Lib Dems make ‘catastrophic mistake’ by selling public building at knock-down price

The Liberal Democrat Administration has made a “catastrophic mistake” by agreeing a decision to sell a publicly owned building at nearly half a million pounds below market value.

A meeting of Bath and North East Somerset Council’s Scrutiny Panel was convened today to consider the Lib Dem Administration’s decision to dispose of a Council-owned property in Lower Weston – 117 Newbridge Hill – at £482,000 below its market price.

The property is a Victorian building previously used as offices by the Council’s Children’s Services Team and now deemed surplus to requirements.

On 18 January 2021, the decision was made by Cllr Richard Samuel, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Council Leader and Cabinet Member for Resources, to sell the Newbridge Hill property to the Council’s own housing development company, Aequus Construction Limited (ACL), without engaging in a competitive tender process, for £308,000 to allow the creation of six apartments.

But a recent independent valuation of the property put its price at £790,000, a staggering £482,000 above the price at which the Administration wishes to sell.

As a result, the Conservative Group on B&NES Council appealed the decision using a process known as ‘call-in’. A meeting of the Council’s Corporate Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel convened today (8 Feb) to hear objections to the decision.

But despite strong objections from the Conservative Group, and concerned members of the public, members of the Scrutiny Panel voted to allow the decision to go ahead.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, the Conservative councillor who led the call-in appeal and ward member for Chew Valley, said: “I am deeply disappointed that the Lib Dem Administration will now go ahead and implement this decision, which we believe is a catastrophic mistake.

“The Conservative Group brought this decision before the Scrutiny Panel because there is no justification whatsoever to dispose of the property at such an outrageously low price.

“Concerns about future use of the building simply must not take precedence over an immediate financial loss to the Council of nearly half a million pounds – a staggering sum of money.

“As councillors, we are only the temporary custodians of public money and public buildings. We must act with the utmost responsibility when taking decisions that affect them and this decision could set a very dangerous precedent for other public assets.”

The Scrutiny Panel’s vote to approve the decision, by five votes to four, means that, regrettably, it will now be implemented.

The Conservatives on the panel voted against the decision along with Independent councillors.

Picture caption: Google Maps