Warwick District Council may face £1m bill in legal row

Racing Club Warwick Trustees Bob Dhillon,  Andy Cowlard and Anne Mellor.'MHLC-22-09-12 Racing Club trustees Sep86 ENGNNL00120120922201001
Racing Club Warwick Trustees Bob Dhillon, Andy Cowlard and Anne Mellor.'MHLC-22-09-12 Racing Club trustees Sep86 ENGNNL00120120922201001

The district council has agreed to pay up to £400,000 to the Ministry of Defence to build a new headquarters for air cadets following its long-running battle with Racing Club Warwick.

The Courier has obtained a copy of a leaked report which shows that members of the district’s executive committee were advised that their legal position with the cadets was “precarious” as the MoD had a strong, arguable case to seek significant court damages over an invalid lease.

The district council does not admit any liability. But to avoid further legal costs, it has agreed to fund a £350,000 new air cadets building and set aside an extra £50,000 in case that is not enough.

In a separate action, solicitors acting on behalf of Racing Club Warwick say they will be seeking £575,000 in damages from the council to compensate for the demolition of part of the football club’s premises, plus its legal costs.

The dispute goes back to November 2008, when the air cadets prepared to move to Racing Club’s site in Hampton Road after a verbal agreement appeared to have been reached on a new shared lease.

The MoD - represented by the West Midlands Reserve Force and Cadets’ Association - went ahead and knocked down part of Racing Club’s changing rooms and bar to make room for a new £500,000 drill hall.

But in February 2009, when an agreement to surrender the old lease was signed by former chairman of trustees Jim Wright, this was found to be invalid because it had not been approved by the rest of the trustees.

At the time there were financial problems at the club which led to Mr Wright and the rest of the trustees standing down.

Among those who replaced them were the current chairman Andy Cowlard and two district councillors, Anne Mellor and Bob Dhillon, the present mayor of Warwick.

Both Cllrs Mellor and Dhillon agreed that it would be wrong for the club - which plays in the Midlands Combination Preimier Division - to “sell” the lease of its best asset at that time.

This has resulted in the last five years becoming an uneasy stand-off between the cadets and footballers sharing the site and both paying the district council rent for the same lease.

Finally, the cadets moved out last year amid speculation about the council being sued.

If negotiations over the issuing of a new 21 year lease continue to fail, the cadets’ now empty drill hall may be left to the Racing Club while the district council forks out for another cadet headquarters, costing at least £350,000, on nearby land.

This would probably be cheaper than any court case when the legal advice provided to the district is that its position in relation to the MoD is precarious, and not secure.

On Tuesday Andrew Mobbs, the leader of Warwick District Council said: “There have been delicate negotiations going on with all parties for some time.

“As a council we want to see positive conclusions to these difficulties.

“We want to see a thriving Racing Club Warwick and a diverse range of community facilities being provided by all parties on and around the 

“We genuinely wish to broker an agreement that is equitable and fair to all parties.

“I cannot go into details because of the confidentiality involved but, rest assured, that there is a real will from the council to get this resolved.”