Revealed: Shropshire Council doesn't directly own Shrewsbury shopping centres it paid £52 million for
Shropshire Council does not have direct ownership of three Shrewsbury shopping centres it paid £52 million for, it has been revealed.
Instead, it has invested in an off-shore trust based in Jersey that controls how the centres are managed.
In an answer to a question submitted under the Freedom of Information Act, the council said the Pride Hill, Darwin and Riverside centres were owned by a unit trust fund, of which the council had bought all the units.
"Shropshire Council acquired units in property unit trusts, it is not the direct owner of the asset," the authority said in a written reply to resident John Mayne.
Mr Mayne, a retired banker from Bridgnorth, said it posed questions about whether the unit trust provider would be involved in the management of the centres.
But the authority's member for corporate and commercial support, Councillor Steve Charmley, said the method of purchase would not impinge on its ability to redevelop the centres.
He said: “Shropshire Council is now the ultimate beneficial owner of the centres, through holding all of the units in the trusts, similar to holding shares in a company.
"The day-to-day management of the centres is undertaken by a property management consultant appointed by the trustees of the Jersey property unit trusts, that hold the legal title to the centres.
“The council has control of all of the units in the trusts and therefore its representatives attend quarterly meetings of the trusts in Jersey, where the trustees are based and where key decisions are taken by the trustees in respect of the assets."
Councillor Charmley added that strategic decisions in relation to the centres were taken by the trustees, taking into account the representations made by the council. The trustees were appointed by the council’s trust administrator, he added.
“Day-to-day decision making is made by the property and asset management consultant, who has the ability to take operational decisions in accordance with a business plan which has been produced in consultation with the council and has been agreed and approved by the trustees," said Councillor Charmley.
“This structure and governance does not hinder or impact on the council’s ability to ultimately oversee and make representations in respect of the key strategic or tactical decisions.
"It allows for the assets to be robustly managed by the trustees of the Jersey property unit trusts and their appointed representatives.
"Ultimate control of the trusts, through it rights as unit holders, is vested with the council. Similar to any majority shareholder in a company."
He said that the council had no plans to sell any units in the trusts to a third party.
Councillor Charmley said the council hoped to bring ownership of the shopping centres on-shore in the medium to long term.
But he added: “We hope to bring the shopping centres on shore in the medium to long term. The important thing is to concentrate on making them vibrant and attractive as part of the town centre.”
Councillor Roger Evans, leader of the council's opposition Liberal Democrat group, said he was surprised that the centres were still owned by an off-shore trust.
He said he would have expected them to have been brought on-shore by this stage.
"I'm disappointed it's still like that, it shouldn't take that long since they bought it. It's been nine months now."