Wales politics

£21m RIFW public land sale apology from first minister

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Media captionCarwyn Jones said the concept of RIFW was good but the delivery was flawed

The first minister has apologised to AMs after a report said taxpayers had lost tens of millions of pounds over the sale of publicly-owned land.

Carwyn Jones said delivery of the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales "fell well below the standards we would expect ... and for that we are sorry".

The public accounts committee said there were weaknesses in the oversight.

A firm which bought 15 sites for £21m had made £19m profit by selling just some of them, it reported.

The committee investigated the March 2012 sale of land to Guernsey-based company South Wales Land Developments (SWLD) following a highly-critical report by the public spending watchdog Wales Audit Office in July.

The committee said the fact SWLD had sold on a number of the sites at a profit showed they had been undervalued.

These included £10.5m for a site in Rhoose, Vale of Glamorgan, which the company bought for £3m, and the sale of another site in Abergele, Conwy county, for £1.9m which it bought for £100,000.

The committee said it was incomprehensible the "jewel in the crown" site at Lisvane, Cardiff, was sold for £1.8m when its potential open market value for housing was at least £39m, although around a third of the market value will be paid back to the taxpayer in what is called a clawback arrangement.

The report said the sales "did not represent good value for money" and that "such a cavalier approach to the disposal of public assets is disturbing".

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Media captionAMs thought it 'inexcusable' to sell prime sites so cheaply, says Darren Millar

The report also found that board members were given poor information from their professional advisors Lambert Smith Hampton and Amber Infrastructure.

It said the Welsh government should consider any potential cause of action against them.

Chairman Darren Millar said that while the concept of RIFW was found to be "innovative", the committee concluded it was "poorly executed".

A spokesman for Lambert Smith Hampton said it did "not believe the report fully reflects what was said during the committee sessions", adding "we maintain our position that we achieved a good result for our client".

'Final chapter'

A spokesman for Amber Infrastructure said it was investigating if there are grounds to take legal action relating to the property advice provided by Lambert Smith Hampton.

Minister for Communities Lesley Griffiths said: "Today's PAC report marks the final chapter in the investigations around RIFW. We are now in a position to take steps to release this significant funding to benefit community regeneration projects across Wales.

"The triggering of further contractual payments in Cardiff and Monmouth should also generate significant additional funding for investment during the next assembly term."

The Welsh government said it would study the report "in detail and respond in full before the end of this assembly term".

Analysis by Nick Servini, BBC Wales political editor

After inquiries by the Serious Fraud Office, the Welsh government, Deloitte and the Wales Audit Office, it appears that this will be the final chapter for the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales.

So what's new?

Until this point, criticism of the sale price has been the subject of hotly disputed claims about the valuation of each of the sites.

This report, in effect, says those arguments have been overtaken by the fact that the company which bought the land has sold on many of them at a healthy profit.

Money, which the AMs have concluded, should have remained in the public purse if they had been sold off individually and directly by the Welsh government.

Those who carried out the sale will always insist that hindsight is a wonderful thing, and at the time of the sale, not long after the collapse of Northern Rock and Lehman Brothers, this was a good deal.

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