AN EXTRAORDINARY row has broken out at Wirral Council over its repossession of land used by a community pony club.
Demands for an investigation have followed an admission that senior officials of the authority were ordered not to negotiate over the lease of Fernbank Farm in Moreton.
Councillor Ian Lewis is calling for an inquiry after Upton Park Pony Association lost its legal battle to prevent the ten-acre plot being repossessed to be sold-off for redevelopment.
The site had been leased to the association for more than 40 years, but the cash-strapped council wanted it back to raise capital.
The judge allowed the local authority to repossess the land - which could be worth up to £5m if sold for housing - after a four-hour hearing at Birkenhead County Court last week.
The order was suspended for a year while a suitable alternative site for the stables is found.
Councillor Lewis said the association was deliberately kept in the dark by senior managers.
He attended court when evidence was given from a council officer, who said he had been instructed by his superiors not to respond to letters and emails from the association.
Councillor Lewis told the Globe: “The council presumably knew if these gestures could be stretched beyond the limit following expiry of the lease, then the tenants would have lost their right to seek a court hearing.
“Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, such a hearing would have been to solely consider renegotiation of the lease, as opposed to repossession, and the terms of a new tenancy agreement would be instructed by the court.
“By not being open and honest, the council achieved their objective of the tenant losing their rights to such a hearing and instead enabled the start of repossession proceedings.”
He stormed: “I want to know who gave the order not to negotiate with the pony association over Fernbank Farm, and why that order was given.
“The deeper we delve, the murkier this whole business becomes.
“So many decisions have been taken behind closed doors by officers without reference to any councillor or public scrutiny."
The council's head of universal and infrastructure services David Armstrong said in a statement: “As a local authority, there is a conflict between the interests of the group as tenants on this land, and the wider interests which the council has to consider.
“We regret the upset that the legal process will have caused for everyone involved.
“However, we have a duty to council tax-payers to realise the benefits of the assets we hold, including assets like this land.
“This is particularly true in the current economic climate where every asset we hold is under scrutiny.
“The court ruled in our favour, but we argued, in court, that the tenants be allowed to remain on site for 12 months so that we could help them find an alternative suitable location.
“This offer still stands.”