THE city of Liverpool has been warned to stop selling off its property at knockdown prices. The council has approved the sale of three properties for £640,000 less than their market value, raising a total of just £14,000. Now chief finance officer Phil Halsall says such deals should stop, as the city tries to plug its £20m budget gap for Capital of Culture year. It comes as the council waits for a response to a request to the Government for the right to use funds generated by the sale of land and buildings to help pay for 2008 celebrations. Among the assets sold off cheaply was Devonshire Place in Everton, which was worth £75,000 but earned the city just £1. However, the council says the deal helped attract a further £4m of investment, through the Housing Market Renewal Initiative. The two other properties involved also helped regenerate their areas. Land and property at an area called the Rockfield project in Anfield was worth £500,000, but was sold for £1 to Arena Housing Association for a scheme to build affordable housing. And a property in Letia Street worth £75,000 was sold to the Dingle Multi-Agency Centre for £14,000 – an acquisition which will help the organisation apply for grants from schemes like the Big Lottery Fund. But in a financial monitoring report, Mr Halsall called for councillors to “cease” the practice. He wrote: “During the year to date, the executive board has approved three sales at ‘less than best consideration’. “In view of the potential use of capitalisation as a mechanism to fund Capital of Culture, such sales should cease.” Last night, Liverpool’s regeneration leader, Cllr Mike Storey, did not say whether the sales would now stop. He stressed all sales were decided upon their individual merits. Cllr Storey said selling council property had been a key part of encouraging regeneration in the city. “I think each sale has to be made on its merits,” he said. “For example, there have been times that, because it is a charity, we have sold them the property even though they had not put in the highest bid.” “In that report, he’s saying for the time being these sales should stop – that these sales be put on hold until we know what’s happening.” The Government has already refused the council permission to borrow money to plug the £20m culture year funding hole. Selling land and buildings is currently the council’s next best option but the Government is yet to give permission for this process, which is known as “capitalisation”. Cllr Storey added: “Our point has been that Capital of Culture, for us, is about regeneration which is why we want to produce the biggest and best Capital of Culture there has been – but that comes with a price tag.” He said the Government regularly sold off property and “no one batted an eyelid”, so he did not believe the council should be blocked from selling property and buildings to pay for Capital of Culture. Labour leader Joe Anderson said it was vital that regeneration projects, especially for affordable housing, continued to received help from the council. But he still remained extremely concerned that with less than 55 days to go until the start of the city’s flagship year, the council was still struggling to balance its books for 2008. Cllr Anderson added: “Personally, I don’t think we should be stopping this, it is precisely what we should be doing. “We would heavily criticise the sale of land of this sort to help pay for Capital of Culture, it’s worrying this is being suggested. “More than 12,500 are waiting for council housing and that’s growing. So we really do need to stimulate the building of social housing and housing for rent.”

IC Liverpool