Leeds Council officers spent £20m buying one of the city centre’s largest and most expensive car parks for the local authority, it can be revealed.
An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism shared with The Yorkshire Post has uncovered details of the purchase of the 499-space Q Park in Swinegate Square in March this year.
The council spent £19.84m on the car park and also paid London-based real estate agency Colliers International £238,080 for their services in the sale, which included suggesting the purchase to the council and doing due diligence.
The decision to buy the car park was made under what is called “delegated authority”, meaning it was made by council officials behind closed doors.
A report on the planned purchase was published on the council website but kept price details confidential, along with details about why the purchase was considered value for money and potential risks attached to it.
The report said the purchase decision should be exempt from ‘call in’ - scrutiny from a committee of councillors - because of concerns it would delay the sale and “the council would be at risk of the purchase price being re-opened for negotiation in open competition with other parties”.
It added: “The purchase of the property will increase the revenue stream to the council and this will in turn support a number of council objectives. As the acquisition will generate additional income for the council this will support revenue budgets that are linked to the expansion and regeneration of the city.”
The car park costs £3.20 for up to one hour of parking and £24 for up to 24 hours.
Details of the purchase was revealed through invoices provided under the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, which gives citizens and journalists the right to inspect the accounts and related documents of councils, police, fire and other local authorities. The Bureau’s national investigation found some local authorities are refusing to let the public access key information on how their money is being spent.
The investigation also revealed Leeds Council spent £10.2m buying the Paradigm building on Century Way, Thorpe Park in March. A company called CBRE was paid £122,400 for facilitating the sale.
Leeds Council now holds a property portfolio worth over £120m - up £34m on 2017/18 following both new purchases and revaluations of existing holdings.
Since February 2017, the council has delegated purchasing decisions to the director of city development Martin Farrington and its chief finance officer Victoria Bradshaw in consultation with relevant cabinet members and leaders of other political groups also consulted.
Since this year, investment decisions are included in an investment strategy that is approved by councillors.
A spokesman for the council said: “The council’s investment in properties is based upon the need for Leeds to have a strong economy and accelerate the economic progress in the city whilst ensuring all people and communities in Leeds contribute and benefit from economic success.
“We look only to invest in properties within the city, and that help the regeneration of the city but are also sound investments for the council. We want to ensure that any investment in properties add value and strength to the council’s existing property investment portfolio and can provide additional and much needed revenue to support the wide range of important services that the council provides across the city.
“We constantly review our holdings and acquire and dispose of assets as it makes commercial sense to do so.
“Investment returns are generated in accordance with the financial plan are reinvested back into council services.”