the story:

Cllr Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) said: The Lib Dem group were against the sale of Constitution Hall as we felt this was an historical High Street asset that we should keep. It’s very disappointing to hear that the building may now be sold again at a profit for the owner who bought it at auction. We still maintain that a small independent cinema would be a huge asset for the town and wish that there had been clearer support for this proposal.

The online advert for Constitutional Hall in the High Street

The online advert for Constitutional Hall in the High Street

Cllr Angela Gunning (Lab, Stoke) said: “A salutary tale! One might wonder why the asking price is almost double that reached at  auction just 15 months ago. Indeed why is it for sale at all? I regretted that we, Guildford Borough Council, did not go down the route of leasing the Hall – for community use as a cinema, for example. Maybe we can learn from this and be more circumspect when considering disposal of other assets, should the occasion ever arise.”

Gerald Bland, a Director of The Guildford Vision Group said: “If you sell a public sector ugly duckling that could be a swan you make sure everyone is aware of the opportunity and include provisions so you can claw back super profits.That’s precisely what Councillor Palmer and Chris Mansfield have said will be done with the North Street developer documentation but you will find no such safeguards here.

Gillian Cameron, Secretary of the Guildford Society said: “The council should have signed up Dwell at £185,000 a year as they had been trying to let the building and had been in negotiation with a number of prospective tenants.

“If you sell an empty unmodernised shop at the bottom of the economic cycle, in an auction, you can’t expect a premium price. Local taxpayers and the community at large should be benefiting from the long term rental value of Constitutional Hall rather than a private investor.

“If there is a strategy for the Council’s entire investment portfolio individual properties within it will change from time to time. But the Guildford Society has seen no evidence that the Council’s strategic property advisers, Cushman & Wakefield, were involved either in the sale of the Constitutional Hall or the recently announced decision to buy Leys House in Woodbridge Road for a lower return on cost.

Another, long-standing, Guildford Society member, Auriol Earle, said: “It should not have been sold: it was the equivalent of selling the family jewels. The people of Guildford should benefit from this very valuable site and interesting structure, either financially or from being able to use it.”

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