Published: 08:22, 06 February 2018
| Updated: 08:23, 06 February 2018
Council bosses have been accused of lacking transparency after refusing to reveal how much they paid for 28 apartments.
Ashford Borough Council (ABC) set up the A Better Choice for Property Ltd company in 2014 to buy buildings they could then let out.
They bought 28 high-quality flats on the former Travis Perkins site in Victoria Crescent last year – but are not saying how much they paid for them.
Labour councillor Brendan Chilton says residents should be told how much cash was spent on the homes, which are currently being built.
He said: “Although the property company is held at arm’s length in terms of its relationship with the council, its primary source of income is money leant from the council and that is public money.
“I think residents have a right to know what the authority is spending its money on.
“I think it is in the public interest for people to know because this is public money given to the council through council tax and other rates.”
KentOnline's sister title the Kentish Express submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for the figure to be revealed, but the council says it cannot release it due to commercial sensitivity.
A Better Choice for Property is represented by directors who are a mix of council officers and councillors, including ABC leader Gerry Clarkson.
The company expects to make an annual income of about £230,000 from the Victoria Crescent properties, which include 14 one-bedroom flats and 14 two-beds, when they are all let.
Leath Park Developments – a subsidiary of the Jenner Group based in Folkestone – is building the homes, which are just off Victoria Way.
Cllr Chilton, who represents the Stanhope ward, says the property company’s dealings should be made public.
He added: “Because the Conservative government is cutting funding to local authorities, councils need to become more commercially viable.
“However, it can’t allow commercial viability to take precedent over openness and transparency. I am surprised that the council has not revealed how much it has paid for the land, given it was announced with such acclaim that the purchase was made.
“It seems they are willing to say what they have bought and how great it is, but do not say how much they have paid.”
In an ABC press release last December, it was said the Victoria Crescent purchase was the property company’s biggest yet, representing a ‘multimillion-pound investment’ in the town.
ABC spokesman Mark James says the authority cannot release details of exactly how much was paid for the flats.
He said: “In order for us to operate within a commercial marketplace there are times where we are not going to be able to be as transparent as we normally are.
“Disclosing this information, at this time, would likely prejudice the commercial interest of the council as similar property negotiations are ongoing.”
The Kentish Express also asked ABC how much was paid for a 28-unit light-industrial estate in Carlton Road on Cobbs Wood, but the authority was unable to answer as the contract is still being negotiated with the developer.
However, it is expected the units will be let at between £8 to £12 per square foot, making an annual income of £400,000.
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