Cash-strapped Lancashire County Council has unveiled a list of money-making ideas, including marketing its outdoor adventure centre as a luxury hotel.
One of several ideas suggested by a council committee, which meets this Friday, is using Tower Wood outdoor activity centre at Windermere as a high-quality hotel or bed and breakfast venue during school holidays.
The committee has also proposed reopening the Woodlands conference centre in Chorley – which was closed to save money – and setting up wind or solar farms on council land.
The council is facing a predicted £144m shortfall between its expenditure and income by 2021-22 and the Task Group was set up last year to explore ideas on how best to generate more cash from existing assets or by selling services to other organisations.
Angie Ridgwell, the Interim chief executive of Lancashire County Council, said: “We’re always looking at suitable ways to bring revenue into the county council. This includes uses for sites that we no longer need to provide council services and ways to bring in extra revenue when sites are quieter, such as school holidays.”
The cross-party Task Group of seven councillors has drawn up 18 options for action.
Top of the list is investigating the scope for reopening the Woodlands Conference Centre, not only for teacher training and county conferences but as a North West Regional Training Centre with facilities also offered to private businesses, colleges, universities and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership.
The Group has also suggested the council explores the scope for opening two other outdoor activity centres – Borwick Hall near Carnforth and Hothersall Lodge near Longridge, as well as Tower Wood for weekend and out of term conferences and for outdoor learning opportunities for families and groups.
It says Gawthorpe Hall at Padiham, which is owned by the National Trust but run by the County Council, could, along with other council buildings, be marketed as wedding venues or for other celebrations.
In particular popular Tower Wood – a favoured venue for school residential trips, could councillors suggest have the potential to become a high-quality hotel or B&B facility “operating on a commercial basis in the open market” during school holidays.
Ms Ridgwell added that further research would be needed on whether proposals could be progressed.
She said:“Overview and Scrutiny committee have been undertaking a high level review of potential opportunities to generate income and maximise commercial returns on our assets.
“As part of this they have identified potential areas for further exploration, including some property sites, and we wouldn’t be able to give further details until those further explorations have taken place.
Entrepreneur Simon Rigby knows all about utilising former council assets.
He took over Preston’s Guild Hall from the city council and has transformed it.
On the basis of that experience he has set up Local Service Partners to work with local authorities as a bridge between the public and private sector “to see if projects make commercial sense”.
But he counsels caution to any public sector organisation looking to extend its role, stressing the risk to the public purse must not be overlooked and said: “When you are very short of funds you have to be risk averse.”
He warned: “The last thing the local authority should be doing is risking very precious funds on speculative projects.
“It’s not what they are geared up to do or experienced in doing. I do think there are very good operators out there who could very sensitively carry out valuations for them and if necessary go on and take it on for them.”