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Watchdog criticises ministers over land sale ‘loss’

Words: Roger Milne
Land value capture / Shutterstock_18748375

The Welsh Government is embroiled in an embarrassing political row this week after the publication of a report by the country’s public spending watchdog, which suggested the taxpayer may have lost out on £15 million in the sale of government-owned land by the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales (RIFW).

The Wales Audit Office report said the fund sold 15 pieces of land in 2012 for £21.7 million to South Wales Land Developments (SWLD), a firm financed by a company owned by Sir Stanley Thomas, through a sale that was not advertised on the open market.

One site, in Monmouth, has since been sold for £12 million.

But the district valuer estimated that the individual pieces of land were all together worth £36 million – suggesting that the taxpayer could have lost out on £15 million from the portfolio sale, compared with if the land had been sold separately.

The watchdog concluded that there were flaws in the sale process and weaknesses in the advice to the RIFW board, in particular from the property consultant Lambert Smith Hampton.

Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas, said: “I am deeply concerned that the Welsh Government cannot provide public assurance that RIFW achieved value for money from the sale of its land and property portfolio.

“If some of the sites had gone to market at a later date they could have achieved significantly higher prices and thereby generated greater funds for regeneration investment across Wales.”