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Councils shut out of north-west RDA asset sell-off

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The north-west regional development agency has ruled out the option of passing on its £56.8m in land and property assets to local authorities or new local enterprise partnerships.

In the RDA’s assets and liabilities plan (attached right), which has been submitted to ministers for approval, the RDA said it had determined that the option of transferring or selling its £56.8m in land and property assets to either local authorities or local enterprise partnerships in the region was “not considered viable”.

The copy of the heavily redacted version of the RDA’s plan, obtained by LGC, said that councils or LEPs were either unwilling or unable to pay the market value for the assets, which range from large employment sites and regeneration projects, to coalfields and small stand alone office buildings.

The assets plan, obtained from NWDA through a Freedom of Information request, divided the agency’s 44 land and property assets into “two tiers” comprising 20 to be sold or transferred prior to the agency’s closure in March 2012 and 24 to be disposed of after the agency’s closure.

It said that it had identified “obvious routes” for disposal of the first 20 assets, of which eight are to be sold and 12 are to be transferred. The latter included four former coalfields sites, which the report said should be passed to the HCA.

However, in contrast to other RDAs, the specific recommendations for the disposal of the other sites were redacted from the document provided.LGC has appealed NWDA’s decision to refuse to provide the details of its recommendations.

NWDA said that of the remaining 24 sites, 18 should be held over the medium to long term after closure of the agency to ensure “best value” is achieved when they are sold. It said this category included the North Manchester Business Park and the Ancoats Urban Village regeneration site in Manchester and the Kingsway Business Park in Rochdale. However, the remaining sites in this category were redacted.

The plan also recommended that a further eight sites would benefit from further investment, such as the provision of infrastructure or the demolition of obsolete buildings, in order to make them “viable for private sector development” and achieve their “overarching regeneration objectives”.

However, the agency recommended that these 24 assets be passed onto either a “sub-national receiving body” or a “national residuary body”. Though it added that while the latter was a “practicably viable” option, it had a “limited policy fit with localism agenda” and “maybe unacceptable” to local authorities.

It added that part of the reason for ruling out disposing of the assets to local authorities was that the portfolio was “very imbalanced”, with the sites “heavily concentrated” on Merseyside and Cumbria. It also said that if the sites were passed to councils, some local authorities would need to take on “major liabilities” such that “dowry funds” would be needed”.

The agency also ruled out as “unviable” the possibility of local authorities or LEPs taking on the agency’s share in the property joint-venture Space Northwest, a public-private partnership with Aviva Investors. It said that due to the “significant value” of the joint-vehicle’s portfolio, “no one local authority or LEP is in a position to purchase this interest from NWDA”.

“The options of a sub national or national receiving body solution are therefore considered most appropriate,” the agency said.

Labour’s shadow business minister Gordon Marsden said it was “bewildering” that some of RDAs were publishing their advice to ministers and others were refusing. He suggested that the agencies had been “leant on” by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (DBIS) to ensure they did not publish their asset plans.

“It’s disgraceful that this is not a full and transparent process. The RDAs should be publishing their advice to ministers and the government should be supporting that,” he said.

DBIS denied that it had advised RDAs not to publish their plans and said it was up to each agency to determine what it would put into the public realm.

 

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