The President outlined the story so far of the Monifieth History Society / House of Memories for new comers to the area.
The Monifieth Dream that became a Nightmare
With no regular meeting place available within Monifieth, the Monifieth Local History Society, formed in 2000, by those interested in preserving the heritage of the local area. By 2002 the Society proved to be successful with their displays, talks and services to the community and became a registered non-profit making Scottish Charity No SC034053, and a member of the Angus Museums and Heritage Forum. In 2004 with no fixed meeting place the Society leased former vacant retail premises at 55 High Street Monifieth and with help from members of the community repaired and decorated the premises. This action would allow them accommodation for meetings, talks and small displays, and for people to learn more about Monifieth Past. It became very popular and known as the House of Memories, managed and financed by unpaid volunteer members of the MLHS.
Members of the public requested that the MLHS accept items of historic interest be displayed within the House of Memories leaving them in their custody. With no Town Hall, Museum or Community Centre in Monifieth they stated a desire for the items “To be retained and displayed in Monifieth where they belong”. Over the years the House of Memories flourished by providing many services for the benefit of the community of all age groups and interests.
The MLHS `s website became internationally recognised as a great source of information while at the same time attracting visitors from afar. Monifieth was on the Tourist trail. Visitor numbers were high and it was calculated that over the years, by willingly providing the many services offered free of charge by unpaid volunteers had saved Angus Council in the region of £1,000,000. Similar services were available in other areas of Angus provided at the Council expense.
It became apparent over the years that the leased premises were not suitable, nor fit for purpose, and no longer appropriate. In 2015 the premises within Monifieth had become critical with decreasing accommodation for social interaction. Church Halls closed, Hotel Function rooms no longer available. Premises being sold for housing development with no planned infrastructure to meet the social needs of the ever-increasing population, which had reached over 12,000. Groups and organisations were being forced to disband or move to join groups within other Angus towns where amenities were provided, managed and financed by Angus Council. By 2017 the unsuccessful search for alternative accommodation proved impossible to solve with the proposed Monifieth Community Resource Centre facing failure in their attempt to secure the former Monifieth Public School to create a Monifieth Centre Community hub. The former Monifieth Public School property would be sold for housing development.
Conditions at the House of Memories at 55 High Street, Monifieth deteriorated to a critical stage when in August 2018 MLHS were forced to close the doors to the public. During their search for accommodation to house the community heritage property. MLHS made Angus Council aware of their interest in the Property at 81 High Street, Monifieth formerly Angus Council Access Office, where the staff and services had been transferred to the Monifieth Library, formerly the Monifieth Burgh Chambers. Police Scotland was still using part of the building until planned relocation took place. Their lease ended in June 2018 when the Police Office would be moved to a new location.
81 High Street had disabled facilities and High Street frontage, had a main area and anterooms suitable for the needs of a Community Heritage Centre. Initial enquiries regarding the opportunity to lease the premises for the establishment of a Monifieth Community Heritage Centre brought the email response “The property would never be leased as it was planned for housing development”. This was later denied by an Angus Council spokesperson in the local press who stated “there were no proposed plans for the building”.
An Angus Community Development Officer suggested buying the building.
The community nor MLHS had no financial funds for such an undertaking, and on their behalf due to the dire circumstances regarding lack of facilities to house the community heritage items Monifieth Local History Society a non profit making Scottish Charity, following discussion with an Angus Community Development Officer made a Community Asset Transfer (CAT)Lease application for the former Access / Police Office on 27th February 2018. Later they were informed that the formal procedure had been held back due to an error by Angus Council staff.
Requests for permission to view the vacant premises were met by excuses and difficulties. At very short notice a few MLHS members able to attend were allowed entry accompanied by a Community Development Officer. The consensus of opinion despite the limited viewing time, being that it could be suitable for the relocation of the House of Memories, Monifieth Community Heritage Centre, and would allow room for improvements of the services and display the community Heritage property in Monifieth. The considered plans for the community with great enthusiasm and hundreds of all age groups received relocation of the House of Memories and interests offering their support.
The Monifieth Community dream had begun.
At public meeting, which was held at 7.30pm on Wednesday 20th June 2018 in the Monifieth Community Cabin, the proposed Monifieth Community Heritage Centre plans were open for discussion. At a meeting with the Community Development Officer in the former Burgh Chambers /Library an offer was made for the use of an upstairs storage room for the month of June. The room was then required for a Library refurbishment programme. Sadly the situation in the House of Memories due to varied circumstances was closed in August 2018, with hopes of a successful outcome of the Angus Community Asset Transfer Application to relocate the heritage items and continue delivering the many services offered free of charge by the MLHS volunteers. With the premises closed the financing of the project dependent on visitors donations stopped. The elderly members were facing increasing health problems.
