War of words erupts over auction of Kings Mills with questions raised over power of Corporate Land and Building Strategy Group
A war of words has broken out over the auction of Kings Mills, with the Leader of the Council saying he does not have the power to stop the sale after a cross party group that meets in secret recommended the disposal.
At the end of January Wrexham.com wrote about the building hitting the auction block, a move that came as a surprise to many including a community group interested in the building, and it appears some councillors who were expecting a sale decision to come before the Executive Board.
The auction will take place on the 24th of March with the minimum opening bid of £155,000.
The property was used as a visitor centre during the 1990s after being gifted to Wrexham Council by former Erddig estate owner Philip Yorke two decades earlier. The building has stood empty since 2012, which resulted in a group of local people, Melin y Brenin Community Group, uniting to try and “save” it by converting it into a community hub.
Days after the article the Melin y Brenin Community Group created a “Save King’s Mill for the local community” campaign, and has now started a petition objecting to the auction of the building.
In the petition group chairman Phil Phillips has called on the council to reverse the auction decision, describing the property as an important part of the town’s Clywedog Trail walking route. Posting on the online petition, which has attracted more than 400 signatures in the 24 hours since it was launched, he said: “For three years we have fought to lease the building and grounds from the council to ensure that King’s Mill remains a community asset, complying with every request the council has made, but despite this the council has suddenly decided to sell the building to the highest bidder.
“This means another part of Wrexham’s rich heritage will be lost to the people forever. We are in a partnership which is trying to restore and revitalise the flagship trail of which the mill is an important part. There is a covenant on the building which states that it should be kept for community use which the council blatantly ignored when it decided to sell the mill rather than transfer it to a community enterprise.”
He added: “We urge the council to stop this auction, honour the covenant and return the mill to our community. We want to preserve and promote the mill’s story for future generations.”
The debate has continued on social media, with some posts being picked up by Wrexham Council Leader Mark Pritchard, prompting an unusual communication yesterday afternoon.
In an email to Cllr Carrie Harper, copied to all councillors and marked private and confidential, Council Leader Mark Pritchard said:
I am disillusioned to note that you are advising people to contact me in relation to the decision regarding the former King’s Mill site, on the basis that I personally ‘could stop it in an instant’ . As you very well know that is not correct, as the matter has been discussed through the democratic process at the Corporate Land and Buildings Strategy Group.
Information from the CLBSG is confidential but I can confirm to you, as an Elected Member, that the actual decision taken by Members of the Group on 13 October, 2020 was to “recommend to dispose the freehold of the Former King’s Mill site on the open market with the existing covenant in place”.
Since this did not require a decision by the Executive Board, the quickest way to secure an open market sale is at auction which provides an opportunity to any group or individual to acquire the building and to bring it back into beneficial use.
Please correct this misleading information and ensure that any further information you provide is factually correct.
No reference was provided to where the quoted comments were made, however it appears Cllr Harper’s Facebook page has a similar comment on ‘the council leader could stop it in an instant’ when someone asks how the sale can be stopped.
Cllr Carrie Harper replied to the email from Cllr Pritchard, also cc’ed to all councillors, later in the afternoon:
I am aware of the discussions in Corporate Land and Buildings regarding Kingsmills. My understanding is that CL&B is not a decision-making committee – is this correct? The papers clearly state that the matter was supposed to go to the Executive Board. Therefore any Councillor taking part in those meetings would have understandably been under the impression that any recommendation would come under public scrutiny at Executive Board.
Who made the decision to by-pass the Executive board and therefore any public scrutiny of this ‘decision’? Are we to expect no public scrutiny or accountability regarding the disposal of public assets going forward? This issue concerns me a great deal.
As you are the lead member for assets, as well as the leader of the council who is responsible for managing the the work programme of the Executive, I don’t believe it is inappropriate to suggest people contact you about it if they have concerns about this process, it seems there is no other avenue to raise the issue. If someone else is ultimately accountable for the decision-making process here, who would that be? I believe accountability and transparency are important, whose contact details should I suggest people use?
Wrexham.com had been told the matter was on the agenda of the Wrexham Council Corporate Land and Buildings group last year – and we asked Wrexham Council for a copy of the meeting papers relating to the disposal of the site, and if there were any attendee lists or outcomes.
We noted that a £10,000 bid by a community group for the freehold was now in the public domain, along with the £155,000 starting price at auction – plus a range of legal documents now viewable to anyone registering with the auctioneer.
Wrexham Council told us, “Corporate Land and Buildings Strategy Group is a confidential meeting”.
Corporate Land and Buildings Strategy Group is a cross party group, however appears to have no decision making powers, but does make recommendations.
Back in pre-Wrexham.com days when the Group was formed in around 2009 the creation was explained to the people of Wrexham as being one for recommendations only, “The Executive Board will retain its decision making role, and will receive recommendations from the Corporate Land and Buildings Strategy Group in relation to the coordination, retention, use, sale, management, letting, purchase and of all aspects of the work of the Corporate Land and Building Strategy Group.”
Currently there are no public minutes, records or decision outcomes from the meeting of the Corporate Land and Building Strategy Group or subsequent ones that would ratify minutes from previous meetings, so it is not possible yet to discover the formal recommendation output over Kings Mill and to whom it was made to action it.
It is also unknown how many other properties are currently undergoing the same process, or have been sold previously in a similar manner.
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