THE council has spent more than £22m buying almost 90 properties in the last five years - but it says it is not "gambling" on the market.

This comes after the housing and communities secretary raised concerns in parliament about some councils' commercial investments.

Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that the number of councils investing in real estate has doubled in the last two years.

In Bolton, the local authority has purchased at least seven properties for more than £500,000 in the last three years, although many acquisitions cost £1 or less.

Deputy leader Ebrahim Adia, said most of these acquisitions are strategic and focused on regeneration rather than revenue.

He said: “We are not one of the organisations speculating on the property market by acquiring land and property with the sole aim of generating income.

“Our major acquisitions in the town centre are primarily to deliver the £1bn town centre strategy and masterplan."

The biggest purchase on the council's portfolio is Crompton Place shopping centre which cost £14.8m when a deal with Santander was struck in June.

A further three properties were purchased for more than £1 million including the former bus station at Moor Lane and a parking lot at Bradshawgate.

While these two assets form part of the town centre masterplan, the council also purchased land at the University of Bolton Chadwick Street campus for £1.2m to relocate Bolton Parish School.

Another property in Market Street, Little Lever was acquired for £619,150 to deliver a new health centre.

Cllr Adia added: “A £100m fund is in place to address barriers to development and regeneration, including land assembly. Such strategic and targeted acquisitions are subject to strict due diligence and independent advice. This ensures that the price paid is appropriate and that the acquisition has temporary investment return value.”

In addition to these acquisitions, the council owns two properties with the purpose of generating some rental income.

These assets were purchased using proceeds from the sale of ground rent assets through a partnership with the private sector known as PSP Bolton LLP.

This is the only example of the local authority purchasing properties with the aim of maximising return and generating new income, although it only makes up 2.27 per cent of the council's total revenue budget.

Commercial purchases like Crompton Place also brings in a temporary return on investment until the asset is used for redevelopment purposes.