Scrutiny concern over £21m retail park purchase

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Friday, May 17th, 2019 4:58pm

By Saul Cooke-Black - Local Democracy Reporter

Monmouthshire council’s chief executive has defended the decision-making process behind the £21 million purchase of Newport Leisure Park, after concerns were voiced by opposition councillors.

The purchase was completed by council bosses on March 11 after being put before the cabinet for approval, behind closed doors, on March 6 as an “urgent matter.”

But due to “commercial sensitivity” and time constraints it was decided the issue could not be called-in for councillors to scrutinise before the purchase.

Council documents say the delay caused by a call-in would have “seriously prejudiced the council’s interests.”

Councillors were given their first opportunity to discuss the investment at a meeting on Thursday, although the issue was only for noting.

But Independent councillor Simon Howarth said councillors should have been given an opportunity to debate the issue before the purchase.

“The questions which we should be asking and will be asking should have been done prior to the purchase,” he said.

“It’s alright to say time-wise – [but] we would have found time as members to put that in a slot to have a full and open frank debate about it in a closed session which would have been valuable.”

Cllr Howarth questioned whether the cabinet had “the authority to do what they’ve done.”

Labour councillor Armand Watts said there were a lot of questions which needed to be answered.

“We should as elected democrats have the opportunity to scrutinise for the sake of transparency,” he said.

“This is a lot of money.

“There have been a lot of questions from the public about how can we borrow £50m when we can’t even sustain our local communities.”

The move has been described by some as a ‘gamble’, but Monmouthshire council says the investment will bring a return to support public services.

The 1.3 hectare site on Spytty Road, situated next to Newport Retail Park, has a cinema, shops, restaurants and a gym.

Monmouthshire council’s chief executive Paul Matthews said the purchase was made in accordance with an investment strategy agreed by the authority.

He added: “In due course the audit committee has the power to review all investment decisions.

“There is an appropriate system of governance in place which satisfies the council’s core values of openness and transparency.”

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