Council needed more transparency over Windlestone Hall sale, report finds

The Northern Echo: Windlestone Hall Windlestone Hall

A COUNCIL displayed a lack of transparency over the sale of a Grade-II listed hall which critics claim was sold too cheaply, an auditor has found.

The independent report into Durham County Council’s sale of Windlestone Hall supported the council’s £241,000 valuation, but said a second independent figure should have been sought.

Weardale County Councillor, John Shuttleworth, reported the sale of the hall, near Rushyford, to the Audit Commission claiming it had been sold for a fraction of what it was worth.

Independent auditor, Cameron Waddell, of Mazars, investigated the sale of the hall and said he could find no evidence to suggest the council’s valuation of the hall was “deficient”.

However, he also said the authority should have obtained a second independent valuation “in the interests of transparency”.

In a report based on his findings prepared for the council’s audit committee, Avril Wallage, manager of internal audit and risk, said the building was last officially valued at £900,000 in January 2009, half of what it was worth two years previously.

The council was spending £100,000-a-year on running costs, including heating the empty building during winter, with a further £300,000 needed for urgent repairs.

To renovate the 178-year-old mansion, which was the birthplace of 1950s Prime Minister Anthony Eden, would have cost at least £3.5m.

Ms Wallage said the council’s valuer believed the £241,000 sale represented the best deal for the authority as there had been no other interest.

One condition of the sale was that the council had to pay £36,000 to repair the building’s central heating, the report revealed.

Ms Wallage admitted: “Regardless of whether or not the sale represented best [value], some of the processes in place lacked clarity and transparency.”

Councillor Shuttleworth said the council needed to be more open about its transactions.

“The council is like a circus run by the clowns,” he alleged.

He said: “I think the lack of transparency shown throughout this whole process speaks for itself, it is typical of this organisation.”

During the Second World War it was used to house prisoners of war and between 1957 and 2006 the hall was a residential school for children with special needs.

The family who bought the hall in 2011 have previously said they want to restore it to a private home.

Stuart Timmiss – head of planning and assets at Durham County Council – said he welcomed the report and the authority has already taken steps to resolve the issues identified.

He said: “We remain absolutely true to our initial statement that; given the condition of the building, the state of the market and the very significant maintenance costs being incurred by the council the sale did represent best value for money for tax payers.”

Mr Timmiss said the sale was the best way to conserve the building.

Comments (5)

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10:02pm Thu 14 Feb 13

mog2012 says...

so they only sold it for 205K

what a scam

who got the brown envelopes?
so they only sold it for 205K what a scam who got the brown envelopes? mog2012
  • Score: 0

1:02pm Tue 19 Feb 13

lester bowie says...

Thank God someone took it off the councils hands. The place was falling down and would hardly have survived another winter!!

I attended Windlestone Hall from 1969 (aged 9yrs) until 1976 because I was Asthmatic....I would like to say a big thank you to the new owners for saving my home of some 7 yrs. THANK YOU !!!
Thank God someone took it off the councils hands. The place was falling down and would hardly have survived another winter!! I attended Windlestone Hall from 1969 (aged 9yrs) until 1976 because I was Asthmatic....I would like to say a big thank you to the new owners for saving my home of some 7 yrs. THANK YOU !!! lester bowie
  • Score: 2

8:47pm Tue 19 Feb 13

George19 says...

Just where do they get running + heating costs of £100 000 per year, and then stating that £36,000 were needed to repair the heating system,typical blarney by the council.
Just where do they get running + heating costs of £100 000 per year, and then stating that £36,000 were needed to repair the heating system,typical blarney by the council. George19
  • Score: 0

7:45pm Wed 20 Feb 13

Jean Sullivan says...

lester bowie wrote:
Thank God someone took it off the councils hands. The place was falling down and would hardly have survived another winter!!

I attended Windlestone Hall from 1969 (aged 9yrs) until 1976 because I was Asthmatic....I would like to say a big thank you to the new owners for saving my home of some 7 yrs. THANK YOU !!!
Well said Lester Bowie I agree totally the place was in a terrible state and yes maybe the new owners got it for what people think was a bargain price but it will take millions to renovate it which I believe the new owners are going to do.
Good luck to them in the renovation of Windlestone Hall and they certainly have my best wishes for the project.The fact Windlestone Hall is to be a family residence once again is wonderful.
[quote][p][bold]lester bowie[/bold] wrote: Thank God someone took it off the councils hands. The place was falling down and would hardly have survived another winter!! I attended Windlestone Hall from 1969 (aged 9yrs) until 1976 because I was Asthmatic....I would like to say a big thank you to the new owners for saving my home of some 7 yrs. THANK YOU !!![/p][/quote]Well said Lester Bowie I agree totally the place was in a terrible state and yes maybe the new owners got it for what people think was a bargain price but it will take millions to renovate it which I believe the new owners are going to do. Good luck to them in the renovation of Windlestone Hall and they certainly have my best wishes for the project.The fact Windlestone Hall is to be a family residence once again is wonderful. Jean Sullivan
  • Score: 3

7:30pm Thu 21 Feb 13

lester bowie says...

Thank Jean Sullivan :)
Thank Jean Sullivan :) lester bowie
  • Score: 1

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