Statement re independent review into land and property disposal and acquisition
An independent review into land and property disposal and acquisition by Sunderland City Council has found no evidence of inappropriate relationships between council officers and a local firm of architects.
Neither did it find any evidence of inappropriate involvement by councillors in any of the land sales it looked at.
The review was commissioned by the City Council from a firm of solicitors in July 2017 to consider the handling of various property transactions dating back to 2002 that had been queried by a member of the public.
The review was originally focussed on the Pier Point land sale and development only, and was due for completion by November 2017. It was extended to take in four more sites after the member of the public raised further issues. It therefore inevitably took longer to collect and consider the information but the report is now available.
The review looked at the sale and disposal of council owned land/property, planning approval and building regulations, with specific reference to:
- The Pier Point development and the former Jobes Café site at Marine Walk, Roker
- Centre Point in Monkwearmouth
- Hetton House in Hetton
- The former Janet Fraser site in Hendon
- Belford House in Grangetown
The review concludes:
- There is no evidence of any inappropriate relationship between council officers and Fitz Architects.
- There is no evidence to suggest inappropriate member involvement in any of the land and property disposals looked at.
- There is no evidence to suggest that the council failed to comply with its duty under law to achieve the best value that can reasonably be obtained when disposing of land. However the lack of documentary evidence in certain cases makes this difficult to demonstrate.
- However it does identify some areas of non-compliance with the council's own policy and procedures and recommends some areas of improvement which the council will put in place as soon as possible.
These improvements include:
- Reviewing the council policy and associated procedures on the sale of land and property.
- Training members and officers in relation to these procedures and how decisions are recorded.
Council Leader Councillor Harry Trueman, said: "While it is clear from this report that there are some areas where the council needs to tighten up its policy and procedures, it is gratifying to note that the report finds no evidence that either officers or councillors have acted inappropriately or against the interests of city council tax payers.
"Surveyors involved in land sales are all fully qualified members of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. They have many years of local authority experience both in the city and the region, who are dedicated to making sure that council tax payers get best value for money for any land that it sells. To suggest anything other than that is doing them a huge disservice.
"Action is already underway to address the issues identified in the report."
The council has undertaken a rapid exercise in redacting commercially sensitive and personal information to turn the report around for publication within 24 hours.