A WAR of words has broken out between two councillors after a deal to buy a significant city centre building was rejected.

The Chronicle has learned that a bid by the city council to purchase the St Clements Surgery in Tanner Street was rejected by cabinet members last month.

That followed a discussion on the land transaction at a council meeting in February in which opposition Liberal Democrat council declined to take part.

Now Liberal Democrat councillor Kim Gottlieb, who owns the building and was seeking to sell it to the council, has accused the ruling Conservatives of being “incapable of making sound decisions”.

He said: “I was not surprised when cabinet reneged on the offer the council made in January. The Conservative administration is so driven by political self-interest that it is incapable of making sound decisions, even ones that are important for the city.

Hampshire Chronicle:

“The Head of Estates recommended the purchase of the St Clements surgery site because he appreciates its strategic importance for the regeneration of Silver Hill. Apart from averting a repeat of the Henderson scheme (the originally Silver Hill scheme which collapsed) and ensuring that the practice wasn’t evicted with nowhere to go, I bought the site to keep it within the council ‘family’ rather than it being bought by a third-party developer.

“The site is central to Silver Hill’s future, but we first need an administration that puts the interests of the city ahead of its own. Hopefully, we will soon have one.”

However, Conservative councillor and the city council’s portfolio holder for finance Guy Ashton, who is up against Cllr Gottlieb in the St Michael ward in next week’s election, hit back. He said: “If he was so keen for the council to own the building, why did he buy it from under the council’s nose in 2016.”

As previously reported, it is understood Cllr Gottlieb bought the St Clements GP surgery when he was serving as a Conservative for £1.65m, despite the council bidding for the site.

Cllr Ashton added: “At the time we didn’t own the bus station, the Friarsgate surgery, we didn’t have the supplementary planning document (SPD) in place. Our influence and control over the Saxon Gate area is wholly different to 2016.

“The importance of the property is much diminished.”

Hampshire Chronicle:

In his criticism of the cabinet, Cllr Gottlieb said the rejection of the land transaction was “as foolish as the recent decision not to purchase The Brooks”. However, Cllr Ashton said The Brooks decision was around a decade ago.

The war of words comes after the Chronicle revealed Cllr Gottlieb had been trying to sell the building to the council for more than £2 million, more than what he paid for it, after previously saying he bought it without “any profit motive”.

However, he defended the move, saying he stood to lose out financially as “the price tentatively agreed with the council is much lower and... I will still be left with a six-figure shortfall as a result of my Silver Hill campaign”.

As previously reported, Cllr Gottlieb was instrumental in a legal move which scuppered the original Conservative-led Silver Hill scheme. In 2014 he formed the ‘Winchester Deserves Better’ campaign with his wife.

The Chronicle is not aware of the figure that was considered by the council, but leader Cllr Caroline Horrill claimed it was more than the price Cllr Gottlieb paid.

Cllr Horrill said: “We did not need to purchase the surgery to make Saxon Gate work.

“This isn’t a matter of incompetence, it is a matter of honesty and integrity. We could not put money in the pocket of a serving councillor... what would the public think if we did?”