Agenda item


There were no questions, petitions or statements at the time of despatch



Ms Wendi Lethbridge attended to ask Cabinet a question about the Abbey Care Home in Staveley.


She spoke to say the following:


‘My name is Wendy Lethbridge and I have lived in Staveley for over 30 years.  I have had 2 accidents since 2018 which have reduced my mobility and access to my house is not easy.


In 2019 the decision was made to close the Abbey Care Home and I was one of many local people who objected and signed a 2000 strong petition to SAVE OUR ABBEY.  But in 2020 Cumbria County Council closed it anyway.  Staveley people are determined to carry on looking after its older residents, in Staveley, people, who like me, have strong ties to Staveley, and close friends.


Staveley Community Trust was set up so that the building and grounds could be owned by members of the community so that the people decide what it will deliver and how to run it.  Over a year ago, in October 2021, an innovative, costed proposal that matched local needs was submitted to Cumbria County Council.  South Lakeland District Council were impressed enough to offer a £260,000 Community Homes Grant to prepare for the build, and to make our case even stronger.


Other grant funding has been promised.  Not only would the site provide extra care homes, a care hub, and home from hospital care, but potentially free up local homes for local families, in a village suffering from second home blight.


Cumbria County Council eventually came back with a number of points of viability to which we responded with full support from the Parish Council in May this year – then waited, from June to September, during which time Staveley Community Trust were led to believe that CCC was working with them so that the Abbey could be transferred to the community at less than market value.


Having waited for so long for more consultation, the decision on 24 October this year that Cumbria County Council had refused to transfer the Abbey building as a Community Asset, felt like a slap in the face, and the final straw came when less than 3 weeks later, it was put on the open market – to be sold to the highest bidder by 18 January 2023.


We intend to make sure it is owned by our community, so Staveley Community Trust have launched a crowdfunding page which is doing very well, and we have been offered match funding once the fund reaches £100,000.


More than 120 people so far have written to the LDNPA to object to a change of use from C2, and emphasise that we need a care facility in Staveley.


Nobody should have to leave the area they live in because they are older or need a little help.  That’s the starting point for our proposal.  If the Abbey is sold to the highest bidder I want to know how the new Westmorland and Furness Authority will meet my needs and others like me?  Cumbria County Council has not done a great job of it so far, according to their own Cabinet papers the situation is bad and worsening.


Her question for Cabinet was – should the criteria for accepting bids on this building be other than money, we have a valid proposal, so why not a Community Asset Transfer’


She ended by mentioning the number of meeting which had been arranged with trust members to discuss the proposals, but has then been cancelled, which was frustrating.  She understood that the Leader of the new Westmorland and Furness Authority would have the power of veto over any proposal made during the last 6 months of Cumbria County Council’s existence.


The Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Property thanked Ms Lethbridge for attending today to ask her question and gave the following response:


‘The disposal of property needs to ensure the achievement of good practice and where appropriate, that the maximum benefit of the asset is realised. This can be through obtaining the highest sale value or meeting wider community wellbeing objectives supported by the Council. 


Community Asset Transfer (CAT’s) is one of the ways in which the corporate priorities can be achieved.  The assets that the council owns in local communities may play an important part in enabling voluntary groups to come together, to offer communities a range of activities and services that benefit the social and economic wellbeing of an area. CAT’s can provide an opportunity to enable communities to help themselves.


The Corporate Director – Economy and Highways (or relevant delegated officer) may determine that a property is not suitable for use by the community. In those instances the property will proceed straight to the open market.


The Council has been transferring assets to communities for many years with local elected members being at the heart of this activity.


For any transfer, the Council would require a proposal from a suitable group seeking the transfer to outline the community benefits, development plans and business case, covering financial viability, proposed utilisation, benefits to the organisation and community, and evidence of wider support. As set out in the Council’s letter dated the 13th October to the Abbey Development Group, regretfully, after due consideration by officers, the Council determined in line with its Disposal Policy 2016 that the business case, as submitted, did not demonstrate a viable future use for this asset. The proposal had little firm evidence to demonstrate achievable project delivery or viability.


Cumbria County Council acknowledges the community-minded spirit which has motivated volunteers from within the local community to come forward to offer to take responsibility for the asset. Whilst such action is to be applauded there is concern that the core volunteer team would be taking on significant organisational and financial risks. It remains to be seen how any shortfall in income or capital funds would be met. Cumbria County Council would not wish to facilitate the transfer of this substantial asset to local volunteers who would soon be struggling with attempting to run a non-viable enterprise.


Cumbria County Council’s decision does not preclude the Abbey Development Group from making an offer to purchase this asset under the current disposal process.’


The Leader of the Council also thanked Ms Lethbridge for attending the meeting, and although he was sure she was disappointed with the response he noted that the trust and members of the public would be pursuing the objection via the planning route, and if successful Cumbria County Council would abide by the outcome of the planning decision.


He noted the comments about the Leader of the new authority having power of veto over this decision but had been advised that this decision would not be covered by the statutory provisions for selling assets due to the value.  Discussions had nevertheless been held with the Leader of the Westmorland and Furness Shadow Authority who had concurred in writing with the CC decision.