At a meeting yesterday the Liberal Democrat Cabinet took the decision to sell a piece of Council land in Southern Road to the Police for their new HQ. This story was carried by Matt Dean on Sunday and appeared in yesterday's Daily Echo newspaper.
The site at the Junction of West Quay Road and Mountbatten way is worth £3m. However the Lib Dems have agreed to sell it for £2m, £1m lower than it's market value.
Furthermore should the Police move its headquarters from the Civic Centre to a new building on the site, this will leave a back hole in Council finances of nearly £300,000 a year, from lost rent.
I asked the Lib Dem Cabinet member for Resources David Beckett about this a few weeks ago in a public meeting and he wasn't even aware that the decision was coming up! I think this is outrageous!
Why should the City Council be giving another public body £1m of council taxpayer's money. I wonder if it is even legal. The Council has a duty to ensure that it gets the best prices when disposing of land. Only in exceptional circumstances can they sell it for less. One reason is if they are contributing significantly to the wider social good. I am not sure how strongly one could argue this point in this situation. Will the £1m we are giving them be spent directly on front line policing in Southampton? If the Police need more money to buy the land then they should petition the Home Office and not the local council. Also what is happening to all the money the Police will make when they sell their land in Hulse Road for flats?
I am the Vice Chairman of the Council's Resources Scrutiny Panel, which amongst other things scrutinises Council property decisions. The panel has the power to call in controversial decisions and question the reasons behind them. I have requested that the Chairman of this panel calls the decision in, so that it is delayed and a proper discussion can be had.
I would like to know why the Lib Dems are writing out a cheque for £1m with taxpayers' money.
I also want to know what the plan is to replace the lost revenue if the Police move out of the Civic Centre. This will leave the entire west wing of the Civic Centre empty. What is the plan for the building? Will it remain empty like the magistrates courts has done for the past 6 years? I think we deserve the answers to these and other questions before such large sums of public money are given away.
Update 30/11/06: The Chairman of the Resources Panel indicated that she was going to call this decision in. Subsequently however she has changed her mind. Apparently a 6 minute dicsussion on the subject at a meeting on Tuesday was sufficient to convince her that no further debate was necessary!