Shrewsbury shopping centres deal: Shropshire Council taking big risk, says Labour leader
Shropshire Council's decision to press-ahead with a multi-million pound purchase of two shopping centres in Shrewsbury is "astonishing" according to a councillor.
The claim comes after the authority's cabinet approved plans to purchase the Charles Darwin and Pride Hill shopping centres, and buy out the lease of the council owned Riverside Shopping Centre from Standard Life on Wednesday.
Full approval for the deal will require a vote of the full council at its meeting on December 14.
The council's chief executive, Clive Wright, has described the deal as an "amazing opportunity".
However, Councillor Alan Mosley, leader of the council's Labour group, said the deal represents a risk.
- READ MORE: Shrewsbury shopping centres: Shropshire Council cabinet agrees move to buy Darwin, Pride Hill and Riverside
He said: "It is astonishing that the Tory administration at Shropshire Council seem to be intent on investing a huge amount of money on this very high risk project.
"At present many specialist investment companies are getting out of the shopping centre marketplace. Obviously, this includes the current owners who are doing so despite their multi-million investment in attracting Primark to the Darwin Centre!
"Although no-one has experience or expertise in this environment the administration are following some other local authorities like lemmings without the slightest thought of public consultation or rigorous scrutiny. The returns quoted seem highly inflated from other data and no clear plans have been presented for the further development of the centres.
"Though it is good to know that two of the centres appear to be viable at present, their ownership, development and control is best left in the hands of those who know what they are doing while the council concentrate on trying to improve the provision of important services to its residents."
Mr Mosley said two previous companies created by the council resulted in "abject failure" and the council became a "laughing stock".
"A few years ago the council spent large sums on creating two private companies to compete as commercial entities. The abject failure of that IP&E project is well documented. Other work suffered, money was wasted, people were let down and the council became a laughing stock. This current project has much in common with that debacle," he said.
"The council has massive financial problems which grow each time their financial strategy is reviewed. Foolhardy, high-risk projects which risk enormous amounts of money and might further damage services are definitely not the way forward."
Councillor Roger Evans, leader of the council's Liberal Democrat group has questioned how much the council will need to invest in the centres.
He said: "I wonder whether it's an investment in the short term but I'm not sure about the long term.
"What is the future of shopping centres? Will they need a terrific amount of investment in them? How do we make them a happier place where people want to go?
"Shropshire Council is in relative terms not a big council.
"I've been trying for the last nine years to get Shropshire Council to invest in places to give them a good return on the money."
He added: "The council has about £150 million in the bank and get about one per cent interest, it's not enough even to keep up with inflation.
"I'd rather they start building houses to get that return in different places and provide houses where people want them.
"There needs to be work done, especially around the Riverside. If the council wanted to do something in partnership with the owners I think that would be a good place to start because it's giving no return to anybody at the moment.
"It's a hasty decision being made and one wonders if the owners are selling so quickly for a reason."