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Conservatives Claim Council Incompetence Over Sale of Ladymead Office Block

Published on: 26 Jul, 2021
Updated on: 28 Jul, 2021

Liongate House in Ladymead, opposite Guildford Fire Station by the Stoke Interchange – Image: Google Maps Street View

By Martin Giles

The “panic” sale of a Ladymead office block by Guildford Borough Council made a £3 million loss according to Guildford Conservatives.

They say that the underselling of the Liongate building “raises serious issues in the way council assets are being managed by the RG4V/ Lib Dem administration”.

But Council Leader Joss Bigmore hit back: “This story is pure political spin… The Conservatives are keen to try any lurid headline to try and deflect attention from the news out this week that the A3 through Guildford has the worst measured Nitrogen Dioxide levels in the country.”

Geoff Davis

Geoff Davis a former Conservative borough councillor and chartered surveyor who has operated for decades in Guildford said: “The council sold the property unconditionally, whereas it should have, at the very least, prepared it for sale by putting planning consent in place, which would have been very straightforward under permitted development rights.

“Although there was an indication that the property could accommodate 72 residential units, the new owners of the building have been granted planning permission for conversion to 94 luxury apartments. In my opinion, this demonstrates significant negligence by the current GBC administration.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Cllr Bigmore responded: “We are very fortunate to benefit from former Conservative councillor Geoff Davis’s wisdom in hindsight.

“I remember clearly the debate concerning this asset sale at the November 2019 Executive which followed consideration at the cross-party Property Review Group.  I was asked a leading question inviting criticism of the original purchase of Liongate by the Conservatives in 2013.

“I declined that opportunity considering that it was unfair to judge that purchase with the benefit of the extra information time brings. Perhaps that was unwise.

“Clearly spending £13 million on an old fashioned office block with an unsecured tenant could seem foolish. This is how it turned out with the tenant exercising a break clause to early terminate their lease leading to the asset sale in question.

“But I trusted that back in 2013 the purchase made good sense and passed the same due diligence that the sale decision went through. It is also important to point out that to look solely at the capital value of an asset misses half the story, GBC and therefore the taxpayer benefited from nearly £6 million of rent received during the period we held the property, partially offset by interest payments on the loan used to buy the property, but still the taxpayer came out a little ahead.

“I think it’s unfortunate that Mr Davis seems to think our very professional and qualified council officers and the external advisors that assisted on the sale were amateurish and can’t function without him. That does them a huge disservice and I hope he reconsiders his position.

Leave campaigner Christian Holliday

But another former Conservative councillor and chartered town planner Christian Holliday said: “This property could have made a real contribution to the significant needs of those on the council’s housing lists and should, without doubt, have been offered formally to GBC’s housing department.

“We understand it was offered casually but it was not undertaken in a professional manner, meaning this opportunity has been lost with no explanation.”

A report by real estate consultancy Lambert Smith Hampton on the options for the sale of Liongate, commissioned by GBC in 2018 when the Conservatives were in power, estimated the value “with prior approval for permitted development [at] around £8.5 – £9.5 million.” All other options were estimated to have a lower value. In 2020, the council got £10.2 million without obtaining prior approval.

Cllr Bigmore admitted that practices would change at GBC as a result of the sale: “As a result of this experience we have altered our investment criteria to ensure there is a robust Plan B for any building we purchase to guard against being left with a lemon.”

But he condemned the motives behind the Conservative attack: “This story is pure political spin, the Conservatives are very keen to blame my administration for the budget gap we face rather than the reality of the situation that central government has been cutting our funding for over a decade and has not compensated us for the effects of the Pandemic.”

Referring to what he said was the “real story” of the A3 pollution report, he claimed that there had been: “decades of failure to address the infrastructure deficit in our borough potentially leading to poor health outcomes in our residents due to exposure to NO2.”

Guildford Conservatives say they intend to request a full independent inquiry into the Liongate sale. A question is expected at tomorrow’s (July 27) full council meeting.

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test One Response to Conservatives Claim Council Incompetence Over Sale of Ladymead Office Block

  1. Richard Makinson Reply

    July 29, 2021 at 7:03 pm

    The majority of residents are not worried about the air quality, they are rather concerned that something that belongs to the borough should be sold off at less than its proper value.

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