The thought of relocation created new interest in the work of the House of Memories with new members joining, others offering support by offering their services if required. Finance and Economic Development Dept Angus Council offered advice on future financial funding sources for the proposed Monifieth Community Heritage Centre, once a lease agreement was signed.
On 9th October 2018 Angus Council who fully supported the idea of establishing of a Monifieth Community Heritage Centre approved the CAT Lease application. This information was not given to MLHS until a much later date, but given to those attending a Community Council meeting on 9th October. Messages of congratulations on the successful step forward with the ambitious project poured in from literally all over. Later notification of our successful application was received with a proposed heads of lease conditions for our consideration and an agreed date of entry. We responded declaring our interest and would consider the conditions on offer within the allocated given time.
By November we had still been unable to gain any access to the building. Conditions reached a critical stage in the former House of Memories regarding storage of the Community Heritage property. Angus Council Property Dept in view of the dire circumstances as a temporary measure made the offer of temporary Occupancy Licence for storage purposes until the lease agreement for 81 High Street was signed. The proposed Occupancy Licence documentation, and the Lease application conditions were shown to our solicitor. It was agreed that the temporary Occupancy Lease agreement be accepted with a termination date 1st February 2019.
Arrangements were made for a key to be made available for the Community Heritage property to be stored within the former Access / Police office with permission to use the postal address of 81 High Street, Monifieth DD5 4AA by Monifieth Local History Society. On 6th December 2018 MLHS with the assistance of a removal firm, for which the MLHS paid the cost, they moved the heritage items into storage at 81 High Street. Keys were handed over by an electrician working in the premises.
At no time was there any discussion regarding payment for storage. The only discussions that had taken place were in brief phone calls with Gavin Balfour of Properties Dept Angus Council.
Over the festive season the post was uplifted on a daily basis.
A letter from Ian Lorimer, Head of Finance & Economic Development and Chairperson of the Angus Community Asset Transfer Group in a letter stated
- If we had not made an offer on CAT lease to accept by 1st February 2019 we need to agree to an extension of the licence to continue to occupy.
2. Our solicitor needs to issue an offer to acquire on lease by 13thMay 2019 – a photographic record of the condition of the building would be issued with the lease.
3. MLHS will be responsible for the ensuring the connection of gas electricity and water and responsible for direct payment to their suppliers. An application for an extension of the Occupancy Licence was submitted but not acknowledged nor given any response. Several weeks later in a telephone conversation with a Community Development Officer she said ” Oh you did get it I remember something popping into my email box”
With Community support the Community Heritage Centre Management Group was formed, Fund raising to finance the project began. Suggestions of a Crowdfunding appeal be made was taken up by a member of the public to help raise £10,000. Members of the community gave generous donations. The Angus Council match funding limited donation was denied, as they did not support `Gofundme`
The management group were aiming for a re-opening day 1st June 2019. Monifieth Local History Society was now receiving bills from suppliers for Gas, Electricity and Water despite not having signed or agreed a contract with any supplier. Other key holders had access to the premises and had property within the building. This was questioned only to be told “ It is customary and what happens when you takeover the lease of a building”. No formal lease agreement had been offered agreed or signed.
Neither contract nor agreement had been signed with any service provider. The premises were only used by Monifieth Community Heritage Centre Management Group for storage and postal services the conditions agreed until a lease agreement with date of entry signed by both parties. The condition of the property causing great concern, and photographs were sent to various Angus Council depts, eventually generating an email response from the Communities Development officer “ will be looked at once the lease is signed”
With no formal written lease offer and in consideration of the condition of the property on offer a professional survey was carried out, by DM Hall at a cost to the Monifieth Community Heritage Centre Group. The report, which created great, concerns regarding the structural condition of the building and financial responsibilities faced in accepting the lease offer were sent to Angus Council before the 13th May 2019 when the CAT lease offer expired.
Their response: With no lease agreement signed the date of 30th June 2019 was given by Angus Council to remove all the Community Heritage property from 81 High Street and vacate the building. The Community Heritage property was packed up and arrangements made for storage. once again all by unpaid volunteers. The cost of storage to be met from money given by the generosity and good will of the many supporters of a Monifieth Community Heritage Centre.
The search for appropriate accommodation goes on. The town that has nothing gets nothing, however hard they try. The dream is over but the Monifieth nightmare goes on.
