£3 homes sale probed

Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn
Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn
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A PROBE is to be launched into a controversial deal which saw Blackpool Council sell £2.7m worth of houses for just £3.

Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn today pledged to hold an independent inquiry into the dealings which saw failing holiday accommodation bought up as part of a social housing pilot scheme.

Among the deals at the centre of the probe is the purchase of a property on Crystal Road from former Tory councillors Ian and Susan Fowler.

Other transactions which will come under the spotlight are the council’s purchase of former hotels Shadowlands on Pleasant Street, and the Saville on Tyldesley Road, and the purchase of the King Edward Apartments on Central Drive.

The deals were agreed in March 2010 by the previous Conservative-run council.

Using Homes and Communities Agency funding, the Saville was bought for £200,000, the King Edward Apartments for £850,000 and the property at 25/27 Crystal Road, for £180,000.

A portfolio worth £2.7m was sold in December 2010 to housing group Great Place for £3 so they could revamp them and convert them back into family homes.

Coun Blackburn, who condemned the move at the time, said: “There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the council’s purchase of properties in Crystal Road and subsequent sale of the houses for £1 each. “Recognising the public interest relating to local authorities and the money they spend, I have now requested the chief executive commission a full independent audit into the criteria for selecting the properties involved, the price paid for their purchase and how that related to the condition of the buildings along with the price for which they were subsequently sold.

“The results of the audit will be made public as soon as the process is completed.”

Bispham-based cabbie David Palmer spent £256 on delivering 6,000 leaflets in a bid to discredit Mr and Mrs Fowler ahead of the May local elections.

Both councillors lost their seats.

He said he was pleased Coun Blackburn had launched an investigation which will be carried out by auditors from KPMG.

Mr Palmer, of Denstone Avenue, said: “The question is whether value for money has been achieved on these transactions.

“It’s all taxpayers’ money at the end of the day. I just hope it is a proper, external investigation and all the facts are made available.

“It is vital the council gets to the bottom of this because we must have confidence that we are getting good value for money.”

Mr Palmer added: “The council spent £2.7m of taxpayers’ money buying up redundant hotels, guest houses and flats in three locations using Homes and Communities Agency funding (tax payers money). They then went on to sell all this property off in three lots for £1 per lot to Great Places.”

The council bought up failing hotels as part of a bid to regenerate the resort’s private housing sector by showing how former B&Bs could be given a new lease of life as family homes.

But when the council could not afford to do the work itself, at a cost of around £130,000 per property, it sold them to Great Places which had access to Government funding for the next stage of the scheme.

Work is now underway with at least one property on Crystal Road having been successfully converted.

Susan Fowler said any investigation would find the sale of their property had all been above board.

She said: “Some people will ask questions but we really have nothing to reproach ourselves for as sellers of a property in an area that is going to be uplifted.”