Speech written by me but with the joke provided by Sam Hird of ACES.

ACES is the national Association of Chief Estates Surveyors and Property Managers in Local Government

ACES National Spring Conference 2004 – Chairman’s Welcome speech

I am Councillor Jean Ewing, Chairman of South Lakeland District Council. As this Conference is being held in the District of South Lakeland I am very pleased to have been asked to welcome you to the 2004 ACES National Spring Conference here at the Belsfield Hotel in Bowness-on-Windermere. So, welcome.

I understand that ACES members are interested in property management so I thought that I would tell you a little bit about property matters in this district. I’m sure that many of you will recognise common issues from within your own authorities. South Lakeland District Council is a relatively small authority in terms of population and budget in comparison to the County Councils, Metropolitan Councils and some of the larger Borough Councils. However, geographically it is 3/4 the size of Cheshire and, being a predominantly rural district, this brings its own problems. Distances are great, settlements are scattered and transport links are stretched. Such disadvantages are offset by the wonderful scenery and the very attractive quality of life. This is a district of great contrasts where some people enjoy a relatively wealthy existence whilst others struggle to live on the poorer wages of the farming, forestry and tourist industries. In some parts the sheep outnumber the residents, at least until the tourists arrive in the summer.

Such contrasts present great challenges for the Council, particularly in property management, as services tend to be more expensive to provide and so have to be spread more thinly. Housing is expensive for locals to buy, job-creation development opportunities are limited by strict planning policies and the older, better paid industries such as Insurance and Shoe-manufacturing are being lost from the area as a result of national and international pressures. At the same time more and more visitors want to come here, bringing income certainly but putting pressure on the infrastructure and driving up costs as well. Against this background the Council has to balance solutions for locals and visitors alike and this often involves property:
– How do we find sites for employment uses without destroying the landscape?
– Can we afford to keep our public toilets open or do we close them?
– How can we encourage visitors to come here without making it unaffordable for locals to live here?

Many of the Council’s departments wrestle with these problems on a daily basis and more often than not they rest upon a property solution. Every Council service either occupies property directly or manages it for a Council purpose or makes it available for the public to enjoy. Underpinning all this activity is the Council’s Property Services Group, making sure that the Council’s departments get the best out of their property assets. I am very aware that a small district with a small Property Services Group needs some backup. That’s why I am so pleased to welcome ACES to South Lakeland, because I know that Dave Pogson, the Property Services Manager, enjoys great support from ACES – through the contacts that he makes, the information that he exchanges and the training and expertise that he can tap into throughout the membership at local, regional and national level.

No matter what the problem someone in ACES usually knows the answer. This is particularly important when resources are limited and the public expects an instant answer to every question and a solution to every problem no matter what the circumstances. I’m told that, only a few weeks ago, the Property Services Group had an unusual question from the local newspaper, the Westmorland Gazette, asking how high was the Town Hall in Kendal. They wanted to publish a picture of it next to a drawing of a proposed wind farm to demonstrate the relative heights and thus illustrate the impact on the environment. They were given the answer and they printed the picture but it put me in mind of an old joke:

The same question was asked of the Chairman of another Council, ‘How high is the Town Hall?’
The Chairman sent for the Council’s Architect, Engineer and Estates Surveyor and said, ‘The Council will pay £50 to the first one of you that can tell me how high the Town Hall is.’
The Architect said, ‘That’s easy. I’ll go and get a level, take a sighting at the top, measure the angle and calculate the perpendicular height. I’ll be back in an hour with the answer.’
The Engineer said, ‘That’s easy. I’ll go to the top, drop a weight off, time how long it takes to hit the ground and calculate the height from that. I’ll be back in half an hour with the answer.’
The Estates Surveyor said nothing, left the room and was back in five minutes with the correct answer.
‘That’s amazing,’ said the Chairman. ‘How did you do it so quickly?’
‘It was easy,’ said the Estates Surveyor. ‘I just offered the Town Hall Caretaker £10 to tell me.’
I believe that Estates Surveyor was a member of ACES. By the way Kendal Town Hall is 33.8 metres high to the top of the weather vane. The flaw in that joke is, of course, is that in real life no Chairman would ever have offered £50 for that information.

Thank you and enjoy the rest of your Conference.