St Just Town Council take up the challenge of securing Pendeen Surgery

St Just Town Council take up the challenge of securing Pendeen Surgery at their meeting on Monday 11 February.

Pendeen Doctor's Surgery

Purpose built surgery in Pendeen, now on the market due to dispute between owners and practice running services there.

I put the Pendeen Surgery sale on the agenda of St Just Town Council and below is what was agreed:

This Council applies to Cornwall Council to register the building, known as the Doctors Surgery in Pendeen, as an Asset of Community Value. Further it asks the Clerk to work with Councillor James in writing to the Partners at Morrab surgery, to share with them the independent property advice and ask what steps they have or are taking to seek clarity on the basis of their tenancy and any covenants or restrictions of purpose there may be, on the buildings future use.

For those that have missed the background to this there are links to a couple of past posts.

Statement by Morrab Surgery, the practice now running Pendeen branch

The campaign I set in motion and you are getting behind

Below are the key elements of what I told Town Councillors on Monday night and I am grateful for them working with me to hopefully halt the sale of the building and protect it as a surgery for local patients.

  • Pendeen surgery was built on land donated by Pat Early, about 30 years ago and their home, which they still live in, shares the site. They did not put covenants in place on transfer, it was based on trust.
  • Penalverne surgery in Penzance took responsibility for the surgery, running it as a sub branch.
  • January last year, Morrab and Penalverne surgeries merged so, since then, Pendeen has been a sub branch of Morrab surgery.
  • It currently runs 3 half days/ week with doctor, nurse and healthcare assistant appointments. It also has a dispensary.
  • The building is owned by Dr Kingston, a GP that moved to a Helston practice at the time of the merger and a retired GP Dr Fullick, who I believe was also at Penalverne.
  • So, the current situation is that 2 doctors own the surgery in Pendeen who have no connection with the practice that runs it. In effect there is an owner, tenant situation, although I have no documentary evidence regarding the basis of any tenancy agreement.
  • I became aware from Pat Early, before Christmas that there was a dispute between the owners and the partners at Morrab surgery and the Early family were seeking clarity over the impact this might have on the future of the surgery. I too began making enquiries through Kernow Clinical Commissioning group.
  • The situation escalated, the week before last, when a local resident and patient of the surgery contacted me to say that the surgery was on the market through Lodge and Thomas, listed as a ‘former doctors surgery’ and with a price tag of £265,000. She wanted to know what I knew about it and what could we do.
  • I managed to speak with Dr Neil Armstrong at Morrab surgery, the next day who shared with me a statement they were making available to patients saying that they were committed to continue offering a service in Pendeen but the owners of the surgery building wished to sell. The noticed appealed for help to find a new venue. Dr Armstrong also told me that the surgery was valued at £130,000, for its current use and that the practice could only borrow up to that amount.
  • It is fair to say that since then many residents and patients have contacted me, upset, angry and confused. As we have a purpose built surgery they cannot see the point of finding an alternative and no obvious alternatives exist, anyway.
  • On the 31 January, after consulting with James Hardy, our Community Link Officer, and discussing matters with the Early’s, our clerk and Mayor and exchanging emails with members of the Patient Participation Group (who, incidentally were not informed in advance of the sales notice) – I decided to make known my intention to ask St Just Town Council to go through a process under the Localism Act to apply to Cornwall Council to have the surgery registered as an Asset of Community Value. I put that on my website and it has been shared electronically and in paper form.
  • Since then, I have received 20 letters giving their personal stories of why the surgery is important to them, their families and friends, to provide evidence of the building’s community value. I have also received pledges in excess of £3,000, including a local business pledging £500. I also have unspecified offers with amounts to be agreed, once a specific need is identified. These pledges will not buy the building but do show a commitment to contribute to the fight to keep it as their surgery, albeit that some are saying it could be more fully utilised to meet broader Health and Well-being needs of the community.
  • I have also been contacted by both the owners of the surgery who have become aware of my community leadership intervention. It is fair to state that I have spoken to 3 doctors involved in this sorry tale (2 owners & 1 partner from Morrab Surgery) and have 3 slightly different versions of the truth. It is clear to me there is a dispute over the value of the property and I have not been given any clarity over the terms of the current tenancy. I shared views of each party, with the Town Council including one of the owners’ saying that there was a potential buyer and that seeking to register the surgery as an Asset of Community Value could jeopardise that and that the sale, he believed, offered the best solution.
  • I also obtained and shared independent advice re the owner/ tenant disputes, as follows:

The main issue is getting the basis of occupancy sorted.  The only people who can instigate that are the occupying GPs, and they need to instruct a competent commercial surveying company to act for them. Such a firm should be able to provide a route to clarify any claims to a tenancy, act on those claims, the terms of such a tenancy that can be implied from the evidence, and clarify any other relevant issues such as covenants that may restrict use.  

 As to valuation, an independent valuation is only any use if the parties can agree the basis of that valuation and the dispute to me appears to be exactly that, and information is still lacking that would inform that.  Some clarity should be derived by the work of the commercial surveyor acting for the occupying GPs because that will clarify the basis of occupation, and other relevant issues such as any covenants that exist.  The valuation would be fundamentally affected depending on the claim that can or cannot be substantiated as to the tenancy.  It would also be fundamentally affected by any restrictions on title that exist limiting alternative uses.

So in summary, my strong advice is for the occupying GPs to ensure that they are properly represented, specifically to clarify and establish the basis of their occupation, pursue the statutory routes to protect such a claim to occupancy, if one exists, and to clarify other relevant matters such as covenants and other restrictions that may or may not exist.  It has to be for the occupying GPs to instruct and pursue that because it is their claim to pursue.  The position they find themselves in as potential tenants is not at all unusual and there are established routes to clarify their position. 

Unless they act on those routes that are open to them it is difficult for the other parts of the system to play their part in due course because everyone would be acting blind (and that includes any other body which may or may not seek to intervene in an acquisition). ”

My conclusion to Town Council was that they should act for the residents and patients affected by the dispute between the GP owners and GP occupiers of Pendeen surgery. Even if the current saga has a happy conclusion without intervention, we could be back in this situation again in future years. Getting the building registered as an Asset of Community Value would put the brake on the current sale for 6 months, if it had not completed, allowing the community and partners and Morrab surgery to find a solution. If the sale had completed then it would mean that the new owner could not, as the current owners have done, just put it on the market without any public consultation; they would have to announce their intention and give the community 6 months to respond.

In addition, I would asked Town Council to instruct the clerk to write on Council’s behalf to the Partners at Morrab surgery, based on the independent advice received, to ask whether they have or are obtaining a professional judgement on the terms of and their rights as a tenant. The letter could explain, based on the advice I have presented, the reason this needs clarifying whilst an application to register the building as an Asset of Community Value is considered.

My understanding is that without clarity over the basis of occupation and any potential covenants or restriction, a solicitor is unlikely to recommend a private, public or community body proceed with the purchase and such legal complexities are likely to depress the value of the building.