Portsmouth protester Mark Austin ‘still owes council £280,000 legal bill over collapsed Northern Quarter scheme’

A CGI of the proposed Northern Quarter
A CGI of the proposed Northern Quarter
Deputy Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Councillor Lee Mason with Matt Thomas who uses LDD (holding cheque), Andy Hirst and Robin Arkle of Costa and LDD Youth Club members. Picture: Robin Jones/Digital South

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ALMOST £2m have already been spent by the city council on the collapsed Northern Quarter scheme, The News can reveal.

Portsmouth Tory leader Donna Jones yesterday admitted the authority had forked out close to £2m helping developer Centros try to bring the major shopping scheme off Market Way to life since 2005.

We had one protestor, who kept taking the council and government to court to tackle the compulsory purchase order. He lost all of his cases, but it took years in the courts and then the 2008 banking crash happened.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Portsmouth Lib Dem group leader

It comes despite a public report into plans to sever Centros’ commitment to build the £300m complex stating the amount owed to the council was much lower – at £450,000.

Cllr Jones says the council now has to work out a plan to recover the full costs – after she formally agreed to end the council’s deal to get Centros to create a shopping centre .

She agreed to terminate the deal as she now wants another developer to get the opportunity to work up fresh ideas to boost the city centre.

But a Centros spokesman said: ‘The figure hasn’t been estimated yet. It will need to be estimated and negotiated.’

Lib Dem leader and former council boss Gerald Vernon-Jackson warned the council has still yet to recover a separate bill of £280,000 it is owed in court costs associated with the Northern Quarter by protester Mark Austin.

He launched a legal battle against land being bought up around the development to enable wider regeneration to happen.

Addressing Cllr Jones, Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘This is a sad report because it’s about coming to the end of a relationship with Centros, which the council has worked with for several years.

‘We had one protester who kept taking the council and government to court to tackle the compulsory purchase order. He lost all of his cases, but it took years in the courts and then the 2008 banking crash happened.

‘We were left in a position where the protester owed us £280,000, which he has still not paid, which means you and I as taxpayers have been left to pick up the bill, and that is a disgrace.’

Cllr Vernon-Jackson went on to call for the council to use some of its £50m property investment fund – which has been used to pay for buildings outside of Portsmouth to make a return – to go towards the Northern Quarter development.

He said: ‘There is a profit to be made and new buildings built here would generate extra business rates for the council.’

But Cllr Jones said she is now talking to Delancey – which holds the lease on the NQ development site – to ensure there is still a vision to redevelop the area.

Cllr Jones said: ‘The termination of this development agreement is something that should have happened five years ago.

‘The reason I did not go ahead with this 18 months ago, after taking over the council, was because I wanted to ensure we were in a strong position with the landowner before we brought forward these documents. I have been to London to meet the owner of Delancey so we can work up a plan.’