WREXHAM Council has been accused of a lack of transparency over its handling of the sale of a historic corn mill.
Almost 1,400 people have signed a petition against the auctioning of the King’s Mill in Wrexham, which dates back to the 18th century.
The property is due to go under the hammer next month, with a minimum opening bid of £155,000, as the local authority says it no longer has a use for it.
However, concerns have been raised as the decision to get rid of it was made in private and not referred to the council’s ruling executive board to consider.
The issue was raised during a full council meeting yesterday (Wednesday, 24 February) by Queensway councillor Carrie Harper, who said politicians and the public only became aware of the sale when it was reported in the media.
The Plaid Cymru politician criticised the authority’s decision to sell it off after highlighting a covenant which states the building must only be used as a public amenity for culture and heritage purposes.
She said: “The building is key to local people in Caia Park and Hightown, but also to the wider Clywedog Trail as well.
“For the vast majority of councillors, that press article would have been the first they knew about any plans to auction that building off.
“Had the press not reported on it, most councillors here wouldn’t have known anything about it at all.
“There’s been no decision notice, there’s been no information or announcement generally about this and there’s been no public scrutiny at all.”
Cllr Harper said the only discussion over the property’s future had taken place at a private meeting of the council’s cross-party corporate land and building strategy group.
She added that Plaid Cymru’s representative Gwenfair Jones was under the impression it would need to go before executive board members before a final decision was made.
The mill was previously used as a visitor centre by the council during the 1990s after being gifted to the authority by former Erddig estate owner Philip Yorke.
It has stood empty since 2012, resulting in a group of local people banding together to try and turn it into a community hub.
But council leader Mark Pritchard said the Melin y Brenin Community Group’s offer of £10,000 to buy the mill was not high enough and backed the decision by the authority’s chief officer of housing and economy to auction it off.
He said: “When it goes to auction, all the covenants affecting the site will remain and if there’s a listing on it, the listing will be respected.
“I am a bit disappointed to be sitting here this evening and explaining this procedure to Cllr Harper.
“She’s fully aware of the process and I did say that on the corporate land and building strategy group, which met on the 13th of October, there is a representative from Cllr Harper’s group on it.
“There was no objection and no discussion not to allow it to go to auction.”
He added: “I think it’s important that the people of Wrexham understand that we have an obligation and a duty to get the best price and value for land and buildings.
“This group offered the council £10,000, and it’s been valued at £155,000 to go to auction.”
In response, Cllr Harper said she had seen a copy of the minutes for the group’s October meeting.
She said the recommendation for the building’s future to be decided by the executive board was stated “in black and white”.
The property is set to go under the hammer on March 24 via Manchester-based auctioneers Landwood Property Auctions.