Wickes Erith at twilight
It’s not got their name on it: Erith’s Wickes store is owned by Bexley Council

Bexley Council has played down figures showing it is among the top 10 councils making property investments, insisting all its land buys are for local regeneration projects.

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Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has been shared with 853, found the council has bought 10 properties in the past three years. They range from a Wickes store in Erith to a former Blockbuster Video outlet in Sidcup.

Bexley’s 10 purchases made it the joint seventh most active council in the investment property market. In total, the council spent £34.2m between 2016 and 2018.

The Bureau found that councils across the country bought £1.8 billion of property as investments, with one, Spelthorne in Surrey, declaring it was heavily dependent on the rent from these properties to fund services.

But officials at Bexley say their purchases, which are all in the borough, are all part of long-term plans to improve the area.

Pier Road, Erith
Bexley Council has bought this block on Pier Road, Erith

‘Strategic reasons’

“While the council has purchased a number of properties, they have been acquired for strategic reasons, rather than as strict investments,” a spokesperson told 853.

“These acquisitions are either associated with the council’s regeneration programmes and Growth Strategy in the north of the borough, or are in Erith town centre, which is supported by external funding, the Thames Riverside area or part of the regeneration scheme to provide a cinema in Sidcup.

“We envisage that these schemes will help us secure quality growth for the Borough in these areas, while enhancing their economic viability for the benefit of local people.”

Bexley’s property buys include £9.8 million on a distribution centre at Turpin Lane in Erith and £8.7 million on a branch of Wickes, the DIY chain, on Fraser Road. It has also spent a combined £875,000 on three sites at Bexley Road and Pier Road, in Erith town centre, and bought the post office on Erith High Street for £925,000. (Bexley’s property dealings in Erith have been discussed by local blogger Hugh Neal.)

The scheme to build a cinema in Sidcup accounts for £2,450,000 of spending on two sites including a former Blockbuster Video outlet on the high street.

Bexley has also spent £8.4 million on a job centre and office block in Bexleyheath Broadway, £3 million on a site at Erith Road, near Barnehurst station. It also bought two non-investment properties: Wolsley House in Crayford and land at land at Gloucester Parade, Blackfen.

Erith post office
Erith’s post office is also owned by the council

What about Greenwich and Lewisham?

The Bureau found neither Greenwich nor Lewisham councils bought any investment properties. Although many of Greenwich’s 11 property purchases seem similar to Bexley’s, it did not class its buys as investments.

Greenwich’s acquisitions were the Rochester Way Social Club and Shepherd Leas in Eltham, both being used for Meridian Home Start housing projects and four Royal Arsenal buildings being used for the £31m Woolwich Creative District scheme – one, Building 19, was bought for £9m from Berkeley Homes.

Wingfield School in Kidbrooke was also acquired from Berkeley Homes, while Greenwich was given Cross Quarter Library in Abbey Wood for nothing and land at Mary Magdalene School on Greenwich Peninsula from the GLA for £1.

It also spent £7m on Nelson House in Market Street, Woolwich; and £750,000 on industrial units at Eastmoor Street, Charlton, which is earmarked for the Charlton Riverside regeneration scheme.

Lewisham’s only property purchase was £172,000 on land at Buckley Close in Forest Hill, close to the border with Southwark. It was bought for a new social housing development.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s full coverage, including its dataset, can be seen on its website.

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Bureau Local is an initiative set up by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism which links journalists, technologists and others to shine a light on stories that matter in communities across the UK. To find out more, visit thebureauinvestigates.com/local.

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