Welsh assembly office £2.3m rent for mystery landlord
The Welsh assembly will pay £2.3m in rent to a mystery landlord for the building housing the offices of its 60 members, BBC Wales can reveal.
The assembly's rent for the Ty Hywel building in Cardiff Bay will rise nearly 30% next year from £1.7m.
It is paid to Crick Properties Ltd, registered in Douglas, Isle of Man, but assembly authorities cannot say who the ultimate owner of the building is.
Senior AM Darren Millar is worried about the "very muddy" arrangements.
The building is attached to the Senedd and contains the assembly's old debating chamber.
As well as housing the offices of AMs and their staff, the Welsh government occupies the fifth floor, and media organisations, including the BBC, have space in the building.
Mr Millar, chairman of the assembly's Public Accounts Committee, raised concerns about the arrangement on the grounds of the importance of Ty Hywel as a public building and the amount of public money paid in rent.
"I'm very concerned about it," he said.
"The National Assembly has always been, or claimed to be, a beacon of transparency, and yet this is very, very muddy."
He added: "I think the people of Wales deserve to know who owns this building, we pay an awful lot of money in rent, in fact, there are quite onerous lease agreements, and I think we should know who we are paying that money to.
"When public money is being spent to such an extent on a building... we need to have a better understanding of precisely what the arrangements are."
Ty Hywel, originally called Crickhowell House, was built in the 1990s by Grosvenor Waterside, the property arm of Associated British Ports, which owned large areas of land around the newly reclaimed Cardiff Bay.
The Welsh Office took out a lease on the building and it was transferred to the assembly in 1999. It housed the assembly's debating chamber until the Senedd was completed in 2006.
After being sold by Grosvenor Waterside to insurance giant Aviva, the assembly had the opportunity to buy the building outright in 2009, but decided against it because funds were not available.
It was then sold for £31m to a company set up in the Isle of Man specifically for the purpose. Because of the way this company - Crick Properties Ltd - is structured, it is difficult to find out who is the ultimate owner.
In 2007, the assembly signed a new 25-year lease on the building.
Matt Phillips, managing partner at commercial property agents Knight Frank, said the fact that the building is leased rather than owned was not unusual.
He said: "If you go to any city in the UK, you will have a myriad of ownerships - that could be a pension fund, it could be a property company, a high net worth individual, a family trust.
"Often, properties are owned on a long-term basis, and when those properties do come up for sale, it's an asset class like any other, if it's equities, shares, gold, cash - commercial property is an asset class, and discerning buyers will take a view on what it's worth and bid accordingly."
A spokesman for the Assembly Commission, which is responsible for the day-to-day running of the institution and its buildings, said: "The National Assembly for Wales is not in a position to comment on or influence the ownership of Crick Properties.
"An opportunity to acquire the freehold of Ty Hywel was available to the assembly during 2009 when the lease was offered for sale by the Cardiff Bay Partnership.
"At that time public money was not available for the purchase."