Reading Borough Council (RBC) invested more than £42m on three commercial properties over a two-year period, an investigation has found.

The largest outlay was the £20.1m spent on Kennet Wharf on Queen’s Road, which is Visa’s European home, in 2017/18.

The council spent around £11m each on Adelphi House, which is a Job Centre, and 160-163 Friar Street in 2016/17.

All three purchases are in Reading and are funded through a loan from the Treasury-backed Public Works Loan Board (PWLB).

Councillor Jason Brock, lead member for Corporate and Consumer Services, said: “The council, by investing in property in Reading, has a clear stake in the economic development of our community.

“Given the enormous cuts to this council’s budget by the Conservative government, the benefits the property investments deliver, especially in terms of financial support for the deliver of council services, are of clear value to residents in Reading.”

He said that the council’s property investment strategy is ‘cautious and prudent’ and involves a ‘robust and comprehensive’ process to confirm value for money and undertake due diligence.

The lead member added: “If the properties were no longer seen as viable investment assets the council would look to undertake an options appraisal that could include disposal, housing or other uses.”

Details of the purchases were revealed through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) as part of a wider investigation into the practice of councils ‘gambling’ on the property market to generate extra income in the face of government cuts.

The amount councils have spent on properties has risen rapidly from £76.4 million in 2014/15 to £1.4 billion in 2017/18.

West Berkshire Council has itself invested £45m in the last two years on nine properties.

The increase in spending has been enabled by local authorities’ easy access to low interest loans from the PWLB.

These loans have no borrowing limits and council’s do not have to prove they can afford it.

John Hoggett, Reclaim Reading campaigner, said: “Councillor Brock said that RBC has a stake in the economic development of the community. He lists three buildings in a town full of empty offices.

“That doesn’t seem a meaningful stake in the local economy.”

Don Peebles, from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, said: “There are a number of risks that local authorities have never been exposed to before, have never been designed to be exposed to, and you have to ask whether local authorities are equipped to handle that risk.”