Southampton City Council selling £65m property assets which includes hundreds of shops, offices, warehouses and other commercial properties worth £65m have been freed up for sale by Southampton council, the Daily Echo can reveal.
The sell-off comes as the local authority battles a financial crisis under a £300m debt pile.
Tory council chiefs plan to use the proceeds to fill budget holes in projects such as the proposed city arts complex and the £15m Titanicthemed Sea City attraction.
The windfalls would also help save frontline services from the axe by paying off debt, which peaked at £309m earlier this year, costing more than £16m in total interest payments.
Up to £6m a year could be saved by freeing up money spent on interest and loan repayments.
The sell-off would see property, freehold and leases sold but businesses and shops would still trade as normal on those sites.
But opposition councillors last night warned against a “desperate fire sale” of prized assets for a quick buck.
The council has already announced a plan to slash its £191m running costs by a quarter over the next three years by handing over the running of key services such as rubbish collections and street cleaning to a private company.
Staff wages have been controversially cut and hundreds of jobs have been axed in the past year.
In the first review of its £114m investment property portfolio for two decades, a secret list of nearly 200 sites, worth a total of about £65m, has now been earmarked for potential sale. Some of the properties are valued at more than £10m, but most are well under £1m.
Although its commercial property brings in almost £7m a year in rent, Conservative council chiefs believe selling many of the properties would be better value for taxpayers.
They insist that any sales will be assessed on a case by case basis but those bringing little rent for the taxpayer are likely to be sold.
They include many of the shop buildings from the northern end of the High Street to the top of Northern Above Bar and property around lower East Street.
The council is already selling off the 23-acre Millbrook Trading Estate and adjacent 17-acre technology campus in a deal estimated to fetch between £3m and £5m.
The council insist it will not flood the market and would only sell at the right price.
Some sites will be put on the market while the freehold in others will be offered to long lease-holders, often only paying nominal ground rents.
The council will also listen to offers from developers.
Over the past decade the council has been selling £4m to £6m of property each year.
It could now be ramped up to around £8m to £10m a year, with even larger windfalls for bigger sites.
Lib Dem group leader Adrian Vinson urged caution and said selling strategic assets could make it harder to bring forward developments such as the arts complex in the future.
“Where the sites are genuinely strategic we shouldn’t be selling them for a quick fix,” he said.
He added: “It will be important to consider whether at this time the market will produce the best return for citizens.”
Labour housing spokesman Councillor Warwick Payne said the Conservatives had already been selling off assets while the market was down and warned against a “fire sale” of more property.
He said: “To be selling, you either need to be made an offer you can’t refuse or desperate, and my feeling is the Tories chiefly come into the latter category in most of their property dealing.”
Tory Cabinet member for resources councillor John Hannides said: “The benefits of disposing of unneeded properties will be obvious to all of us.
“It will help to reduce debt and make funds available to deliver top quality frontline services that our residents pay for.
“Local authorities simply cannot afford to sit like cash cows on vast property portfolios that they simply do not need.
“I can assure our residents that Southampton City Council will leave no stone unturned in making sure it only owns properties that it needs and ultimately benefits our residents.”