Council seeks 'multi-million-pound deal to lease Sovereign Shopping Centre'
PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 April 2018
A multi-million-pound deal over Weston-super-Mare's Sovereign Shopping Centre is being worked out by North Somerset Council - but the decision to spend taxpayers' money on the building was taken behind closed doors.
The council voted on Tuesday night to acquire the shopping centre – but besides a brief mention on the agenda, no reports were published to say what was going to happen.
However, the Mercury understands the shopping centre is the property involved, and the deal is worth millions of pounds. The council intends to lease the property, and then buy it for £1 after 35 years.
The decision was made a month after the council agreed to buy North Worle District Centre for £38million.
That deal was also kept under wraps, although a report was published ahead of the council vote, outlining the basic details of the land it was planning to buy.
This time, the council says it is unable to answer any questions due to commercial sensitivity.
A council spokesman said: “Completion of the purchase is subject to finalising any outstanding due diligence work.
“Following completion we will be able to make the details public.”
It means the cost, and any associated risks, have not been publicly revealed. Vixcroft’s deal for the shopping centre was worth £30million in 2015.
The council says owning multi-million-pound properties is necessary as it needs to find alternative ways of raising money, with more Government cuts looming. It has cut £101million from its budget since 2010.
By leasing the shopping centre, the council believes it can improve it and its connections to the spaces outside, such as its links to the revamped Italian Gardens. It will also be able to generate revenue from the car park.
Some councillors slammed the authority for its lack of transparency, including Cllr David Shopland and Cllr Mike Bell who argued at the meeting it should be discussed in public.
Cllr Bell said: “Hiding behind commercial sensitivity can only go so far.
“We are talking about multi-million pound deals with implications for taxpayers for a generation.
“Openness and transparency should be the mantra, not the reverse.”
Cllr David Shopland said: “We are about to discuss something which involves us using the taxpayers’ money and they should have a right to sit in here and listen to us talk about that.”