South London charities are “shocked” and “upset” that a local council plans to auction off their building, claiming the council has misunderstood the impact on vulnerable residents.

Bromley Council has decided to put a set of buildings it owns up for auction to avoid a £164m repair bill for the properties.

The plans were agreed at a council meeting on December 12.

The Bromley Voluntary Sector Trust is a non-profit charity that was set up to manage Community House, one of the buildings to be sold off.

The building hosts a series of charities from across the borough, often supporting those with various illnesses or disabilities.

Peter Ayres, the incoming chair of the trust, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the charity only found out about the auction two weeks ago, when another board member read the agenda for a council meeting.

News Shopper: Peter Ayres, incoming chair of the board of trustees for Bromley Voluntary Sector Trust, shown inside Bromley Community HousePeter Ayres, incoming chair of the board of trustees for Bromley Voluntary Sector Trust, shown inside Bromley Community House

Mr Ayres said: “We thought we were negotiating for an extension to our lease, and we’ve been working on that with the council for the last two to two and a half years… we haven’t been told that those negotiations are now off.”

Aastha Kamboj, business manager of Community House Bromley, said the sale of Community House would be an “absolute loss” to the borough.

She said: “So many wonderful people come and use Community House on a daily basis.

“It’s shocking that they’ve even considered that this [space] is not needed. I’m really struggling to understand what has led to this sudden decision.”

At the council meeting on December 12, council leader Colin Smith said that no current users of the building would be “financially burdened” by the sale, and offered the groups to use council offices as a new space.

On the offer, Mr Ayres said: “Cllr Smith says none of the charities would lose out financially but he’s not thinking about the disruption.

"Age Concern have got more or less a whole floor here, they’ve got a massive investment here.

"To stop everything they’re doing and move somewhere else, that’s going to take months.”

Ian Dawson, outgoing chair of the Bromley Voluntary Sector Trust, said that the council was “misunderstanding” that some vulnerable users of the buildings may find the change stressful.

He said: “Some of them are quite young, frighteningly young, who have got dementia.

"They come in for a party and a sing-song just to keep things ticking over. You couldn’t do that if it was just offices. You have to have space.”

At the meeting, Cllr Smith said that the charities of Community House had a two-and-a-half-year protected lease until October 2025.

Mr Dawson said the rent they have paid to the council has been “substantially more” than the repair costs the council has had to spend on the building.

Mr Ayres said: “I understand the council have got problems but Community House isn’t actually costing them any money. We run a surplus.”

At the December 12 meeting, Cllr Smith said groups from Community House had written to him saying they were “very keen” on the idea of moving into the new council offices. Mr Ayres said he was unaware of any groups that said this.

My Ayres: “We’re very upset.

"They could have come to us beforehand and said they knew we were negotiating the lease, but they’re going to have to sell the building. They could have told us before it went on an agenda.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor Julie Ireland told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the Conservative group had failed to explain why the building needed to be sold off “in such haste”.

She said: “Let’s give these voluntary groups the respect they deserve and consult with them, explore other options, discuss whether they would like to move into the new HQ as Cllr Smith is suggesting, and see if there is any way of preserving Community House as the valuable community asset that it was particularly during the Covid emergency and more recently during the current cost of living crisis.”

A Bromley Council spokesperson said: “It is a shame that unnecessary scaremongering has brought concern to some voluntary groups, all of whom remain highly valued partners of the council.

"It should be noted that Community House is an investment property for the council, with the tenant having a lease and security of tenure and this does not change during the existing lease, regardless of who owns the building.

“There are many potential options for the voluntary groups and plenty of time as well to discuss all of this, with the council committed to working with these groups as we move forwards.

"Those present on the evening of Monday’s council meeting will have heard the leader of the council, Councillor Smith, state that no organisation will be financially worse off as long as he is leader of the council and that is a pledge that the council stands by.”