A decision to sell a council-owned building in Bath for nearly half-a-million pounds less than its market value is being challenged.
Number 117 Newbridge Hill is set to be sold to Aequus, Bath and North East Somerset Council’s construction company, for £308,000 so it can create six apartments.
The decision notice signed by finance chief Councillor Richard Samuel says it could be worth £790,000 on the open market – but the authority does not want to see it turned into a single luxury home or rented out to students or tourists.
It says: “Given the nature and location of the property there is significant risk that if sold on the open market, and without conditions, it would be result in the development of a high margin scheme, such as a single luxury home or Airbnb type holiday lets which would add little, or no social value to the locality.”
Nine Conservative councillors, led by Vic Pritchard, have challenged the decision, which will now be reviewed by a scrutiny panel.
Cllr Pritchard said: “It seems extraordinary that the Liberal Democrats would consider selling off a council asset for almost half a million pounds below market value.
“The Conservative group believes the case has not been made to justify the sale on its current terms and that the asset should be listed on the open market, where it will fetch greater returns for the council.
“I am delighted that our call-in will allow the opportunity for detailed scrutiny, and I can assure residents of Bath and North East Somerset that we will continue to do all we can to hold the administration to account.”
The three-storey Victorian villa was previously used by the council’s children’s services team but is now deemed surplus to requirements.
Planning permission was granted in 2017 to convert it into six one and two-bed apartments.
The business case from Aequus – which it says could generate returns to the council of between £599,000 and £807,000, plus council tax worth £116,000 over 20 years – proposes converting the building into six quality apartments targeted at professionals and first-time buyers.
The decision notice said the building’s sustainability and energy efficiency credentials would be improved, and voluntary conditions would protect the flats from future use as holiday lets or shared housing.
Aequus is wholly owned by B&NES Council. Two of its board members are former Conservative councillors.
The company’s previous projects include the demolition of a church in Sladebrook Road in Bath to build nine houses, and the conversion of the Riverside offices in Keynsham into 95 apartments.
In December it secured permission to build 176 flats on the site of Bath’s Midland Road recycling centre when the facility relocates.
Councils are generally expected to get the best possible price when selling a property but can go lower “where the disposal is likely to contribute to the achievement of the promotion or improvement of economic, social or environmental wellbeing of the area”.
Councillor Samuel, the deputy council leader and cabinet member for resources, said: “I considered the report on Newbridge Hill very carefully before reaching my decision which will now be thoroughly scrutinised at a meeting of the corporate policy development and scrutiny panel on Monday, February 8.”
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter