Fenland Council “made Government aware” of potential private buyer after they pulled out of £100,000 courthouse deal
09:36 03 April 2014
Fresh detail is emerging about the aborted purchase of Wisbech courthouse after it emerged that Fenland Council turned down the offer to buy it for £100,000.
It has also emerged that the council itself told the Ministry of Justice that a private developer was interested in the building after Cabinet had refused to buy it.
Independent Wisbech councillor Virginia Bucknor and MP Steve Barclay are among those continuing to press for information about the timings and reasoning behind the council’s decision to withdraw from the sale.
Fenland Council insisted that “a key problem identified that had to be overcome was the long term tenancy of Cambridgeshire police”.
The council said the police had 82 years remaining on their part of the building “on advantageous terms”.
However Sir Graham Bright, the police commissioner, had promised it would be reconsidered in April once a county wide review of policing had concluded.
Police and fire officials had also been in long term discussions with the council about a possible relocation of the police station to the town’s fire station in a shared reconfigured building.
“The council can confirm that the police have never stated that they would not relocate from the property,” said a council spokesman. “However the police have not been in a position to indicate when they would be able to relocate, thus leaving the issue as a genuine uncertainty from the council’s point of view.”
Council leader Alan Melton told the BBC that the Ministry of Justice had “blatantly refused” to reconsider a deadline for purchase past January 31 but Mr Barclay feels had he have been asked he could have negotiated a longer period for the council to resolve the issue with the police. Cllr Bucknor says the leader’s statement “seems at odds with other information. What are the facts? “
Cllr Bucknor has also asked Fenland Council chief executive Paul Medd why the Cabinet made the decision to withdraw without consulting other councillors, Wisbech Town Council, Mr Barclay and the Friend of Wisbech courthouse “to name a few who could and in my opinion should have been consulted”.
She is particularly angry that the MP “was not kept in the loop with Cabinet’s decision. Why was this since he was clearly fully committed to the Wisbech 20/20 project? I and everyone else I have spoken to would have assumed this was already occurring.”
The council maintains the deadline of January 31 had to be met and the risks of buying it without the certainty of knowing the police would leave “were not seen as best ‘value for money’ position, particularly at a time when public finances were being very significantly reduced by the Government’s austerity programme”.
Referring to the Cabinet decision to withdraw from the purchase the council spokesman said it was a “confidential executive decision based on the facts at the time”.
The spokesman added: “Following the council decision not to pursue the acquisition, the council made the MoJ aware of initial potential private developer interest; however it was not involved in the negotiations between the developer and the MoJ and therefore has no related correspondence.”
The site was brought for £150,000 by local entrepreneur John Foster ahead of a proposed auction.
“The council was aware that the MoJ would put the property to market but did not know the details of when,” said the council spokesman. “The council subsequently became aware of the purchase on the same day that it was released in the House of Commons. The council understands that the contract had been completed that day.”