Asda land deal struck at £90k
DUP and SDLP members of Craigavon Borough Council did a swift about-turn on Monday night, two weeks after a piece of land they voted to sell to giant supermarket Asda for £24,000 turned out to be worth £90,000.
Two weeks ago, members of the two parties agreed - on the casting vote of Mayor Carla Lockhart - to charge Asda £24,000 for the land at Portadown’s Watson Street, even though, according to UUP and SF members, no specific value had been placed on the land, through which Asda wanted to direct a storm water mains.
Papers presented at the original secret meeting suggested it might be worth almost £100,000, and this was confirmed by the land valuers on Monday of this week, when SDLP and DUP did an about-turn during an ‘in committee’ session, resulting in the entire council settling on £90,000.
Before Monday night’s debate was moved into secret session, SF Councillor Johnny McGibbon suggested it should be discussed in the council chambers. “The first ‘in committee’ session on this issue has been accurately reported in the local press (the Portadown Times) and the same thing will happen this time around,” he said. “This is ratepayers’ money and far too much is being taken in secret session, only to find its way into the papers.” But the motion fell, with DUP and UUP opposing the move, and SF and SDLP supporting it. The decision came after chief executive Theresa Donaldson said that the borough solicitor would be present and there could be legal issues.
The £90,000 price tag was unanimously agreed by the council, although it is understood that DUP held back from making the proposal to rescind the £24,000 decision, which was left to Councillor McGibbon to table. DUP stated that they had acted originally “for the good of Portadown and for jobs” in rushing through the £24,000 proposal. But Councillor McGibbon said they did this “without the relevant information and against the advice of officers who stated they should wait until a reasoned valuation was placed on the land”.
Councillors McGibbon and Gemma McKenna (both SF) both slammed DUP and SDLP for being prepared to “short-change” the ratepayers by £66,000, and there were suggestions that, to go ahead with the £24,000 deal, would leave councillors open to action by the local government auditors.
After the meeting, Councillor McGibbon claimed he had “grave concerns” over SDLP and DUP’s “haste to hand over the land for less than a third of the recommended valuation”.
He added, “The public will rightly ask, why were the DUP and SDLP so anxious to accept the reduced payment at the expense of the ratepayers? The decision was taken against the advice of council officers. The district land valuer was not prepared to recommend a figure at the original meeting, and Sinn Féin had argued that the transfer should not proceed until all information was available. This second report has vindicated our position.”
He continued, “DUP’S Sydney Anderson MLA originally told council that they should proceed with a figure of £24,000, as it was a ‘no-brainer’. Now that the district valuer has recommended a figure almost four times that figure, we have to ask where did this £24,000 valuation come from? The DUP and SDLP put the council at risk of an audit office investigation by so vigorously arguing to accept the lower value.”
NOTE - THIS REPORT TO GO WITH REPLIES FROM ANDERSON AND NELSON.
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Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 15 C
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