Council's attempts to buy fenced-off Rugby park 'ignored', despite owners' public claims - The Rugby Observer

Council's attempts to buy fenced-off Rugby park 'ignored', despite owners' public claims

Rugby Editorial 6th Jul, 2016 Updated: 27th Oct, 2016   0

THE OWNERS of Oakfield Park have told Rugby Borough Council (RBC) they are unwilling to sell the land – contradicting their public claims.

The Heart of England Co-operative Society cancelled RBC’s rolling lease on the Bilton Road park and fenced it off after the Council refused an application to build 50 houses there.

The Co-op described council leader Coun Michael Stokes’ statement that RBC had made repeated offers to buy the land – reported in last week’s Observer – as “misrepresentative and inaccurate”, claiming they had been willing to consider a sale from the outset.

But The Observer has seen a letter sent from the Society’s solicitors to RBC in May, stating: “Our client is not willing to sell the property at this time.”

A Co-op spokesman said the Society was disappointed to read Coun Stokes’ comments, describing them as “provoking unnecessary unrest among residents”.

He added a sale would be considered if the Council were to make “a commercially viable offer” to the Society’s agents Bruton Knowles, but “at no stage have they received a formal offer – merely expressions of interest”.

But Coun Stokes said the Co-op were being “pedantic”, insisting the Council’s repeated attempts to start negotiations had been ignored or rejected.

He said: “Despite the Co-op’s refusal to enter negotiations over a sale, I wrote again to chief executive Ali Kurji in June to restate the council’s desire to start talks.

“I have yet to receive a reply, though Mr Kurji’s office has confirmed receipt of the letter.

“I can only repeat my offer to Mr Kurji and invite him to meet so we can discuss this important issue.”

RBC first wrote to Bruton Knowles in August 2013 expressing an interest in buying the land – adding it was “unlikely to have any development potential” due to being a protected open space.

The request was repeated in a letter to the Co-op’s solicitors Cocks Lloyd in May this year, noting no response had been received.

But the solicitors’ reply stated the Society was unwilling to sell.

The council unanimously rejected the Co-op’s application on grounds Oakfield should remain a community park. The land had been leased as a recreation ground by the council for around 30 years, but the lease expired in 2014 and the Co-Op decided not to extend it.

The Co-op spokesman added: “The Society is a commercial organisation operating in a highly challenging retail environment and in order to ensure continued sustainability and investment it does, at times, have to make commercial decisions of this nature which, as always, are in the interests of its members.”

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