ANGRY residents and concerned opposition councillors have hit out at Warrington Council’s decision to buy Eddie Stobart’s distribution headquarters at Appleton.
The site is on land next to the M56 and the decision to purchase it for £26.1m was approved at a recent meeting of the Council’s Labour controlled Executive Board.
Leader of the Warrington Council Liberal Democrats Cllr Bob Barr says, “We understand that the Executive Board has to be innovative and find ways of raising income to compensate for government austerity.
We also understand we have to work with developers to generate investment in our town. What we don’t understand, is the timing of this deal and the lack of any meaningful consultation with residents,
borough councillors and parish councillors.
“Right now there is a planning application for an extension to the Stobart’s site in the Green Belt. Yet the Council is buying Stobart’s current site. No wonder residents are up in arms and have all sorts of suspicions about what is going on. The timing is appalling. Ropemaker Properties bought this land from Stobarts back in 2013 for £16m in a sale and leaseback deal. Five years later the Council has bought the same site for £26m. People cannot understand how the value has increased by £10m in just five years.
At the same time the development company, Langtree, is consulting with the public over a separate proposal for a massive National Distribution Centre, called Six56, next to Junction 20 on the M6.
Senior councillors and officers sit on the Board of a company called Wire Regeneration alongside Langtree to drive regeneration and development in Warrington. No wonder people are angry about what is going
on and see conflicts of interest. The council must be more open and transparent about their actions, their timing and have more appreciation about perception by the public.”
Cllr Ian Marks who is Deputy Chairman of the South Warrington Parish Councils’ Local Plan Working Group added: “Public anger is compounded because the two proposals are going through the planning process in advance of the publication of Warrington Council’s Local Plan. This is due in December and should go out to public consultation early in the New Year. It is premature for these two massive proposals which are both on the Green Belt, to be considered now. They have huge implications for the south of the town in terms of destroying green fields and generating traffic. We are asking the Council to delay determining these applications. We also have little confidence that any local decision will not be over-written by Westminster.”
A Council Spokesperson said: “The Council has completed a small number of property investment acquisitions over the last three years. This is to generate revenue income to support the Council’s financial
budget position and enable services for local people to continue to be funded. The Council will continue to seek out the best opportunities to fund local services.”
Meanwhile Deputy Leader of the council, Cllr Russ Bowden, took to social media to defend the council’s decision to purchase the Stobart HQ at Stretton.
In response to complaints about lack of funds for public services Cllr Bowden said: “This is an investment from the Council’s CAPITAL budget. That involves borrowing the money in order to buy the property – a bit like a mortgage. After the cost of repayments, this generates significant income for the Council, all of which can go into the Council’s REVENUE budget to pay for services.
“Capital borrowing can’t be used to fund revenue services – that’s the law. So on the contrary – this is actually providing money for valuable services, not taking away. WBC has had to cut £122m from it’s revenue budget since 2010 – that is the price of austerity.”
In response to Stobart’s plans to build a new site on green belt land opposite their existing site Cllr Bowden added:” As far as I know, Stobart’s haven’t submitted a planning application yet for their proposed expansion. That will be subject to planning consent in the normal way. This property purchase by WBC is completely disconnected from that or the Six56 consultation, which is being conducted by the potential developers concerned.”