Borders council reveals how much £11m Lowood Estate was valued at after being accused of paying over the odds

Scottish Borders Council chiefs have finally revealed how much government assessors valued the Lowood Estate they bought at Tweedbank last year for £11m at, ending speculation that they paid way over the odds.

By Joseph Anderson, local democracy reporter
Thursday, 12th September 2019, 7:59 am
The Lowood Estate at Tweedbank.
The Lowood Estate at Tweedbank.

Including legal fees and taxes, the council has spent nearly £11m on purchasing land to the south of the River Tweed with a view to building hundreds of houses and an industrial estate there.

The council estimates that developing the estate would cost an extra £90m on top of the price of the land but would potentially generate £150m of gross value added for the region’s economy.

However, the authority has, until now, remained tight-lipped about how much the land is said to be worth and has refused all requests from the press and public to reveal the figure it was given by the Scottish Government’s district valuer service.

Following a series of freedom-of-information requests, and subsequent reviews, the district valuer has now notified the local authority it is content for thate information to be made public, however.

The local authority’s service director, Brian Frater, said: “Before agreeing the purchase of Lowood, the council was in receipt of two separate valuation reports, which valued the estate at £8m, £9m and £14.4m. 

“Having received and considered these valuations, the council was able to negotiate with the owner of the estate to reach an agreed purchase price of £9.6m.

“The purchase of land by local authorities for economic growth, housing and business space is not an unusual activity and occurs throughout the country, whether by city deals, urban regeneration companies, business gateway entities or directly by the authorities themselves.”

The council was given two valuation reports by the district valuer, one putting the worth of vacant possession of the site at £8m and the odder adding £1m to that price-tag.

It also got one from private valuer Rob Forrest, acting on behalf of the land’s owner, Alexander Hamilton, giving a figure of £14.4m.

A spokesperson for the council said: “The council expects to recover the whole of its investment in Lowood through the future development of the asset, which comprises a 44-hectare site and buildings.

“The council remains strongly of the view that the decision to acquire Lowood is justified in terms of best value and that the economic viability of the site will best be secured through a joint public and private-sector approach, which was agreed by council last December and is now being pursued.

“The decision to acquire Lowood was not speculative.

“It forms an integral part of the council’s strategy to build on the investment already made in the Borders Railway, which currently terminates adjacent to the Lowood site in Tweedbank.” 

“The council purchased the land following an appropriate investment appraisal process and the development of a detailed financial model, which followed the Treasury’s best practice.

“Councillors considered the business case in full and three specific reports in December 2017, January 2018 and May 2018 prior to the purchase. 

“These reports included the necessary information on site valuations, now released publicly.”