A publicly owned “ransom strip” that is being sold to Bath Cricket Club for £150,000 could be worth as much as £4million, critics have claimed.
The club needs the verge in North Parade Road for access so it can build 136 student flats and improved sporting facilities.
Bath and North East Somerset Council agreed to hand it over for “less than best consideration” after calculating that the development would deliver £2million in community benefits.
That decision has now been challenged amid claims senior councillors and officers were not given key details.
Leading the cross-party call-in on 10th February, Councillor Colin Blackburn said: “At £150,000, this land is being cheaply given away to benefit a developer of a student block.
“By definition, a ransom strip allows the owner to control what ultimately gets built there and extract a premium against the development. I think we have achieved neither.”
The club’s plans, approved in March 2018, include a student block, an indoor cricket school that will be a hub for disability cricket, and a new teaching and learning space.
Cllr Blackburn said the council leader, chief executive and planning committee should have been informed that land owned by the authority would play a key role in the development.
Bob Goodman, a chartered surveyor and former cabinet member, said the project could be worth £10million, so the value of the land could be £3-4million.
He told scrutiny panel members: “I cannot see this strip is worth only £150,000 even if you want to sell it, which this council should not.
“Just because there is planning permission, it doesn’t mean the strip has to be sold.”
The cricket club struck a deal to buy the strip of land off the council for £150,000 and pay it a peppercorn rent.
The decision notice said the improved sporting facilities would help the club secure external funding and deliver £2million worth of community benefits.
Former councillor Patrick Anketell-Jones said the planning committee was not told that the council owned the land. He voted in favour of the development and asked the committee not to allow it to fail, saying the student flats would free up family homes.
But Cllr Eleanor Jackson said the council should get the best possible value for its land and should not be “complicit” in a development that does not have good disabled access.
Cllr Winston Duguid said the cricket club already does a lot of outreach but the community value of the development was subjective.
“Quite clearly, it can’t be right that cabinet members don’t know what’s going on, and planning committee members don’t know a fundamental part of an application,” he said.
The decision, several years in the making, was signed off by Cllr Richard Samuel, the cabinet member for resources last month.
He told the panel the council had “made the best of a decision that perhaps it would have preferred not to make”.
Scrutiny panel members upheld the call-in, meaning it will be reviewed by Cllr Samuel.
Speaking after the meeting, he said: “The valuation of the land and the community benefits were undertaken using widely used and recognised industry methodologies.
“My decision was called in for further scrutiny and I welcomed the opportunity to explain and review the background to this decision at the meeting.
“I will take on board the recommendations from the panel in making my final decision.”
A spokesperson for Bath Cricket Club said: “This development will allow Bath Cricket Club to significantly expand our existing outreach programme which is a core part of the club’s activity within the Bath community.
“We are incredibly proud of the social benefits we offer not just to the city but across the whole of North East Somerset.
“As agreed with B&NES Council, we are very happy to be held to account for the delivery of our social benefits, year on year.
“B&NES Council is undertaking due diligence with regards to this process and we will continue to offer our full support and cooperation as necessary.”
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter