Report finds no ‘inappropriate relationship’ over sales of land by Sunderland City Council

Pier Point in Marine Walk, Roker.
Pier Point in Marine Walk, Roker.

Sunderland City Council’s officers did not have “inappropriate relationships” with a firm of architects over land deals according to the an independent report.

The authority commissioned a review into how various property transactions dating back to 2002 were handled.

Councillor Harry Trueman, leader of Sunderland City Council.

Councillor Harry Trueman, leader of Sunderland City Council.

The review, carried out by legal firm Wilkin Chapman, looked into the sale and disposal of council-owned land and property, planning approval and building regulations at five sites, which were:

* The Pier Point development and former Jobes Cafe on Marine Walk in Roker

* Centrepoint in Dundas Street, Monkwearmouth

* The former Janet Fraser site in Hendon, which also incorporates the former Littlwoods land,

Action is already underway to address the issues identified in the report.

Councillor Harry Trueman

* Hetton House

* Belford House in Grangetown.

The review said there was no evidence of “any inappropriate relationship” between council officers and Fitz Architects, nor was there any evidence of “inappropriate member involvement” in any of the land and property deals looked at.

The review was ordered last July by chief operating officer for place, economy and place Les Clark. It came after Len Lowther, who owns Roker Pier Cottages and Pier Fish and Chips, had raised a number of concerns regarding land transactions involving the council and Fitz, which was also working under the names of BBL Ne Ltd and C3G Ltd on schemes, as well as Centrepoint homeless charity.

Former Littlewoods site in Commercial Road, Hendon.

Former Littlewoods site in Commercial Road, Hendon.

The review was originally focussed on the land sale of Roker’s Pier Point land sale and development only, and was due for completion by November.

It was then was extended to take in four more sites after the member of the public raised further issues, which the council says it “inevitably took longer to collect and consider the information.”

In addition, the review also said there was 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.

It did 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 and 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.”

In response to the outcome of the report, Mr Lowther, whose home and business looks onto Pier Point, said: “I will continue to raise my concerns about the council.”

Fitz declined to comment on the report when contacted by the Echo.

Centrepoint have also been contacted for comment.

The full report can be read via https://goo.gl/jgDbdK.