Walsall Council’s current Conservative-led administration said the Saddlers Centre in Park Street, bought by the then Labour-led authority in 2017 for £13.8 million, has plummeted in value and was not making the money that was originally hoped.
But Labour group leader Aftab Nawaz defended the deal, saying it was bought as a regeneration opportunity and added it was essential to the council’s own ‘Masterplan’ to transform Walsall town centre.
Councillor Nawaz said the authority should sell it off if they believed Labour had made a mistake in purchasing it two years ago.
The issue was raised once again at a full council meeting on Monday with the Tories – who have always opposed the purchase – levelling renewed criticism of their opponents.
Deputy leader and regeneration portfolio holder Adrian Andrew said: “We’ve had a recent valuation – I can’t obviously say what it is publicly for commercial confidentiality – but it ain’t worth anywhere near what you guys bought it for.
“And there is nowhere the rental targets being achieved from what your administration said.”
Councillor Bal Chatta, portfolio holder for personnel and business support, also made reference to it in response to a motion submitted by Labour regarding pay rises for council workers.
Labour wanted the authority to lobby the Government to fund rises but Councillor Chatta said the opposition couldn’t be trusted with public finances and accused them of “squandering” almost £14 million on the purchase of the Saddlers Centre.
When Labour completed the deal, they forecast it would make around £500,000 a year. But the centre has been hit with high-profile departures including Marks and Spencer in 2018 and TJ Hughes shutting its doors earlier this year.
Councillor Nawaz said: “The Saddlers Centre was bought as a regeneration opportunity and without it, the Tories would not be able to progress their own Masterplan.
“The plan, particularly around redeveloping the railway station, depends on the Saddlers Centre and Labour had the foresight to buy it.
“But if we were so wrong to do so, then the council should sell it off and see if they can carry out their Masterplan without it.”