A SENIOR Conservative at Worcestershire County Council has rejected criticism over not buying a prime Worcester leisure site - saying they are still interested in "targeted acquisitions".

As the Worcester News revealed yesterday the city's Vue Cinema, Subway and Nando's complex in Friar Street has been sold for £11.8 million to help prop up services at Surrey County Council.

The eye-opening deal is part of a growing trend for local authorities to buy shopping centres and other real estate to help bring in cash.

Bosses at County Hall were not even aware the site was for sale, leading to criticism from the opposition Labour group, but the Tory leadership has rejected claims the authority lacks vision.

The administration also says Surrey's agreement is more evidence of the success investors have in the county's economic future.

Cllr Andy Roberts, cabinet member for transformation and commissioning, said: "The council has always taken opportunities to support the economic development of Worcestershire through targeted acquisitions and will continue to do so, creating more and better paid jobs for people.

"Our key priority is to ensure Worcestershire is 'open for business' and we'll continue to focus investment in those areas that will provide a direct economic benefit to residents and businesses across the county."

He pointed to the so-called 'game changer' sites like the £120 million Worcester Six business park, which is currently being constructed off Junction 6 of the M5 and will create 5,000 jobs once full.

"We welcome investment in the local economy, Worcestershire has the third fastest growing economy in the country," he added.

"The investment by Surrey County Council is an indication of the success of our economic development strategy - proof that Worcestershire is indeed open for business."

Labour has called the deal a missed opportunity, with its group leader Cllr Peter McDonald saying Worcester people will "prop up another council miles away".

The sale, handled by BNP Paribas Real Estate, also includes 13 apartments around the back of the cinema complex.

Councils around the country are currently taking advantage of low-grade Government borrowing to snap up real estate in the hope it will bring in regular funds, with five deals completed in recent months.

It is being viewed as one way to help offset the need to make cuts.