OPPOSITION leaders in Portsmouth voiced their concerns over council plans to buy Lakeside North Harbour calling them 'risky' and 'hypocritical'.
Councillors will decide next week whether to purchase the 120-acre site at a cost 'substantially in excess of £100m' in a bid to boost jobs and the local economy.
Proposals would see Portsmouth City Council own the freehold for the whole site including office blocks, shops, the car park, Village Hotel, a Porsche garage and the surrounding land. A loan would be needed to buy the site over a period of 35 years.
Liberal Democrat council leader Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson described the move as 'building' for the next generation of councillors and the best way to protect services from government cuts.
But Portsmouth South MP and Labour head Cllr Stephen Morgan had some concerns. He said: 'This is another very risky gamble of public money by an administration of the city council. These plans need close inspection and scrutiny.
'With the city’s housing and homelessness crisis, our high streets struggling, city centre on its knees, and so many of our communities being forgotten by this government and council, we need to think carefully about how public money is used.'
The vote will go to councillors from all parties at a full council meeting on Monday, June 17.
He added: 'If the Lakeside proposals are in the best interests of the people of Portsmouth, as always, Labour will put party politics to one side and back the council’s plan.'
Tory boss and former leader Cllr Donna Jones questioned the Lib Dems' previous stance on property investment. 'When the Conservatives set up the property investment portfolio in 2015, Cllr Vernon-Jackson and the Lib Dems lambasted us for having the foresight to generate new income for the city,' she said.
‘Now, here we are four years later and he hasn’t just kept the property we purchased, he is reaping the income it generates and adding to the portfolio further by considering the largest single purchase of the lot.’
She added: 'IBM have made clear their intentions to consider moving all of their operations out of Portsmouth. Losing a large tenant increases the risk in the site. This needs careful consideration, it isn’t as clear cut as initially it appears.'
But Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson explained that profit was not the priority. ‘It will make us some money but that is not the primary reason for doing this,’ he said.
‘We will be in control of the largest business complex in Portsmouth and will be able to look at how it will develop in the future. We can produce plans to create more jobs and make sure we are helping with the development of the city.'
It is estimated that the purchase will generate an overall financial return of £22m over the 35-year period.