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WALSALL: Saddlers Centre plummets in value

WALSALL: Saddlers Centre plummets in value

Image: Google

Walsall’s main shopping centre has plummeted in value by more than £8.5 million since it was bought by the council four years ago.

Authority leader revealed Mike Bird told a full council meeting on Monday (September 20) the Saddlers Centre’s current value stood at just £3.9 million and was making a loss.

He was responding to a question posed by independent councillor Pete Smith who asked if those who voted against the purchase had been “vindicated”.

The town centre facility was bought by the then Labour-led administration for £12.5 million with associated costs taking it up to a £13.8 million outlay.

At the time,bosses said it would bring in much needed income for the cash-strapped authority and prove a vital asset for regeneration purposes.

But the Conservatives opposed the deal and, after regaining power in 2018, have continued to criticise it.

But Labour said the centre had been “mismanaged” since they came to power and a private report, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, highlighted risks identified by auditors regarding increasing rent arrears and a lack of contracts being signed with management agents in 2019/20.

At the full council meeting, the Labour group had walked out in protest over their nomination of Sean Coughlan becoming deputy mayor being voted down and the issue of the Saddlers Centre was discussed in their absence.

Councillor Bird said: “It is important we tell the public what happened with this particular purchase.

“The acquisition was approved by cabinet (in July 2017) and then went to a special council meeting which was held in private.

“Since that point in time, the value of the Saddlers Centre has reduced by £8.6 million. The current value if anyone were to want to buy it is £3.9 million in the accounts of Walsall Council.

“The centre was expected to be generating £1.7 million net income by now but in actual fact, it is making a loss.

“All of the people who voted against that, their vote has been vindicated by the returns we are now seeing from this dwindling value asset.

“I think it was ill timed by the Labour group of the day, ill thought out and now the people of Walsall are picking up the tab.

“However, like always, the Conservatives will sweep up the mess left behind and thanks to Government awarding this council £21.6 million for the regeneration of the town centre.

“Coupled with that same amount going forward, I sincerely hope this administration will make a better job of making the town centre viable and vibrant.

After the meeting, current Labour group leader Aftab Nawaz said: “Since they took over, they have mismanaged the running of the Saddlers Centre.

“If they managed it properly since they took over then perhaps it would have been different.

“It doesn’t sway us from the idea this centre was bought for its regeneration potential and I have never seen the Conservatives argue with it being a prime spot to have in our ownership for the regeneration of our town.

I still believe it and the railway station in particular is crucial.

“The Conservatives been in charge for the past three years so they could have sold it if they wanted to and if it is that much of a pain for them.”

Words: Gurdip Thandi, Local Democracy Reporter

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