The future of council offices at the centre of a failed Forfar superpub plan could be decided today.
Pub giant JD Wetherspoon had the historical buildings in its sights for a second Angus outlet, but backed out of a six-figure deal after a storm of controversy over a planned closed doors deal between the local authority and the hospitality giant.
A saga stretching back to last summer has until now been shrouded in secrecy by the council due to commercial confidentiality protocols, but a report being put before a full meeting of the authority in Forfar this afternoon will present options for the future.
Wetherspoon offered £400,000 for the three-storey, 150-year-old property at 5-7 The Cross in a surprise approach last summer and the bid was poised to be accepted after councillors voted in private to take the cash.
However, when news of the planned sale leaked out, a local businessman trumped the pub chain price, forcing a council U-turn which saw the prominent building put on the open market only for no formal offers to be received.
Wetherspoon subsequently came back with a reduced offer of £350,000, which was accepted by the council but in a further twist the firm subsequently backed out and said it would not be coming to Forfar.
The building is now only used by elected members and some councillors fear it will now become a costly white elephant for the authority after chief executive Richard Stiff’s confirmation in the report going before today’s meeting that the maintenance bill for the next five years is “expected to amount to a figure significantly in excess of £400,000”.
His report does not favour the status quo, with much of the sprawling property lying empty.
“This would represent a significant under-use of the property and still leave the council with the need to identify funds for the maintenance requirements of a very light use property,” says Mr Stiff.
“The council could elect to re-market the property. However, the formal and full marketing of the property in 2014 produced no offers.”
Of the more likely outcome, Mr Stiff states: “Within the Transforming Angus programme the Agile workstream is looking to enable new mobile and agile ways of working, modernise the council’s approach to the use of technology and deliver fit for purpose and sustainable office accommodation.
“To date, in view of the interest of JD Wetherspoon, 57 The Cross has been excluded from this project. Including the building in the scope of this review will enable all options for future use to be considered.”