Should councils act like Speculators?

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Should councils act like Speculators?

I don’t know about you, but when I think of iconic skylines, certain staples come to mind. New York, London, Paris. Well, it’s time to add another location to the list: Woking, Surrey.

The town’s new skyscrapers loom over the town centre. The trio of towers, called Victoria Square, are Britain’s tallest buildings outside of a major city. So how did they get there?

 This development was not backed by a mysterious foreign investor, as we have come to expect. Rather, the towers are owned by none other than Woking borough council.

An achievement of that magnitude comes at a price, and a hefty one at that. Woking has borrowed 1.8bn from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB). Have you heard of them. Med neither.

The money is  to be repaid over the coming 50 years. And the town’s debt is expected to rise to £2.4bn over the coming five years.

 The government’s solution? To place the town on a watch list back in May. A naughty step of sorts. And Woking is not the only scolded child in the room. It is in the company of at least five other debt-ridden councils.

In a turn of events that you didn’t need a telescope to see coming, Woking’s debt was a key focus of the Lib Dems leading up to last month’s local elections. Polling day saw another brick dislodged from the “blue wall”.

Not all of Woking’s ventures have had the same level of success as Victoria Square. The council offered one company 250m to build 1,000 new homes and redevelop the town’s football stadium, but it all went south when planners revealed that the development was only suitable for 93 homes.

Is this merely a predicament of sticking to what you know?

Perhaps it is not a question of whether councils should act like property developers, but whether they must.

Have a good weekend.