Wakefield Council bought Westgate Leisure Park - where Pizza Hut and Cineworld are based - for £13m last year

Wakefield Council bought a major food and entertainment complex site for £13m, in a deal that was kept secret from the public for several months.

By David Spereall
Monday, 5th October 2020, 4:45 pm
Westgate Leisure Park, which is located close to Wakefield city centre.
Westgate Leisure Park, which is located close to Wakefield city centre.

The local authority purchased the city's Westgate Leisure Park, home to Pizza Hut, Cineworld and Mecca Bingo in May 2019.

Wakefield Council said it had bought the site, which also accommodates Frankie and Benny's and Nando's, as an investment.

The deal came to light after the council's leader, Denise Jeffery, publicly denied at a meeting rumours the authority was going to buy Wakefield's Ridings Shopping Centre last week, saying, "It's not our role to buy into shopping centres".

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The council spent more than £13m on the site last year.

A document detailing the transaction, which was signed off by Councillor Jeffery's predecessor Peter Box and shown to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), showed the purchase cost a total of £13.3m as well as an extra £800,000 in fees. The move was funded with the help of a loan.

The adjoining Westgate Retail Park, which has shops including Curry's/PC World and Pets At Home, was not part of the deal.

But the council's online register which details decisions made behind closed doors made no mention of the leisure park when the purchase was made last year. It said only that some land at an unspecified location had been bought.

The first public record of the deal anywhere was a single line in the council's 167-page budget report in February.

Pizza Hut are among five big-name clients at the complex.

The council said that publicising the information in May last year would have undermined its negotiations with the seller before the deal was completed.

Tom Stannard, the authority's corporate director for economic growth and regeneration said: "We purchased the Westgate Leisure Park last year as part of our strategic corporate asset management plan and capital investment strategy.

"The investment was undertaken in line with government borrowing regulations at the time and council investment policy.

"The purpose of this is to support economic regeneration across the district and allows to us invest in property to generate much needed income that helps the council to deliver a whole range of services, including essential frontline services for residents across the district.

Cineworld announced on Monday it would have to close all of its UK screens temporarily.

"The site, although currently impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, is one of the most visited locations within the city, which we are keen to support and has given us a good level of return."

Speaking at a full council meeting last week, Councillor Jeffery said she'd been made aware of suggestions the local authority was going to buy The Ridings, located in Wakefield city centre.

But her declaration that, "We're certainly not into buying shopping centres at a time like this," prompted a query from the council's sole Liberal Democrat member Tom Gordon, who asked why the authority had " bought a retail park" last year.

In response, Coun Jeffery said: "I'm not up to speed with that, but I think that was an investment when times were much more affluent.

"But I will find out the details on that."

Cineworld announced on Monday it was having to temporarily close all of its UK screens after the release of the new James Bond film, "No Time to Die," was delayed again.

Local Democracy Reporting Service