POLITICIANS have clashed over a town centre shopping site after it was claimed nobody at the council has ‘accepted responsibility’ for a controversial deal 30 years ago.

As reported last year, Hatters Row will cost the council almost £10.5 million over the next century as it is locked into an extraordinary lease arrangement dating back to 1989.

The deal runs for an astonishing 125 years – without a break clause, which effectively locks the authority into the arrangement until the year 2114.

It has been confirmed that Hatters Row continues to operate at a loss despite being fully occupied.

But the Labour-run council has spent £34,000 to replace the passenger platform lift at the site, with officers saying it is ‘important to ensure access for all’.

And Town Hall chiefs have been asked whether they are committed to continue investing into it despite it operating at a loss.

A spokesman said: “We will continue to monitor investment requirements for Hatters Row on a commercial case-by-case basis.”

Cllr Bob Barr, leader of the town’s Liberal Democrats, believes keeping the site maintained and operational is vital.

However, he has fired strong words at senior figures at the Town Hall.

He said: “The ongoing costs of the bad deal on Hatters Row are an irritant and what is worse is that nobody, including some current members of the council, has accepted responsibility.

“However, keeping Hatters Row operating as a going concern is important for the town centre, so keeping the site maintained and operational is a necessary decision.

“What Hatters Row raises is the question of which of the council’s recent risky investments is the next Hatters Row? Redwood Bank? Together Energy? Or the Asda and Tesco supermarket sites?

“I am sure Hatters Row was presented as a safe bet on which due diligence had been done when that deal was signed.”

But council leader Cllr Russ Bowden has hit back.

The Labour politician says ‘all of our investments are performing ahead of plan’ and that each one is backed by full and detailed due diligence.

He added: “It is ridiculous to compare our investment programme with a decision made in the 1980s by people that aren’t here to explain themselves.

“Cllr Barr is right to point the finger – starting with himself and his colleagues who did nothing about Hatters Row when they were running the council.

“It took this administration to investigate the terms of that deal, which simply wouldn’t even be considered now.

“Our commercial approach is widely recognised in the public sector for the rigour, risk assessment appraisals, external expert advice and due diligence.

“That is a far cry from the Liberal Democrats’ failed proposal to turn Walton Hall into a hotel, taking out LOBO (lender option borrower option) loans, poor stewardship of council finances and leaving us with a Time Square regeneration scheme that would cost residents, rather than our current, much larger scheme that drives income to support vital services.”