Calls made to sell out-of-county retail and commercial buildings and pump cash into building homes
PUBLISHED: 16:53 19 February 2019 | UPDATED: 16:53 19 February 2019
Calls have been made for controversial out-of-county investments in commercial and retail property to be sold and the money pumped into housebuilding in mid Suffolk, ahead of a fresh budget debate this week.
The opposition Green group at Mid Suffolk District Council has tabled an amendment ahead of Thursday’s full council meeting where the 2019/20 budget will be decided.
The Conservative administration is proposing to pump another £25million into CIFCO Capital Ltd – a joint company with Babergh District Council which has bought retail and commercial property mostly outside of Suffolk.
Among the portfolio is the Marks and Spencer store building in Brentwood, and the Caffe Nero and Wagamama unit in Peterborough.
But the Greens have called for all CIFCO investments to be sold in the next four years and reinvest the cash, which is borrowed from the Public Works Loan Board, in other projects like housebuilding.
Other amendments include more pop-up council offices in rural locations, and holding more council meetings in the district.
Currently, all meetings are held at Endeavour House in Ipswich.
Rachel Eburne from the Green group said: “This alternative budget seeks to act on two main areas of concern, the first is to bring back into control the speculative out of district commercial investments, and make this money work harder for our communities, in delivering much needed local affordable housing.
“This way we make a safer return on investment, as well as maintain our housing supply.”
“Don’t forget the current agreed borrowing is £50m of which none is agreed to be spent in mid Suffolk”
The Greens said the money could be used to reinvigorate stalled housing sites.
Other tabled measures include upgrades to Stowmarket station forecourt, a strategic review of Stowmarket town centre car park and making council officers accessible to the public.
Investment bosses said the risks investing in commercial and retail buildings had been mitigated by thorough due diligence and a broad, balanced portfolio.
Emily Atack, assistant director of assets and investments at the two councils, said: “When they [investment board] are making the decision they are very much looking at that balance, and it is right for the portfolio to have retail as part of a balanced portfolio.
“We are looking at properties that are in the right place that are strong properties in their own right.
“To mitigate the risk we need to have a balanced portfolio.”