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Community pony group loses land battle with Wirral Council
CAMPAIGNERS have lost their legal battle with the council to prevent land used for community stables for the past 40 years being sold-off for redevelopment.
A judge allowed the local authority to repossess ten acres of grazing land – worth around £5m - on Fernbank Farm in Moreton after a four-hour hearing at Birkenhead County Court.
However, the order was suspended for 12 months while a suitable alternative site for the Manor Drive stables is found.
Attending the hearing were representatives of Upton Park Pony Owner's Association, which has run the facility since the 1970s.
Moreton councillor Ian Lewis has campaigned to save the stables and was also present in court.
He claimed it was revealed during the hearing that evidence showed council officers had been instructed not to respond to letters, phone calls and emails from the pony association.
Councillor Lewis said: "On days like today, I am ashamed to be a councillor for an authority that is so dysfunctional and seemingly out of control.
“The pony owners and local residents have been deliberately kept in the dark by senior managers, who appear to think they are unaccountable.
"The association was promised, in writing, that a new lease would be negotiated while at the same time, officers were doing their utmost to prevent a new lease being agreed.
"Throughout the period, the association has continued to pay rent and maintain the site - yet nobody in the town hall had the decency or courtesy to discuss with them the plans that were being hatched.”
He continued: "Any trust that remained has been proved today to be misplaced and I would urge anyone dealing with Wirral Council to insist on any offers, agreements or promises received to be confirmed in writing.
"In the meantime, we look forward to the leader of the council keeping his promise to ensure an alternative site, that is, in his words, 'equivalent or better', being found.
“We will also do our utmost to prevent planning consent being given for development of this part of the flood plain."
The Globe put Cllr Lewis’s claims of managers "keeping the association in the dark" to the council.
In a statement, a spokesman responded: “As in all legal cases it’s important that the council protects the position of the taxpayer, in this case, as the landlord with regards to this potentially valuable land.
“We ourselves argued in court that Fernbank be allowed to remain on site for 12 months in order to assist them as far as possible.”
The spokesman added: “Local authorities across the country are having to review the assets they hold, and this decision forms part of Wirral Council’s strategy to dispose of assets it holds to help free up finances that can be used to protect frontline services.”