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Questions were raised over Union Terrace car park sell-off
CONTROVERSIAL plans by council chiefs to sell a York car park were questioned by a watchdog before the sale was abandoned.
Papers obtained by The Press under the Freedom of Information Act surrounding the proposed sale of the Union Terrace site to York St John University, following a 21-month battle with City of York Council over their publication, show the Audit Commission said it had seen no information to justify not putting the car park on the open market.
Shortly before the planned sale was abandoned in August 2011, audit manager Lynn Hunt also told the council it was unclear to her whether “all available options” had been investigated, such as finding York St John “another acceptable site elsewhere in the city”.
She felt these issues had “not been fully addressed” and should be considered before any final decisions were made.
Council legal officers said Union Terrace was intended as an “off-market” sale and had been independently valued to ensure the best price.
More than 22,000 people signed a petition opposing the plans.
The documents show that, the day before the university announced it was withdrawing its interest, its Pro Vice Chancellor for resources, David Chesser, emailed York businessman Martin Burgess saying he would forward to the council his suggestion the Union Terrace site could accommodate a multi-storey car park, a coach drop-off and collection point and an educational building.
In that email, Mr Chesser said the university was “in regular discussion with the council”, but the proposed sale was abandoned the next day.
The papers also show York-based construction firm CRW Projects Ltd expressed a formal interest in buying all or part of the site 16 days before the university withdrew.
A council spokeswoman said the authority originally decided to sell Union Terrace off-market, which was considered “reasonable and properly justified at the time”.
She said the council would have sought more clarification on the points the district auditor subsequently raised if further decisions over the site had been required, although the authority would have had the final say on whether to approve a sale, but this was unnecessary once York St John pulled out.
The Press requested the documents through the FOI Act in November 2011.
They were only recently released after the paper made a complaint to the Information Commissioner.
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