WIRRAL Council has paid nearly half a million pounds to the proposed developers of the controversial Hoylake golf resort after the borough decided to scrap the scheme.

The scheme, which aimed to create a hotel, two golf courses and executive homes on the current council-owned Hoylake Municipal Golf course and surrounding land, had been the subject of borough-wide protests over the years.

The proposed golf resort, announced in 2015, was originally championed by Phil Davies, the then Labour leader and Wirral Council leader, with Nicklaus Joint Venture Group Ltd.

Mr Davies left the council in 2019.

The issue of a settlement agreement was discussed as an exempt item at an extraordinary meeting on August 11.

In an email to councillors this week, the authority's director of Law and Governance advised that the matter can now be made public.

The email states: "I write to inform you that we have entered the settlement agreement with Nicklaus Joint Venture Group Ltd (NJVG) and they have confirmed that the monies to be paid under that have been received.

"This matter is therefore complete and, as such, the necessity for confidentiality on the grounds of privilege now no longer applies and the settlement agreement may be considered a public document.

"That reflects the decision made at Council last week that: (i) The council’s payment to NJVG of the sum of £495,000 is in full and final settlement of, all and/or any actions, claims, rights, demands and set-offs, that either party may have in relation to the dispute and another agreement or matter arising or connected with the relationship between the parties; (ii) The Council is released from any and all obligations under the Development Agreement; (iii) No fault or admission of liability rests with the Council; and (iv) No obligation of confidentiality shall apply to the content of the settlement agreement."

In response to the email, Conservative group leader Tom Anderson said: "If the former Leader of the Council and his cabinet are not embarrassed, then they should be.

"They can't claim ignorance either; from the day this deal was first announced, local councillors, residents and green space campaigners warned it was folly.

"Even as the promises of a golf resort turned to dust, the council's leaders buried their heads in the sand and stuck to the pretence that the scheme was still feasible.

"It wasn't feasible or acceptable then, and a £500,000 pay off isn’t acceptable now.

"This casual disregard for taxpayers is on display for the whole borough to see.

"When Labour councillors say they can’t maintain the most basic of services, it’s because of back-room, shady deals like this which are bleeding the Council dry.”

The leader of Wirral's Liberal Democrats, Phil Gilchrist said: "Residents can rejoice, even dance in the streets, now that this project has been abandoned by all concerned.

"It had dragged on as a dream for over twenty years.

"The sacrifice of our Green Belt was, rightly, never accepted by local people.

"Wirral had to find a way through the messy legacy left by earlier Labour administrations.

"It has come at a cost that has now been revealed.

"It is infuriating that, when money is so tight, the cost to council tax payers is so great."

Pat Cleary, Green Party councillor for Birkenhead and Tranmere and Leader of the Green Group of councillors said: "I'm sure the Wirral public will be appalled that another £495k has been added to the £1 million+ already wasted on this dreadful project which should never have seen the light of day.

"From the beginning, Labour was warned that, apart from the dreadful environmental impacts, the scheme carried enormous risks. The deficiencies of the Nicklaus Joint Venture Group were made clear and public. Nobody can say they weren't warned.

"This final act in the whole sorry saga confirms that the then Leader was utterly naive and arrogant in dismissing those concerns. The least the Wirral public deserve now is a formal apology from the Labour Party.

"Residents in Birkenhead and Tranmere will be especially aggrieved, but not surprised, that their independent representative has now played a pivotal role in this further waste of public funds.

"Partly as a result of this utter folly Labour has lost control of the council and the so-called "strong leader" cabinet model is, thankfully, a thing of the past. This makes it less likely that such dreadful decisions can happen in future.

A statement from Wirral Labour Group said: "It is disgusting that the Niklaus Joint Venture Group has made the decision to pursue the council for damages.

"Private companies seeking to profit from a local authority in this way is something we have seen more of around the country in recent years.

"While we believe the chances of them being successful in court were not guaranteed, the risk was that we would have run up a legal bill in fighting the case, which was estimated to have exceeded £700k.

"As they are a shell company with no assets, there was a real risk of not getting our legal costs fully reimbursed, and so we have followed the advice we were given by senior legal counsel to put an end to this saga, which has been running for more than 13 years, across several administrations and different political parties.

"We listened to our residents and reflected their wishes. The council has not done anything wrong and we are appalled by the behaviour of the Nicklaus Joint Venture Group. This shows that they were not the kind of company we want to do business with.

"This wasn't a decision that anyone has taken lightly, but given that even if we won, we could pay more than this in legal costs, it was the only responsible decision to make.

"In the unlikely event that we had lost, we could have had to pay £20million, plus both sets of legal costs, bankrupted the council and put services for every resident at risk.

"Not acting now could have resulted in the greenbelt land being built on in future - something Wirral Labour is firmly opposed to.

"Settling this now is the only way to avoid throwing good money after bad.

"At least this way we can minimise the impact and draw this to a close.

"The opposition parties should be aiming their fire at the Niklaus Joint Venture Group and supporting their council on this, particularly as the decision to withdraw funding was unanimously approved at Full Council."