Felixstowe: Tesco land swap deal investigated by Audit Commission
A LAND swap deal involving the controversial Tesco site at Felixstowe has been investigated by the Audit Commission, it was revealed today.
Questions were raised by parish councillors at Trimley St Martin and Trimley St Mary after they discovered that part of the 30-acre development site had been given to landowners Trinity College, Cambridge, by Suffolk County Council.
The council and the college did a deal whereby seven acres of the site, which the college and the supermarket giant hope will gain planning permission for a 30,000 sq ft store, 200 homes, offices and community facilities, was handed over.
In return, the college gave the council part of a field in Walton High Street to create a new access road to the �20million Felixstowe Academy. The college is also paying �100,000 towards the access work.
The parish councillors though claim the Tesco land could have been worth millions of pounds to the taxpayer – and was worth far more than the access land.
They are particularly concerned that the county council did not take independent advice over the value of their land, which had been part of the Walton bypass project but not used and later leased to the college as farmland.
The councils sent a series of questions to the Audit Commission, but were not satisfied with the reply.
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A further 20 questions about the deal have now been asked.
In a letter to the commission, Trimley St Mary Parish Council said if development of the site between Walton High Street and Candlet Road was approved, the land value would increase dramatically.
“Even without any experience of valuing such matters, a layman in possession of the facts could reasonably conclude that with planning permission the land in question would be worth several million pounds,” said the parish council.
“These plans must have been known to the relevant officials at Suffolk County Council (SCC) and, in our opinion, should have been borne in mind as part of the negotiation process. Taxpayers might also conclude that, bearing all these circumstances in mind, SCC would have negotiated more forcefully.”
But district auditor Neil Harris said his investigation had not produced evidence which needed further action.
He was satisfied at the work, qualifications, experience and skills of the county council’s in-house valuation team.
“There is no evidence that the integrity of this ‘land swap’ has been compromised because of Suffolk County Council’s decision not to take independent advice,” he said.
Both the county council and Bidwells, agents for Trinity College, Cambridge, said they could not comment until the Audit Commission had answered the parish council’s 20 questions.