NORTH Ayrshire council are not the first local authority in the UK to consider buying a shopping centre.

The Times can reveal that at least five other councils in England have made similar purchases before - despite facing major financial strife.

In May this year Sefton Council in Liverpool bought the Bootle Strand Shopping Centre for £32.5million from London-based specialist shopping centre investor Ellandi.

According to Sefton council chiefs the purchase had been “fully funded” through a loan at no expense to the taxpayers and residents of Sefton.

In a similar move, The Saddlers Shopping Centre in Walsall in the West Midlands was sold to Walsall Council by owners, investment group Topland in August this year for £13.8million despite having to save £86million by 2020.

Teignbridge Council bought Market Walk Shopping Centre in Newton Abbot, Devon for £13.05m in February 2016.

And in April 2016 Stockport Council bought the Merseyway Shopping Centre from from Bilfinger GVA who had taken receivership of the centre in 2009 following the administration of its previous owner.

Newport Council found themselves in financial hot water after getting involved in the funding of Friars Walk shopping centre in 2015.

The brand new centre was completed in 2015 by developers Queensberry Real Estate, but despite failing raise enough private sector funding for the project, went ahead with construction after the council agreed to provide them with an “unprecedented” loan - leaving the local authority with £84million hanging over them.

Just last month the council was offered a reprieve of sorts when Canadian investors Talisker Corporation bought the centre.

However, under the deal Newport Council will pay a £500,000 annual subsidy for up to 15 years if rental incomes do not rise.

North Ayrshire Council are now in line to be the first Scottish local authority to buy a mall.

Large scale investment in face of cuts?

The news that North Ayrshire Council are considering spending £55million on a shopping centre flies in the face of cuts in this year’s budget.

In March, Labour council chiefs approved a £463million budget but announced they would have to find savings of more than £9million because of cuts from the SNP-led Scottish Government.

Council Leader Joe Cullinane announced areas of investment, including £5.5million extra funding to health and social care, £3.6million invested in local communities and £1,7million to tackle poverty.

However Cllr Cullinane also announced people living in houses in council tax Bands E-H, who already pay in excess of £1,500 per year, would see their council tax rise for the first time in almost a decade.

If the Rivergate sale goes ahead, it will be the latest huge cash-injection Irvine has seen in recent years, including the £20million Portal, the £3million Quarry Road development, The £4.2million Bridgegate and Trinity Church regeneration.

Other areas of North Ayrshire have also enjoyed a cash boost - for instance the council’s North Ayrshire School Estate programme saw £47million invested in a new Largs Campus, £32million for a new Academy in Ardrossan and £25million for a new additional support needs school as well as a £15million regeneration of Ardrossan Harbour.