Council urged to be 'upfront with the public' over property deals

PUBLISHED: 13:00 29 April 2018

Weston's Sovereign Centre.

Weston's Sovereign Centre.

Archant

The transparency of North Somerset Council's multi-million-pound property deals is being questioned by some of its elected members.

Weston's Sovereign Centre.Weston's Sovereign Centre.

The council voted in March to buy North Worle District Centre for £38million.

A month later, it decided to go ahead with another property deal, believed to be to lease and then buy the Sovereign Shopping Centre in Weston.

Both decisions were taken behind closed doors, and some councillors argued the authority should be more transparent.

Cllr Mike Bell said the deals will have ‘implications for taxpayers for generations’.

Cllr Donald Davies told the Mercury: “We are talking about a lot of borrowing to do this. These are extremely long-term projects.”

MORE: Royal Pier Hotel land goes up for sale.

The council says its decisions need to be taken in private because of the commercial sensitivity and it will reveal more information when it can.

It says it is getting involved in property ownership because it has had to cut £110million from its budget since 2010 because of the loss in Government funding and the revenue it can make will pay for services for taxpayers.

Cllr Davies is calling for the authority to lay out a framework of how it makes its deals and how the projects will be managed.

He says he has concerns about the lack of information available to the public and councillors when they are making decisions.

For example, the report for the Worle retail park sale was only three pages long, and the section on risk management took up one paragraph.

Cllr Davies said: “I have never worked in the private sector, but I imagine if the information for the Worle acquisition was presented to a company director, they would say there was a paucity of information and lack of a risk assessment.

“On the other side of the coin, the idea is very positive for Weston in terms of redevelopment but it will need rather more positive action.

“If you walk around the high streets of North Somerset, you see shops closing or about to close.

“We don’t see more opening in Weston High Street, and if you keep going you see (the empty) TJ Hughes store.

“Can we do anything about that? The answer is of course, but do we have the level of expertise?

“I think this can be a good thing, but we need to be more upfront with the public with what we are trying to do with their money.”

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