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News - 4 July 2006

City Council responds to "inaccurate" Shoreham Airport story

Brighton & Hove City Council has responded robustly to a front page article in today’s Argus alleging that the authority sold Shoreham Airport for substantially less than its true value.

The full text of the Council press release is shown below;

"Your report suggesting Shoreham Airport was sold for less that its market value (Argus 4.7.06) is misleading and ignores crucial, publicly-available information on how the price was arrived at.

People quoted in your article therefore have no reason to be ‘mystified’ as the full story is easily obtained.

We have made absolutely clear that the District Auditor’s initial valuation of £21m could never have been achieved. £8.6m was a good deal for taxpayers, especially given the huge regeneration and employment benefits airport redevelopment will bring.

The District Auditor subsequently accepted this, in writing. Assets can only be sold for what the market will pay. The sale process began with an open marketing exercise which initially attracted 437 expressions of interest. This was eventually reduced to the winning bid from Erinaceous.

The District Auditor’s £21m figure was based on a valuation, which ignored local planning policies. These clearly state that the airport land forms astrategic green gap between Worthing and Shoreham and cannot be redeveloped for uses such as housing or other extensive building schemes. This cast-iron fact restricts its value.

To achieve £21m, local residents would have had to accept fundamental changes in the planning policies of West Sussex and Adur councils. These would entail large-scale building developments, probably involving extensive housing and industrial estates.

After explaining these issues to the District Auditor, the Audit Commission wrote to Brighton & Hove council confirming they wished to take no further action based on the evidence provided. Selling this airport below market value without central government permission would be illegal. The allegations and insinuations in the story are therefore very serious, unfair and unjustified.

This could all have been very simply explained to readers, and I’m pleased for the opportunity to do so now"

The Argus responded: -

"The report in The Argus accurately reported the fact that the district auditor, the independent party whose job it was to estimate the value of the property, had valued it at £21 million after a check of the council's accounts in November last year.

The report did not say this was the airport's "true" value but that £21 million was an estimated value, according to the figures produced by the district auditor, an expert in his field.

The Argus made every reasonable effort to include the views of Brighton and Hove City Council prior to the report being published and had in fact reported quotes from several of the council's own councillors, including the leader of the council Simon Burgess.

The council had ample opportunity to comment on its view that it disputed the valuer's estimate prior to the report being published but did not do so at the time.

The Argus also reported the perfectly reasonable views of campaigners who were opposed to the sale, including elected members of Brighton and Hove City Council.

It was not for The Argus to decide their comments were unreasonable, if they were indeed mystified and surprised by the fact the airport was sold for substantially less than the district auditor's valuation, as they said they were. It is their prerogative to state their point of view.

It was only after The Argus' initial report on the airport sale that the council decided to issue a further statement saying it believed the district auditor's £21 million figure was based on a valuation which ignored local planning policies.

Again, that is a reasonable view. The Argus did take those views into account and published them in a subsequent report published on on 7/5/2006.

The initial story was not inaccurate. The people who put their views to the newspaper were genuinely surprised when it was sold for £8.6 million. After all, a property can only be sold for the price anyone is willing to sell it for.

It was not for The Argus to decide if they were right or wrong but simply to represent their views and we gave those people the same opportunities to comment as we did the council"

Read related items on:
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