Is North Somerset Council about to buy a retail park?
PUBLISHED: 08:00 26 February 2018
North Somerset Council will buy land in Weston-super-Mare including shops, a petrol station, car park and a pub – but will not yet reveal where it is or how much it will cost.
The authority has already agreed to borrow £50million, through bank loans, to buy commercial properties, and met on Tuesday to discuss the investment and set its budget.
The land has more than 120,000sq ft of buildings involving food retail businesses, a warehouse and shops.
The council claims the revenue it generates will prevent it having to make further reductions to services, as it cut another £10million from its budget this year, including cuts to children’s services and housing support grants, and raised council tax.
Documents say: “The acquisition will afford the council opportunities to influence and possibly regenerate the site and the mix of uses thus contributing to employment, amenities available to residents and businesses in the area as well as economic growth.”
But the Mercury can only speculate about where this land is, since documents do not disclose the details, and our reporter was excluded from the full council discussion.
A likely option appears to be the North Worle Shopping Centre, which has Sainsbury’s, a petrol station, The Parish Pump pub, TK Maxx and Clarks Outlet Store.
Considering the size of the land, it can be assumed it will cost millions of pounds.
This is not the first time the council has bought property without disclosing the price for market reasons – the cost of the old police station in Walliscote Grove Road was also kept under wraps, along with the cost of offices at junction 21. However, in those cases, the council has always said what it was buying and where it was.
The council says because the discussions have taken place off-market, they must remain confidential. The authority has promised to reveal what it has bought and how much it cost in March.
It means the public will likely not know what the council has bought until March 3 at the earliest – the day the sale must be completed by.
North Somerset set up a Property Investment Fund in July, funded through £50million in unsupported borrowing.
In its budget, the council has an income target of £400,000 which needs to be achieved through commercial investments. It says this sale will contribute to the target.
The council acknowledges there are risks, as there are when buying any property, including changes in the property market, and the age of the buildings.
In this case, it says the key risk is not achieving its anticipated income stream – but says it has been mitigated through the work it has done to assess the strength of the business case.
Council leader Nigel Ashton said: “This commercial approach on such a large scale is a departure from the council’s traditional income generation activities and reflects the changing nature of local government financing.”