THE leader of Bournemouth council has denied short-changing the public by deciding to sell a 40-bedroom former care home for £360,000.

Opposition councillors have queried council claims that the price represents the “full market value” of Leybourne House in Northbourne – pointing out that a nearby three-bedroom bungalow is on the market for £339,950.

Council leader Cllr John Beesley said the site – which is being bought by housing charity BCHA to build affordable flats – would normally have been sold by auction or tender.

“In this instance, however, the primary driver was not to secure the highest price for the land but to ensure that the site was re-developed for good quality affordable housing,” he told a meeting.

Cllr Beesley said BCHA had won £561,000 from the Housing Communities Agency towards building 24 flats. The money would be lost if it was not committed to a scheme by March 31.

Independent councillor Sue Levell queried the decision, prompting a special meeting of a council scrutiny panel.

She queried the official record of the decision which said the sum ‘represents the full market value’.

“The council have said a 40-bedroom detached property is only worth £360,000 – a property that has never been put on the open market or even advertised.

“Common sense tells you that can’t be right,” she said.

But Cllr Beesley insisted that no comparison can be made with the sale of residential properties nearby.

The existing building was in need of “very substantial investment”.

Officers stood by their use of the phrase “full market value” when asked by committee chairman Cllr Chris Wakefield whether they wanted to reconsider the wording.

Gary Platt, the council’s head of property, said mature trees on the site would drastically reduce the space available to a developer.

“The developable site is a much smaller part, really conforming with the existing footprint of the building,” he said.

“We’ve taken into account the value of the completed development less the cost of development and the developer’s profit to arrive at the site value.”

The scrutiny panel voted unanimously not to take any further action.