Sefton Council – will it be buying more shopping centers in the Borough?

Bootle New Strand shopping centre

In what can only be seen as a surprise move last year Sefton Council splashed out over £30m of public money to buy The Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle, a move that shocked many in these times of austerity for local authorities.

But it seems that buying shopping centres is quite the fashion for local councils these days as the article below details from the BBC website:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46625912

I’m the first to say that I’m highly sceptical of such moves by cash-strapped councils – it’s a massive gamble that could go horribly wrong. I had not realised that Wigan Council had purchased The Galleries but having walked around it’s all but deserted upper floor before Christmas you really do wonder what that council can do to bring back the lost retail outlets.

Of course, Sefton Council’s previous big move into retail property development was to take on the rebuild and running of Southport Indoor Market a few years back. This was another hugely controversial investment which I and others on the Council at the time opposed.

But as Sefton and indeed other councils are now firmly into retail property development will this mean other shopping centres locally will be snapped up at lowish prices using borrowed public money? Makes you wonder, especially when private sector owners seem to struggle to find the resources to upgrade down at heel shopping centres such as Maghull Square.

I’m not advocating that Sefton buys up more retail property, because I think it has too much risk attached to it, but if the Council’s Labour rulers really do think that acquiring shopping centres is the next big thing for municipal socialism why stop at Southport Market and Bootle Strand?

Thanks to both Roy Connell and Keith Page for the leads to this posting

Bootle – Sefton’s Monopoly Money

Rear view of Bootle New Strand shopping centre

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?

Bootle – Has Sefton Council been involved in off-shore dealing over Strand Shopping Centre?

Bootle Town Hall – The Labour administration runs the Borough from here

This has been a odd carry on ever since it first emerged that Sefton Council was buying this shopping centre. I blogged about it at the time the story started to leak out (May 2017 – see link below to access that posting) from Labour’s Bootle Town Hall bunker:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2017/05/03/bootle-sefton-council-buys-back-the-strand-shopping-centre-for-how-much-thoughso-it-seems/

£32.5m borrowed & spent by Sefton buying Strand shops

Sefton Council are now saying (Champion Newspaper 18/10/17) that the Lib Dem Group Leader on the Council was briefed about the £32.5m purchase, yet how on earth does that square with Lib Dems having to make Freedom of Information requests about the deal? What’s more the meetings about the deal were held behind closed doors and opposition councillors were prevented from hearing the discussion or of scrutinising the deal! If it’s such a great deal for the Borough why on earth has virtually everything about it been kept under wraps?

Why Buy Bootle Shopping Centre but not one elsewhere in the Borough?

It also begs the question, why was the Strand Shopping Centre picked to purchase? Why not Maghull Square Shopping Centre for example or any of the other shopping centres across the Borough?

John Pugh makes Freedom of Information request to get to the bottom of the property deal

A lot of digging has been going on by former Southport MP John Pugh despite Sefton’s stonewalling and John thinks a picture is emerging involving off-shore companies. It seems that 2 Luxembourg companies were part of the deal process although Sefton have remained silent on the matter.

Interestingly, whilst an MP, John was very much involved with looking at company deals via off-shore companies so he’s not going to let this Sefton one be slid back under the Bootle Town Hall carpet.

The Labour leadership on Sefton Council need to allow the whole deal to be opened up for scrutiny. There should be no place for secrecy when £32.5m of public money is being borrowed and spent on behalf of Sefton Borough residents.

Bootle – Sefton Council buys back The Strand Shopping Centre for how much though?

Sefton Council have bought back The Strand Shopping Centre which it had previously sold off all its interest in over a number of years some time ago.

This display board was put up not so long ago when the last owners took over The Strand.

Word is also that the deal is worth anything from £30m to a cool £60m+ (not confirmed) and that the Council is borrowing money to make the purchase. It seems that they intend to finance the loan via the rents charged to the businesses that operate out of The Strand and they are saying that this will more than cover their loan repayments and leave money over for other spending.

The Army recruiting outside The Strand last year.

Mm, for the sake of Sefton’s Council tax payers this had better work out in the medium to long term otherwise it will be a poor deal for the Borough.

Interestingly the Council is making this purchase knowing that 3,000+ Civil Service jobs, which are presently based in Bootle, are to be be shipped into Liverpool within a couple of years and that is bound to have a negative impact on the footfall of The Strand.

There don’t seem to be many real detailed facts about this purchase in the public domain, but then again the purchase was seemingly agreed by the Council’s all-Labour Cabinet and opposition members of the Council have not seen the background papers I understand. Indeed, a Lib Dem opposition member who was sat observing the the very Cabinet meeting where the purchase was seemingly agreed was asked to leave whilst the item was discussed.

I wonder how this very significant expenditure of public money is to be srutinised and by whom? This matter needs to be out in the open together with all the facts.