October 21 2014 Latest news:
Story by: JOHN ELWORTHY
Monday, March 17, 2014
The redundant court house in Wisbech was snapped up for £150,000 on Friday by a newly formed property company run by entrepreneur John Foster.
Mr Foster was, until last year, the boss of Foster Property Maintenance which was sold to Lakehouse in a multi million pound deal.
His son Steve still runs the Wisbech based firm and both father and son still own and run Foster Renewable Energies.
However the sale of the court house has been to John Foster’s own company Foster Property Developments (Fenland) Ltd
John Foster was on his way to France this afternoon and could not be contacted: his son Steve however said he had no idea his father had bought the court house.
“I have no comment since I didn’t know of this,” he said.
Confirmation of the sale came from Shailesh Vara, the Parliamentary Under-secretary of State for Justice.
It followed a surprise announcement in the House of Commons last Thursday that a planned auction of the court house had been called off pending a sale to a local developer.
That developer can be revealed today as John Foster and follows an aborted bid by Fenland District Council to buy the site.
The council called off their proposed purchase following their failure to negotiate a transfer out of the building by Cambridgeshire Police who use part of the site as a police station.
Although Cambs Police have said they were willing to consider a move, they said they could not decide until a review of all police stations county wide is completed this summer.
Police commissioner Sir Graham Bright had ordered the review to try and move more officers to front line policing, equipping them with up to date technology to ensure they spend less time in police stations filling out forms and more time on the beat.
Fenland Council conducted secret talks with police to try and move them from their present building – which they have on a peppercorn rent- but at January’s Cabinet suddenly announced negotiations were off.
The council wanted the building to ‘round off’ the Nene waterfront regeneration project but now what happens there will be in private hands.
Mr Vara defended the speedy sale of the court building, arguing the Government needed to dispose of surplus property assets “as expeditiously as possible”. That meant, he said, within six months of being declared surplus for housing and within three years for all other properties “whilst achieving overall value for money for the taxpayer”.
He said since the court closed in April 2011, the Department for Justice had incurred monthly costs of £1,500 at Wisbech and once the council withdrew their offer it was decided to put the property up for auction.
“However in the meantime an offer was received from a local developer at an acceptable market level,” said Mr Vara.
The minister, in a letter to NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay, said the issues of the police willing to vacate later this year “and the fallout from the previous transaction on the Nene waterfront were not advised to us. The Ministry of Justice took full professional advice about the offer and decided to accept it, thereby negating the need for the property to be sold at auction.”
Mr Vara said the sale “represented best value for money for the taxpayer- both in terms of price received and avoiding further unnecessary costs”.
Mr Barclay said he was not in a position to comment further until he had assessed all the information. One key issue he is likely to be asking however if why Fenland Council did not ask the Ministry of Justice to delay a sale until the summer when the police review is due.
He is also fearful that a unique opportunity to create a landmark development as part of the Nene waterfront regeneration may now be lost.