At Kettering Borough Council’s Executive Meeting tonight they were asked to agree to the sale of the public car park on Queen Street for £300,000 to a property developer.
There had been no pubic consultation and the sale of the car park had not been marketed to anyone other than the one private company that the council had apparently been in negotiation with for some time.
I argued that the decision was being rushed, without anybody else’s opinion being taken into consideration. I also argued that because it would mean Kettering’s town centre losing 32 public car parking spaces the decision should have been publicised and should be looked at by the council’s scrutiny committee to ensure it was fair.
Recently we had already lost almost the same amount of parking spaces when the council decided to rent more than 10% of the Wadcroft Car Park over to Royal Mail (the council refuse to say how much money they get). This was yet another decision made without any consultation, or reference to elected councillors.
I questioned whether we could afford to keep losing these spaces. I pointed out that there didn’t seem to be any joined up thinking from the council regarding the town centre and suggested we needed a plan spelling out the council’s ambitions for the whole town centre and the retail sector in particular.
I suggested that this decision be deferred and sent to the scrutiny committee for them to carry out a full investigation which should also include a strategic plan for the town’s retail centre.
However, despite the council’s report saying “negotiations have [already] taken place resulting in an offer of £300,000 being made and accepted,” the council’s legal officer admitting the land “had not been marketed”.
A respected local businessman turned up to the meeting complaining he had no idea the site was to be sold, and only found out by accident the day before (because of this councillors Facebook post on the subject). He then handed in a formal written bid of £450,000 for the site which was well over the price the council had already agreed of £300,000.
This obviously was a shock to the committee and despite the Tory finance portfolio holder arguing that this offer had been made at “the eleventh hour”, she had to concede, to the Council’s Monitoring officer’s advice, which was that they had a “duty to achieve best value”. The decision was therefore deferred to consider the new offer.
The Conservative chair however made a point that they were only deferring the decision to allow council officers to investigate the new bid, and were not deferring it for the council’s scrutiny committee to investigate the proposal which had been my original proposal.
As far as I’m concerned, the whole episode simply shows how bad decision making at Kettering Council is. Regardless of whether it would be a good thing or not to sell car parking spaces, the fact they were about to sell land at far less than someone else was willing to pay for it shows a wanton disregard for public finances and makes me wonder once again what sort of control the elected councillors of the current administration actually have.