Coun­cil tight-lipped over costs

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Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Terence Dickinson Obituary - By Dan Wright

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 re­la­tion- ship 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.”

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 twobeds, 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 trans- parency. 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 ‘mul­ti­mil­lion­pound in­vest­ment’ in the town.

What do you think? Write to Ken­tish Ex­press, Unit 4, Park Mall Shop­ping Cen­tre Ash­ford, TN24 8RY or email ken­tish­ex­press@ thek­m­group.co.uk

The for­mer Travis Perkins site in Vic­to­ria Cres­cent and an il­lus­tra­tion of the flats some of which Ash­ford Bor­ough Coun­cil has bought

Cllr Bren­dan Chilton

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