It was revealed last week that the combined value of the Darwin, Pride Hill and Riverside centres has plummeted to just £12.35 million – a drop of more than 75 per cent on the £51m the council paid for the centres when they were bought three years ago.
Senior officers and the council’s Conservative administration said they were still confident that the purchase was justified because of the regeneration opportunities presented by the buildings.
But the claims have been rejected by members of the opposition Liberal Democrat group, who said the latest drop in value proved the controversial purchase was a bad move.
Councillor Alex Wagner, who represents Bowbrook, said: “Even if the argument is that buying the centres will be good for regenerating the town, the finances of it are appalling.
“Shropshire Council have vastly overpaid for an asset that anyone could have told them would lose value, and are now doubling down to avoid embarrassment.
“They need to be honest and transparent with taxpayers instead of trying to cover their tracks.
“The Conservatives say that the council is willing to invest in town and put their money where their mouth is.
“Anyone who has used our roads, suffered due to a lack of school choice, or struggled to get an appointment with a GP knows that is palpably false – and a large part of why Shrewsbury has had such little council investment in services is due to large-scale waste like on the shopping centres.”
Councillor Nat Green, whose Quarry and Coton Hill ward includes the town centre, said the money would have been far better spent elsewhere.
He said: “The town centre needs investment that works for ordinary residents, and wasting public funds on the shopping centres was not the right way to do it.
“There are solid changes we can make to improve life for residents on roads like Swan Hill and Town Walls, and to reduce air pollution, the £38m we’ve lost could have gone a long way to that.”
Lib Dem group leader Councillor David Vasmer, who represents Underdale, said it was “symbolic” that the latest valuation was revealed the same week as a £124,000 pay-off to former chief executive Clive Wright, who left the council last year.
He added that local opinion of the Conservatives’ “poor financial management” of the council had been reflected in the local elections earlier this year, which saw the party lose several seats in Shrewsbury.
Councillor Vasmer said: “The council defence of the disastrous shopping centre purchase is weak, and they know it is.
“It is fantastical to suggest that the value of the centres will dramatically increase and suddenly bring value for money.
“This was poor financial management and a waste of taxpayers’ money of the highest order, and thousands of voters in Shrewsbury and across the county saw that for what it was, most notably with the Lib Dem win over Peter Nutting in Copthorne.
“If the Conservatives don’t listen to the message voters sent in May, they will live to regret it next time around.”