Bill for council HGV depot that can't house heavy vehicles close to £1m
Costs for industrial units which can’t be used for the reason they were leased have spiralled to almost GBP1m – and no one has been held publicly accountable. Conwy council took up a 35 year lease, on units 6, 7, 8 and part of unit 5 at Mochdre Commerce Park on Conwy Road, in February 2016. The idea was to move all of the authority’s HGV vehicles and equipment under one roof, from nine other sites across the county, in a bid to save cash.
But the floors couldn’t take the weight of the vehicles and the council was stuck with a building that is unfit for purpose . The site costs the council GBP240,000 per annum under the agreement – exclusive of VAT and paid quarterly. The annual rent equates to around 0.43% of the current council tax revenue.
Conwy council confirmed to the Local Democracy Service it has paid GBP420,000 plus another GBP33,684 in service charges since June 2018. That is in addition to GBP391,500 paid in rent between February 2017 and June 2018. On top of the GBP845,184 paid in rent and service charges, the council instructed solicitors DWF LLP to write a report about the debacle, which the authority refuses to release.
The law firm has been paid more than GBP90,000 to date according to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. The council confirmed all business rates paid on the dormant building had been repaid to it and “there is no ongoing liability”. A spokeswoman for Conwy council said: “The report has not been released.
It contains commercial and critical information about individual employees of the council and may reveal the identity of others. “It also relates intrinsically to the commercial/business affairs of the authority and other parties and disclosure may well adversely affect individuals and the council’s commercial interests and is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.”
The report was presented to a special meeting of Conwy council’s Finance and Resources Scrutiny Committee in March last year. It admitted there were “process failings” in the way the agreement was taken on.
Leader Sam Rowlands called it “a sobering read”. The authority refuses to reveal if anyone has been held to account over the failure. The council’s spokeswoman said it “does not comment on staff disciplinary issues”.
There have been no developments on negotiations with the landlord since August last year but the authority said it is hopeful of a solution. The spokeswoman added: “The landlord and the council remain in dialogue and are committed to finding the best solution to the issues at Mochdre Commerce Park. “A number of options are actively being considered and as further information becomes available both parties hope to be able to focus on the preferred option in the coming months.”
The original landlord, Conygar Strand Ltd, changed its name in 2017 to RR Sea Strand Limited, according to Companies House. The previous directors left at that time and two new directors were appointed. RR Sea Strand Ltd’s annual accounts say it is ultimately owned by Guernsey-based Regional REIT Limited.
The parent company has a portfolio of 149 properties worth GBP721.7m. Its annual rental income is GBP57.8m. The rent for the council’s portion of Mochdre Commerce Park can be reviewed every five years under the terms of the lease and there is a break clause inserted at 15 years.
That means, if the company doesn’t budge, tax-payers will be funding the building until 2031 – costing GBP3.6m plus service charges.
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