EAST HAMPSHIRE District Council wouldn’t today buy a hotel that has lost it hundreds of thousands and is for sale at a cut-price £1.2 million, the local authority’s senior member has told the Herald.
Buying the former Metro Inns hotel on the A3 services site at Liphook has not only cost the council money, it has led to claims that information is being kept from public scrutiny – a claim rigorously denied by leader of the Conservative-run council, Headley member Richard Millard.
Councillor Millard has pledged to let the Herald see the documents about the building immediately after the controversial hotel is sold.
He added: “This administration’s transparency record is an improvement from the past, and there is nothing to hide.”
It comes after opposition councillors hit back last week after six councillors voted to kick out the press and public from the district council’s overview and scrutiny committee meeting, as previously reported in the Herald.
Councillors were expected to look at plans to sell the loss-making Metro Inns during the meeting, following the earlier cabinet decision to sell the empty hotel. The decision to hold the debate behind closed doors led to councillors Steve Hunt and Trevor Maroney walking out.
The hotel was bought in November 2013 by the previous council administration using the investment property portfolio strategy then in place.
Cllr Millard said: “If it came up for sale today we would not buy it. We wouldn’t be interested.”
And in the spring of last year, the council introduced a new investment property strategy.
Cllr Millard says it is far more rigorous than the previous one, is “fit for purpose” and will be reviewed regularly – it is an “evolving” strategy.
One concern is that after the hotel became empty in 2014 it wasn’t properly safeguarded, or insured, allegedly a failing of council officers.
It is agreed the building hadn’t been insured at the time of a theft that resulted in £100,000 of damage to the building.
But Cllr Millard added: “I will defend council officers to the hilt.”
It has also been revealed McDonald’s was keen to buy the hotel site for a drive-through restaurant.
But this interest is said to have ended when it was learned some mature oak trees would need to be felled, even though they weren’t protected by tree preservation orders.
Cllr Millard said in future a “different” approach would be taken to similar proposals.
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