Revealed: Ownership of Shrewsbury shopping centres still held offshore
The ownership of the three Shrewsbury shopping centres bought by Shropshire Council for £51 million is still held in Jersey, more than a year on from when the authority said they would be brought onshore.
Following the controversial purchases the authority said work was underway to bring ownership of the assets onshore by the following April.
But the deadline was missed, and more than a year later the council has admitted it still does not know when the transfer will be made.
The council purchased the freehold of the Darwin and Pride Hill centres, along with the leasehold of the Riverside centre and neighbouring medical practice, in January 2018.
It was later revealed that the transaction was made using Jersey Property Unit Trusts. The trusts are the direct owners of the centres, but the council has bought all the units – similar to company shares – and attends quarterly meetings with the trustees who make decisions on how the centres are run.
The council said at the time that as the assets were already held in Jersey this was the simplest and cheapest way to go about the purchase, but said its goal was to swiftly bring ownership onshore.
At a meeting of the full council in July 2018, a member of the public asked when this would be done. The response was: “The council expects to bring the shopping centre assets onshore in the UK by the end of this financial year.”
A Shropshire Council spokesman confirmed the move had not progressed to the expected timescale.
He said: “The shopping centres have not yet been brought back onshore.
“Shropshire Council is currently undertaking appropriate financial and legal due diligence before considering the next steps.”
The council’s website says: “The council has not yet made any formal decision on transferring the assets back to the mainland although that is the intention.
“This option is currently being considered in detail and a report will be brought to a future cabinet and council meeting for decision.”
The revelation comes as an inquiry into councils’ spending on commercial property is to be held by Parliament’s spending watchdog next week.
The Public Accounts Committee inquiry has been called after it was revealed that authorities across the UK had splurged £6.6 billion on retail, leisure and office premises in the last three years.
The committee will question representatives from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on whether local authority officials have the commercial skills required for such transactions.