For sale: jails, loos and a school in council review

By Nick Parry
BBC Wales news

Image caption,
In the market? - there are a wide range of historic and unusual council properties up for sale in Wales.

Fancy owning a Georgian jail in Pembrokeshire, an old public toilet near Brecon or a former railway station in Powys?

If the house where Nelson received the freedom of Haverfordwest is a bit too grand and an empty school in a rural setting is more your taste, then you are spoilt for choice.

Many of the 22 county councils in Wales are reviewing their property portfolios and there are some historic, unusual and quirky buildings on the market.

With budget cuts expected to hit hard in the coming months, there could be many more.

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said councils routinely examined the land and buildings they held to ensure that they were put to best use.

Image caption,
A former prison in Haverfordwest is being put up for sale

It said the recession had resulted in a significant drop in both the number and value of sales. In some cases councils had reported income from capital receipts had fallen to a third of pre-recession levels.

But the story for those more unusual buildings is different and the WLGA said money raised was needed to fund capital programmes, particularly those relating to school building improvements, social services modernisation and extra care housing provision.

Gwynedd council has raised more than £500,000 by selling a clutch of properties in its area including two public toilets, a mortuary and Liverpool House in Pwllheli, the birthplace of one of Wales' most famous poets, Albert Evans Jones.

Powys council has put a range of interesting buildings either on the market or under offer, including public toilets near Brecon and at Ystradfellte, a former youth hostel in Presteigne and a former railway station in the south of the county.

Last year Ceredigion council sold the former Lampeter Town Hall to a local business trust and it was recently reopened by Prince Charles as a Welsh Quilt Museum.

In Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire council has put Foley House up for sale. It is the Georgian mansion where Lord Nelson received the freedom of the town in 1802.

Later this year the town's former prison, built in 1820 and currently used as a records office and archive store, will come on the market.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Wales said such buildings were often expensive to maintain and run so there were obvious benefits to councils looking to save money, as well as raise funds.

"Spectacular locations"

Ryan Williams, chairman of the Mid Wales Local Association, said: "There are some eclectic people who look for these quirky things - it's surprising how many people there are."

He said the benefits for buyers were that more unusual buildings could be relatively inexpensive and some times in spectacular locations where it would be next to impossible to get planning permission for a new build.

But he said there were also drawbacks.

New owners could be asked to look for employment uses for buildings before a planning committee would even consider allowing them to become residential.

"I sold a little chapel a few years ago - it was a small tin tabernacle - and to be fair to the planning authority they allowed it to be converted into a house as long as it retained its character," he added.

"[But] with rural properties there are quite strict policies and the buyer might become involved in a long planning process."

Mr Williams said councils often had to walk a tightrope between ensuring they got the best possible price while at the same time protecting the character of the buildings and, if possible, keeping them in community use.

"They are different and all quite a challenge to sell and value," he said.

He believes one way councils could increase the revue raised was if more looked to auctions as way of selling them, rather than sealed bids or tender.

"With the more quirky buildings if they are placed in a public auction you can generate a bit of excitement, you get competition, it is transparent and you have the certainty of sale when the hammer comes down."

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