A sale of Auckland Council's offices in the beachside suburb of Orewa for nearly half its capital value has been labelled a "fire sale" by local councillor John Watson.
The land and buildings on nearly 2ha was sold by council's development arm Panuku for $15.1 million, well below the current value (CV) of $28.8m.
The sale was to a local property investment partnership, Sustainable Property Investments Ltd, who plan to refurbish the buildings for a commercial office centre.
What's more, said Watson, the council has agreed to lease back the offices for the next three years at more than $1m a year and the relatively new Tasman Building within the complex cost more than $15m to build just prior to the Super City in 2010.
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"Add that to the half-price sale figure and someone is getting a real sweet deal and it's not the ratepayer.
"By any measure this is an incredibly one-sided deal for a prime 19,300 square metre site located only 500m from the beach comprising 7482sq m of well-maintained office buildings, set in park-like grounds with abundant car parking," he said.
A Panuku spokeswoman defended the sale price, saying an independent market valuation was obtained which was in line with the sale price.
However, Panuku refused to release a copy of the valuation, say who wrote it and when it was written. The council-controlled organisation (CCO) also refused to say when the sale process began, how many bids were received and when the sale was completed.
A spokeswoman said questions on these matters would have to go through the Official Information Act - a process that can drag out for months.
The spokeswoman said the sale is part of a corporate property strategy that will see hundreds of council staff move into a new $120m Albany block while delivering investment and employment opportunities by a new owner committed to the Orewa community.
The agreement also protects access to the Centrestage Theatre and a fixed-term lease until the new office building is built in Albany, she said.
Watson, a staunch opponent of council asset sales, is also concerned by plans in council's "emergency budget" to sell $224m of assets in the new financial year starting on July 1.
In a normal year, Panuku is tasked with selling about $20m to $24m of non-core assets, which go through a rigorous consultation process involving local boards and approval by the governing body.
What bothers Watson is a proposal in the budget for a "different approach to approval" to meet the challenges of the big sell-off in a short timeframe.
"It's very clear what they are proposing is to fast-track these sales. In the past these sales have encountered community or local board opposition and that can result in a slowing down of the process.
"But everything shouts out to me they are looking to fast-track these sales with perhaps a token delegation of a collection of councillors to be relied upon to give it a tick of approval," said Watson.
He said the Orewa sale was another incredibly poor return to the public purse, citing the sale last year of the Civic Administration Building and 5000sq m of land alongside Aotea Square for $3m and plans by Panuku to sell the Westpark marina for as little as $2m.
"You couldn't buy a residential section in some parts of West Harbour for that," said Watson.