A ‘CATASTROPHIC’ property deal set to lose £7 million for Somerset Council has been described by local MP Ian Liddell-Grainger as ‘appalling’.

The loss comes on a building in Stoke-on-Trent bought by the former Somerset West and Taunton Council (SWT).

SWT took out a loan to buy the headquarters building of global crockery firm Steelite International at a time when it had access to cheap finance for acquiring investment properties.

It paid £22.7 million, including fees, three years ago before the district authority was replaced by the unitary council.

The Steelite building was among 12 properties around the country bought by SWT as it increased borrowings from £6 million to nearly £100 million in just two years.

Now, Somerset Council is selling-off assets to try to avoid bankruptcy and fill a £100 million budget gap and is marketing the property for £14 million.

Mr Liddell-Grainger, who currently represents West Somerset but will be the Conservative candidate in the new Tiverton and Minehead constituency covering the Culm Valley and other parishes bordering Wellington, said it was ridiculous SWT had been allowed to play the property market to such an extent.

He said: “As far as I am aware there was no council officer with any real professional skill in the field of property development or acquisition.

“I find it completely appalling that the authority gave itself carte blanche to start dealing in such sums.

“There also appears to have been a total failure in democracy because at no time were council taxpayers consulted about the council’s decision to launch itself into this field and start acquiring what has turned out to be a toxic asset.

“Somerset West and Taunton has passed into history but the successor council has been left with this dreadful legacy to deal with - and at a time when it needs to lay its hands on every penny it can.”

A Somerset Council spokesperson said the county’s former district councils had been encouraged at the time by the Government to invest in commercial properties to create new revenue streams.

However, commercial property values had fallen since then.