Scolton Manor — Mutating into a Money Pit?
Pembrokeshire’s Cabinet did not make a decision when they met on November 30th. Instead, members asked the Economy Overview and Scrutiny Committee to consider what to do, and to report back. So the dilemma,whether to pay a higher rent for Scolton Manor, try to buy it, or lose it, continues.
County council’s financial headache
The benefit of paying a low rent for years has mutated into a painful headache for Pembrokeshire County Council.
The county museum, at Scolton Manor outside Haverfordwest, belongs to the Welsh Church Fund (WCF), which seeks a much higher rent or plans to put the property on the market.
The county council is reported* to pay an annual rent of £13,875 — £1,156 a month — to WCF for the manor and the surrounding 60 acres of country park, together valued at £2.182 million in 2007. The council bears the costs of maintenance, but does not seem to have been over-generous in this regard. Visitors see buildings which are in fair but far from fantastic repair, and grounds suffering from an insufficiency of gardeners — both factors which affect the capital value of the property. So as well as receiving a small rent, WCF has the worry that parsimonious maintenance may be making the property less attractive to buyers.
WCF seeks to secure a big increase in the rent, possibly to around £90,000 a year — or to sell the property, the only one it owns.
Outside buyer for Scolton would cost county council hundreds of thousands of £s
And if the county council were not the buyer, rather a lot of grants would have to be repaid. The European Union provided over £350,000 for restoration of the walled garden, which is in progress. Pembrokeshire Beekeepers Association are four years into a ten-year lease, and have been awarded grants of £50,000 for their activities at Scolton. Sport Wales is also a grant provider, for keep fit exercise trails. In total, clawback of grants would cost the county council more than £555,500.
The slightly down-at-heel ambiance at Scolton does suit the house displays quite well, conveying a sense of what it might have been like to live in a modest gentry house where the occupants were not inclined to flash the cash, probably because they could not afford to do so. The homely atmosphere continues in the cafe, which was short-staffed when we visited, resulting in a long wait and making do without the right cutlery (my husband had to eat his lunch with a teaspoon).
If the county council loses the right to occupy Scolton, bang goes the museum and the country park, unless other premises can be found — and that would cost even more money, over and above the Scolton-specific grants that would have to be repaid.
As for the WCF, its remit is to provide grants to places of worship and other community venues, but the low rent paid by Pembrokeshire for Scolton, and lower returns than hitherto on financial investments, restrict the amounts which can be distributed. Each of the former Dyfed authorities is entitled to receive a fixed percentage of the distributions — Ceredigion 25%, Carmarthenshire 41% and Pembrokeshire 34%, but a fixed percentage of not very much is even less. Realising the value of Scolton Manor, or even receiving a far higher rent for it, would let WCF make more generous grants.
Pembrokeshire County Council’s cabinet is expected to discuss the dilemma on Monday, November 30th.
* Western Telegraph, November 25th 2015, ‘Pembrokeshire County Council recommended to buy Scolton Manor or face substantial rent increase or demand for return of grants’. More detail in the report to be considered by the council’s cabinet.