THE council has defended its investment strategy as the properties it owns outside of the borough are revealed.

Bury Council is the proprietor of an Italian restaurant in the Fylde coast, an office space in Huddersfield and a building in the Northern Quarter occupied by a dentist.

It purchased the site of Prezzo in Lytham St Anne’s for £1,010,000 and Capita Regional Office HQ in Huddersfield for £2,300,000.

In November 2016, the local authority also paid £2.56m to PJD Property Co for a restaurant, dentist surgery and training centre in Manchester’s Lever Street.

However, cabinet member for finance and housing Eamonn O’Brien said these acquisitions have been funded by contingency reserves which the council cannot spend on day-to-day services.

He said: “Instead of having this money sitting in the bank collecting a minimal amount of interest, we took the proactive decision to safely invest it.

“This allows us to return a far greater amount of money that can then be spent on services, but also keeps our investment safe in the asset should we need to access it in future.

“Currently, our return on these investments is on average 10 times what we would get if we left the money in the bank.”

These comments comes after the housing and communities’ secretary raised concerns in parliament about some councils' commercial investments.

Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that the number of councils investing in real estate has doubled in the last two years.

But Cllr O’Brien defended the investments, describing the income generated from them as “essential” to help fund frontline services.

He said: “At a time when we are dealing with massive cuts to our funding from the Government, without this income there would have to be even deeper cuts to many of our services.”

Concerns about the strategy have been raised by opposition leaders in the past, most recently at a cabinet meeting in November.

Conservative leader James Daly agreed that if councils are investing large amounts of taxpayers’ money in property or other investments, it should aim to get the best possible returns.

However, he suggested that the council should look inwards and invest within the borough where possible.

Cllr Daly said: “I believe we should look at investment of a more creative manner, looking to invest within our local economy in the borough to not only produce a return to the tax payer but to stimulate economic activity, support local business and create job opportunities for local residents.”

The council currently holds more than 900 property assets in Bury which it draws rental income from, including parts of The Rock and the Mill Gate shopping centre, Bradley Fold Industrial Estate and Bury Market.

In recent years it has also purchased the multi-storey car park on Knowsley Street which also brings an income in.

Cllr O’Brien added: “Outside of the reserves that fund our internal and external investments, we also continue to make other key investments into projects across the borough, such as Radcliffe Market Hall, Radcliffe Bus Station, Chamberhall, and Prestwich High Street.

“In fact, we have recently completed the council's biggest single investment in our borough with the new 60-unit Extra Care Housing Scheme called Peachment Place. This will be open in the New Year and shows our commitment to investing in our borough, whilst also finding external investment opportunities to help fund services.”