We have had a lot of questions around what has happened at the Victoria Park lodge recently and future plans for the site and hope the below information will help answer these:
Has the lodge been closed?
The lodge is temporarily closed while it is being refurbished to provide a fantastic new café which will give adults with learning disabilities opportunities to develop new skills. We will also be building new public toilets built for everyone using the park which will open later this year.
Rumours about the building being knocked down or being taken over by a big corporate chain are not true.
This came about as we were looking at options to use buildings the council owns to provide new facilities for adults with learning disabilities and identified the potential of the lodge's location in Victoria Park.
We regularly review how council-owned buildings are being used to make sure they are giving the maximum benefit to the community, whether that is through the services they provide or the income they make to support other services.
What is happening to the Lodge now?
The council has allocated £100k to refurbish the lodge.
We want to provide one of the best facilities in the south for adults with a learning disability which may include the opportunity to learn a variety of skills such as gardening or cookery, helping to substantially increase their employment opportunities.
Refurbishment work is underway and being carried out by Mountjoy, the contractor that works on all the council's commercially leased property in the city.
Why have you decided to use the lodge to help adults with learning disabilities?
Portsmouth has about 2,800 young people with a disability who need extra support and we are constantly reviewing ways this is provided in the city.
Alongside this we regularly review how council-owned buildings are being used to make sure they are giving the maximum benefit to the community. Through this we identified the lodge's location in Victoria Park as an ideal place to provide a public amenity through a café while also giving adults with learning disabilities new opportunities to develop their skills and improve their job prospects. We are now looking for a provider to deliver this.
Who will be running the new café?
We don't know yet. We are currently in the process of receiving quotes from organisations that can provide a first-class café while helping improve the prospects of adults with learning disabilities. We're expecting to award the contract in June with the cafe opening shortly afterwards after renovation works are completed.
Rumours that the site will be run by a big corporate chain are not true.
Were the previous tenants made aware of the plans?
We contacted the tenants in May last year advising them the lease would expire on Sunday 5 February, giving them eight months' notice.
Following this they were contacted repeatedly over the eight months. No conversations were had about extending the tenancy on a fixed or rolling contract, the focus was on whether any alternative accommodation could be found but unfortunately the tenants didn't properly engage with this.
Council officers met with the tenants on 24 June and also wrote to them on 1 July to discuss alternative premises and explained that the lease would expire on 5 February 2017.
They were contacted again on 18 October explaining the offer of two alternative premises remained. We also explained why the council was looking to provide facilities for adults with disabilities. We also gave assurances that the café would not be sold off for development or run by a corporate organisation. We encouraged the tenants to tender for the opportunity to run a new service from the lodge.
We contacted the tenant on 23 November again reminding them the lease was due to expire.
In January 2017 three emails were sent to the tenant and business partner urging both to get in touch to arrange alternative accommodation as the lease was due to terminate on 5 February.
Was the action taken to re-possess the lodge lawful?
We reminded the tenant on 23 November that the lease would end on 5 February and requesting vacant possession with the keys returned to us no later than Monday 6 February at 9.30am. The tenant was made aware in the letter, if the keys were not returned, the council would take necessary appropriate steps to obtain possession.
We carried out re-possession of the property, which is within our rights because the lease has expired.
It was hoped this could be done peacefully however the police became involved when two female members of staff at the lodge on the morning of the re-possession felt threatened and called 101 for assistance.
What has happened to everything that was in the lodge?
Everything will be returned to the previous tenant.
Some specific items were requested by the tenant and as a result we made several deliveries to their home in the first few days after repossessing the site.
As the tenant does not have space to store everything from the lodge we have arranged to put the rest of their possessions in storage to collect at their convenience.
Why was a licence granted for an event to take place after the lease had expired?
We appreciate this is confusing. The licensing committee is an independent body that can only take certain things into consideration when making decisions on event applications. It simply looks at whether an event should be given a licence to take place, not whether the applicant has the landowner's permission to hold it there. The committee does not consider whether premises are leased or not, and this has no impact on whether to approve a licence.
What options are available to the previous tenant?
We do not want to see any business suffer and appreciate this is a difficult situation. We have invited them to tender for the opportunity to manage the new café with facility for adults with learning disabilities.
The future of Victoria Park
The park is a much-loved green space and we want to enhance this.
We want to keep the aviary and animal enclosure, however the building is nearing the end of its working life and changes are needed to the building because it's in need of repair. This will include new toilet facilities being built adjacent to the Lodge.