NORTH Ayrshire Council’s bid to buy the Rivergate for £55million has been binned after a narrow vote by councillors, the Times can exclusively reveal.

The decision to reject purchasing the shopping centre won by just one single vote at a secret ‘special council meeting’ last week.

Ahead of last Wednesday’s public Full Council Meeting – which was broadcast online – a confidential meeting was held at noon excluding the press and public.

Labour voted for the plans with the Conservative group voting against it, while the SNP split between members within Irvine and Kilwinning voting in favour and others across North Ayrshire rejecting the bid.

NAC declined to comment on the context of the ‘confidential item’, however several councillors from across parties confirmed the meeting was to vote on recommendations to purchase the Rivergate.

In redacted minutes of the meeting, Chief Executive Elma Murray's recommendations for purchasing the centre were set out.

Council Leader Joe Cullinane moved to approve the plans, with Depute Provost Robert Barr amending that councillors should reject it.

Following a debate, the vote was split with 17 councillors against the plans and 16 in favour.

Within Irvine and Kilwinning’s wards, Labour Councillors Ian Clarkson, Joe Cullinane, John Easdale, Robert Foster, Louise McPhater and Donald Reid joined SNP members Marie Burns, Scott Davidson, Christina Larsen and Shaun Macaulay voting to purchase the centre, while Conservative councillors Scott Gallacher, Angela Stephen, Margaret George and John Glover voted against.

SNP Councillors Joy Brahim, Tony Gurney, Alan Hill, Jean McClung, Ellen McMaster, Davina McTiernan rejected the plans, joined by the rest of North Ayrshire’s Conservative group of Timothy Billings, Todd Ferguson and Tom Marshall. However SNP Kilbirnie and Beith cllr Anthea Dickson voted alongside Irvine members in favour of the recomendations.

Independent councillors Robert Barr, Ronnie McNicol, Donald L Reid and Ian Murdoch also rejected the proposals.

The meeting was held in private over 'exempt information' defined in the Local Government (Scotland) act as "relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (other than the authority), "The amount of expenditure proposed to be incurred by the authority under any particular contract for the acquisition of property' and "any terms proposed or to be proposed by or to the authority in the course of negotiations for a contract for the acquisition or disposal of property or the supply of goods or services."

The meeting's agenda states that information 'shall not be disclosed to any person by any Member or Officer'.

A North Ayrshire Council spokesperson said: “We can confirm that a private meeting was held on Wednesday, 20 December.

“Due to the confidential nature of this meeting it would be inappropriate for us to make any further comment.”

Back in September the Times exclusively revealed the council proposal after obtaining leaked documents from Cunninghame House setting out the council’s case for purchasing the centre.

They stated that senior council officers met with owners Kennedy Wilson earlier this year where, “the potential for the centre to be sold through an off-market deal was raised”.

Council chiefs say that buying the Mall would support the economic regeneration of the town centre.

The documents state: “The case for purchase of the Rivergate Centre rests on the regeneration potential afforded by ownership, combined with the financial feasibility of the proposal.

“The purchase of the Rivergate would represent a unique purchase to support the economic regeneration of Irvine.”

According to the leaked files, the agreement of purchase of the Rivergate Mall by the council were to be in the hands of Chief Executive Elma Murray.

It states: “It is proposed that the agreement of Heads of Terms for the purchase of the Rivergate Centre, Irvine is delegated to the Chief Executive on the basis of the information contained within the report and for a price in the region of £55million.”

The regeneration case for the £55million purchase mentions potential for improving the centre in the short and long term.

“The retail environment continues to experience significant change in terms of shopping behaviour, a move to online and changes to format of centres.

“While it is difficult to predict what the requirements within central Irvine in 20 plus years time it is considered likely that in the long term more fundamental change to the town centre environment will be required.

“Outright ownership of the centre would place the council in a position of control to influence change for the positive.”