If your Council was strapped for cash and was having big trouble funding vital community services would you speculatively spend what we have been told amounts to £32.5m buying a shopping center, seemingly via off-shore companies and borrow the money to do it? Well most probably you wouldn’t but it’s exactly what Labour-run Sefton Council did in Bootle in 2017
This is of course not a new story but even with the passing of a few months since the purchase it still beggars belief. Whilst Labour refuse to reveal how much the Strand officially cost, newspapers have reported the deal at £32.5m.
But the big question, amongst many that the Labour-run Council refuse to answer, is why buy the Strand Shopping Centre. Why not Maghull Square Shopping Centre, Central 12 Shopping Centre in Southport, a retail park in Aintree etc. etc.
We all know that because of on-line spending retail is not doing well these days and the trend is likely to continue towards more on-line and less retail shop spending. So why is buying a shopping centre in Bootle, which has been troubled by lowering footfall and empty shop units, a good deal for the Borough? Indeed, would the admittedly rather down at heel Maghull Square shopping centre have been a better bet for a speculative purchase as it has not suffered the large number of vacant units that the Strand has since the recession hit us?
You see the stated reason for purchasing the Strand is to bring in rental income that will both pay off the massive loan taken out on the shopping centre, pay for maintenance and future investment in the property and leave money to spare to help run essential public services.
There are huge areas on the Strand that you can no longer access where shop units used to be and a walk downstairs to the lower retail area reveals many vacant shop units. So again I ask the question, if gaining a return to fund Council services was the real objective why not pick a shopping centre in the Borough that is thriving or at least performing better than the Strand is? But then again why buy a retail development at all, aren’t there better property investments around?
Frankly, the purchase of the Strand still does not add up and if, as seems likely, the removal of thousands of civil servants from Bootle and into Liverpool has the predicted big reduction in footfall where will the Labour Party hide its face then?