New Portsmouth council leader under fire over property investments

Gerald Vernon-Jackson
Gerald Vernon-Jackson

PORTSMOUTH'S council leader has said he will not limit a £40m investment fund just to the city.

It comes after it emerged the council has about £37m left of an £183m pot to invest.

The previous administration, led by Councillor Donna Jones, was criticised by now leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson for buying warehouses, shops and business parks outside the city limits.

But now Lib Dem Cllr Vernon-Jackson has said he cannot commit to just spending the money in Portsmouth.

He said: 'We should make sure that Portsmouth is a priority for the fund but not limit ourselves to only spending it in the city.

'Equally we should not only be investing outside of the city. The areas I want to look at is investing in housing and building housing both affordable and for private rent.

'I had a meeting with a big well-known company who are interested in moving to Portsmouth and working with us to build a factory.

'But the main thing is we're not limiting ourselves to investing this money only in Portsmouth although we should focus on the city as a priority.'

Since 2015 a total of 13 properties have been bought by the council including a Waitrose in Somerset, a Matalan store in Swindon and a Mercedes dealership in Southampton at a total cost of £146m.

The Portsmouth Retail Park in North Harbour was the only city site.

Set up by the council's previous Tory administration the investment was intended to generate income rather than for regeneration of the city.

Properties have generated an income of £8.4m a year and their market value has increased by 5.5 per cent, cancelling out the additional costs of buying the sites.

But opposition councillors believed the fund should be used on the most profitable sites, regardless of their location.

Cllr Jones added: 'Cllr Vernon-Jackson stated that if the Lib Dems were running the council they would not invest in property outside of the city, they would invest in council homes and property in the city to create jobs for local people.

'In stating Portsmouth is their "priority" – if Gerald Vernon-Jackson means what he says he should do just that, sell the property I acquired and start again.’

The fund will be discussed at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, October 9.

Full list of council properties bought using the property investment fund:

Enza Building, Warrington - £4.9m

Queens House, Manchester - £8.9m

Portsmouth Retail Park - £16.2m

Travis Perkins Magna Park, Lutterworth - £15.7m

Dunelm and Lidl, Redditch - £8.3m

Sharps Bedrooms, Bilston - £11.5m

UPS, Dewsbury - £7.25m

City Park, Leeds - £13.75m

Mercedes, Southampton - £8.74m

DHL, Minworth - £12.6m

Schlumberger Gloucester - £8m

Matalan, Swindon - £9.7m

Waitrose, Crewkerne - £13.1m

Total - £138.64m (before additional buying costs)