Why the Lease was not Signed Alan Masterton.
On visiting the premises at 81, High Street, Mr. Masterton had shared his concerns re the state of the premises. Photographic evidence of ‘dilapidation’ was obtained, and as no response to this was forthcoming from Angus Council, he advised that a professional report of the state of the building should be obtained (undertaken by DM Hall). This report indicated the need for substantial renovation. It was agreed that in its current state, the building was unfit for purpose, and he advised against signing a lease. Angus Council were informed and responded with a notice to quit at short notice.
Angus Council Response: Helen Reid
Ms Reid explained that there had been confusion between a CAT-Community Asset Transfer and a ‘lease’. CAT allows a community group to take control of assets in their community, through a ‘Request of Rights’; clients should survey the property before making a decision. The CAT must be validated by the council, a process that takes up to 6 months and once validated, conditions cannot change. During the period the CAT is being processed, the council charge the clients a lease, in this case £350 per month. This is the situation Angus Council assumed MLHS was negotiating. Angus Council received 2 letters from MLHS on 3 June 2019, 20 days after the ‘CAT’ expiry period on 14 May 2019.
Mr. Masterton expressed frustration at not being able to contact the council – in this case by letter. Ms Reid explained offices had changed location and address.
Licence to Occupy is a lease, with ownership retained by the council, and the occupier charged a monthly rent, with the owner liable to keeping premises fit for purpose. This is what MLHS thought had been agreed.
The Way Forward At this point Stewart Hosie MP intervened, stating that there had been a clear breakdown of communication and that Angus Council should have been assisting the client to establish a CAT or lease. On questioning Ms Reid, it became clear that the rules and regulations surrounding CAT’s and leases were Angus Council regulations and not required by law and that therefore a lease agreement could still be taken up following full repair of the premises.
Alan Masterton then proposed that MLHS rent the premises at 81, High Street. Helen Reid thought this may be possible, but there had been three other notifications of interest in the property.
It was agreed not to continue with the proposed motions: to Dissolve the House of Memories, Sell the assets, and Transfer the funds, until the possibility of a re-negotiation of a lease had been resolved.
Ms Jennifer Carnell suggested that Angus Council should provide a room in Invertay School for the House of Memory contents, as a good will gesture.
Alan Masterton proposed that MFHS re-negotiate the opportunity to lease the property at 81, High St. He expressed regret that the attendance of Helen Reid was the first contact with Angus Council since the beginning of the process; despite postal and email communications and an invitation to attend every MLHS committee meeting. He also noted that none of the local elected councillors to Angus Council had attended the meeting.
Helen Reid agreed to report back to Angus Council on Monday next to clarify the situation regarding lease of 81 High Street. She also agreed to look into the possibility of storage of House of Memory contents in Invertay School.
The Chair- Marianna Buultjens- thanked Helen and Alan for arriving at a potential solution to the situation, which could not have been anticipated at the start of the meeting.
She also thanked everyone for attending.
Received email from Helen Reid 9th August 2020
CAT allows a community group to take control of assets in their community, through the Community Empowerment act 2015. It was explained that similar to buying a house you would ensure that you have all the correct information before putting in an offer, this could include a survey being undertaken, valuation, a business / financial plan etc. One section of the CAT is where the group highlight the type of request, payment and conditions. It is this section that group would refer to any work that is required for the building. The process of the CAT was clarified where it was emphasised that the application must be validated by the council, and once validated the application cannot change. There is a 6 month period allowed from the validation date to the council making the decision of the CAT. Once the decision has been made there is another 6 months where the respective legal representatives conclude the process. Unfortunately it was in this period where the group was unable to meet the requirements of CAT. Angus Council received 2 letters from MLHS on 3 June 2019, 20 days after the ‘CAT’ expiry period on 14 May 2019. These letters did not mention the CAT process but referred to the lease.
Ms Reid further explained that due to the accommodation situation the group found themselves in, the council offered a license to occupy in November 2018, where a 3 month lease was put in place to allow the group to use the premises. This lease was signed by the group. However as the 3 month period came to an end the council offered an extension with another lease and it was this lease that was not signed.
Mr. Masterton expressed frustration at not being able to contact the council-in this case by letter. Ms Reid explained the council had been away from St James for over 10 years. All letters regarding the CAT had the direct contact details for respondents.
Licence to Occupy is a short term lease, with ownership retained by the council, and the occupier charged a monthly rent, with the owner liable to keeping premises fit for purpose. This is what MLHS thought had been agreed.