TV presenter Noel Edmonds has backed a Lancaster businessman in his fight with Lancaster City Council over a land deal.
The Deal or No Deal star said his experience with the city council over the 1990s Blobbyland fiasco in Morecambe “still hurts me to this day” and that a subsequent investigation was a “cover-up”.
Mr Edmonds’ comments came following our story in last week’s Lancaster Guardian in which businessman Stephen Loxam claimed the city council still owed him £5m in compensation as part of a deal to buy St George’s Mill on St George’s Quay.
Mr Loxam claims the council has breached contracts, concealed information and misled councillors over a deal going back to 2005 to buy Lord Ashton’s famous linoleum mill and redevelop the site for housing.
The city council says that the claims of breach of contract are “wholly without merit”, and it doesn’t owe him or his company Thomas Newall Ltd (TNL), which is in administration, any money.
Chief executive Susan Parsonage said that TNL owed the council £690,000 in unpaid costs instead.
A spokesman said that the Local Government Ombudsman is no longer investigating the case because it is outside their jurisdiction and is a matter for the courts.
The council said the case has already been considered by the court of appeal and dismissed.
Mr Loxam claims that “rather than comply with their statutory and contractual obligations the council has chosen to spend circa £1.3m of taxpayers’ money on legal costs in order to put my family’s 135 year old business into administration and avoid paying fair compensation.”
Noel Edmonds said: “My company entered into a contract with Lancaster City Council in good faith...they made representations which they could not fulfil.
“I and my company were portrayed as exploiting the local people, something which still hurts me to this day.
“The subsequent investigation was a cover-up.
“Just as with the battle currently being undertaken by myself and thousands of honest people against the wrongdoing of Lloyds bankers, and in many instances the criminal activities of other major banks, it simply allowed the guilty parties to slip away.”
In a letter to Mr Loxam’s son, Mr Edmonds said he was very sorry to hear his story and that Mr Loxam had his sympathy.
He added: “Please fight for justice because when you win you will be playing an important role in forcing fundamental change at the very highest levels of UK society.”
Susan Parsonage, chief executive of Lancaster City Council, said: “TNL originally agreed to the sum of £2m in compensation for the acquisition of the mill site.
“They subsequently reneged on this agreement and sought approximately £7.2m in compensation.
“TNL’s application was unsuccessful and they were ordered to pay the council’s costs.”
Carnforth councillor Peter Yates said he was concerned about the issues, and has called for an independent barrister to lead a new investigation.
Current plans will mean the mill will be demolished, and a new purpose built student village will be developed in its place.