Rookie Cabinet member Dafydd Williams is likely to face a series of challenging question at the York Council meeting on Thursday after he revealed that the Council will sell a building to St Johns University without testing the market.
The Council got into trouble in 2011 for trying to arrange a private sale of the Union Terrace car park to the same institution.
Now Cllr Williams has revealed that St Antony’s House on Clarence Street will be sold to the University without the property being put on the open market and alternative bids considered.
A similar private sale is envisaged for a property on Reedness Street which was for some years leased by Cllr Williams employer (Yorkshire Water). Is now being sold to the current leaseholder (a local development company who apparently intend to build student flats on the site).
Private sales like these are generally frowned on as there is no guarantee that taxpayers are getting the best deal available.
In 2008, the Council sold the site of the former Edmund Wilson swimming pool on Thanet Road to Lidl but only after a competitive bidding process. The sale eventually fetched over twice the value that had been put on the site by professional valuers.
Similarly the Bonding Warehouse site achieved a sale price twice its original valuation.
The lessons are clear.
The property market in York is buoyant and, to get the best value for money, properties must be put on the open market.
The Council also faced criticism 12 months ago when it announced that it was selling its Hungate development site to a local builder………. again without seeking competitive bids. They argued that the low sale price – about half of what the site might fetch now on the open market – was justified as it would bring a new Insurance company employer to the City.
Subsidising private companies with taxpayers money is a dangerous business and one that is outlawed by European legislation.
Time for the District Auditor to take an interest we think.