A council has come under fire after buying a Kettering office block for more than £4m without any scrutiny.
Kettering Council purchased Haylock House in Kettering Parkway, timeshare firm RCI’s UK base, on January 7 this year.
RCI will now lease the space back but the £4.35m deal was so secret even some councillors were not informed.
Independent councillor Jim Hakewill, who was not told about the deal, said: “I have been concerned for a long time about the buying of offices and other buildings in the county, particularly because the only councillors who have been involved are a small group with no backbenchers given the chance to scrutinise or look at the risks involved.
“It also saddens me that the borough council is prepared to borrow money to buy these buildings but wouldn’t consider protecting the libraries in Rothwell, Desborough and Burton Latimer, which could easily have been bought so they were no longer at risk.
“This will be a kick in the teeth for local people that are working hard to save the libraries.”
It was only a freedom of information request by local businessman Alan Perkins that revealed some details of the deal after he was given notice to vacate six of the 11 car parking spaces he rents from RCI.
A Kettering Council spokesman said: “Kettering Council purchased Haylock House on Kettering’s Venture Park earlier this month.
“Haylock House is an iconic building in Kettering and has some high quality employers based at the building.
“These employers are important to the local economy as they use local suppliers and provide high quality jobs to local people.
“The council does not usually comment on property acquisitions when their purchase is in progress.
“The council’s budgets and its investment strategy have however been openly debated in public at the relevant committees.”
The buying of commercial properties by councils as an investment is not uncommon, with prime Northamptonshire properties snapped up by local authorities across the country.
Some commentators say such deals are akin to gambling public money on the property market.
Kettering Council’s opposition leader Cllr Mick Scrimshaw admitted it was a risk and said he was concerned by the lack of transparency.
He said: “The fact the decision is taken in secret may well be appropriate for commercial reasons but that it’s going on without anyone knowing about it is worrying.
“Once the deal is done why wouldn’t you want councillors to look at it and see if it’s a good decision?
“That seems perfectly sensible and is normal at councils up and down the country but there isn’t much scrutiny at Kettering.”
Cllr Hakewill added that he was worried by the deal and that “the council should be about providing services, not being a buy-to-let landlord to make money”.
Mr Perkins, managing director of SilverDisc Digital Marketing in nearby Swallow Court, was unhappy at being told he had to vacate more than half of the parking spaces he rented over Christmas.
He said it will leave him with a parking headache, with some staff coming from as far as Bedford and Peterborough, and doesn’t understand why the council is doing it if there is no change in usage.
He said: “Running a business is hard enough without having the council purchasing the parking spaces and evicting you.
“I can’t understand why they’re doing it, they’re not moving in.
“My council is making it difficult for me to run my business and I don’t know why.
“I don’t have to have an office here, I could have one in Wellingborough or Northampton for example. It’s a bit of an insult.”
An RCI spokesman confirmed they were staying put at Haylock House, named in honour of ‘Mr RCI’ Ron Haylock.
The spokesman said: “We decided to sell our office location in Kettering and lease back office space from the new owners, Kettering Council.
“Leasing the space is better suited for our business needs and does not represent any major changes on the horizon for RCI in the region.”
An office suite on the third floor, with views over the town, is currently on the market on Rightmove.