PROPERTY consultants told West Berkshire Council (WBC) they should not review their real estate investments given the current political and economic uncertainty.

However, both the leader of the council and the leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition said the property investment strategy should be reviewed.

WBC has borrowed £100 million to buy commercial real estate up to 200 miles away from the district. It will use the rent on the properties to fund public services.

Montague Evans, the consultants who advise the council what to buy, said ‘the political and economic uncertainty at present makes it imprudent to review the full strategy until such a time as there is more clarity in the investment market’.

The suggestion was mentioned in a report by Andy Walker, the head of finance and property, on the capital programme financial performance of the last financial year. Councillors discussed the report at a meeting of the executive on June 13.

Councillor Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North East), the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the council, said: “The word I wrote down on my page, I can’t say in public. It seems absurd.

“When we entered the ability to go and buy properties, we were in political and economic uncertainty. So I don’t know why we can’t now review it.

“It seems prudent, that when you’re in political and economic uncertainty, you review stuff more regularly, not pass it until the winds have passed, and then see what you’re left with.”

The council started the property investment strategy in May 2017 with a budget of £50 million, which was increased in July 2018 to £100 million.

Properties bought include a warehouse in Chippenham, two supermarkets in North Yorkshire, and two town centre shops in Lincoln in the east Midlands.

Cllr Lynne Doherty (Con, Newbury Speen), the leader of the council, said: “Actually I feel it’s prudent to review it at this point as well.

“With everything, it’s right and proper that every few years, no matter how successful something may be, that you take stock and reflect. It might be that we continue exactly as we are.”

Since 2017, the council has paid Montague Evans £494,650.29, according to figures obtained following a freedom of information request.

Because of budget cuts, many councils across the UK, including Reading Borough, are investing in commercial real estate, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism recently revealed.