COUNCIL leader Cllr Russ Bowden says it is not his job to judge Town Hall figures responsible for an extraordinary lease deal – which can’t be renegotiated.

In 2018, it was revealed that town centre shopping site Hatters Row would cost Warrington Borough Council almost £10.5 million over the next century as it is locked into a £109,000-a-year lease deal dating back to 1989.

As reported, 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 was also confirmed that Hatters Row continued to operate at a loss despite being fully occupied.

The deal continues to cause concern in the town.

In a joint statement, Liberal Democrat Cllr Ian Marks, a former council leader, and Cllr Bob Barr, leader of the town’s Liberal Democrats, said: “The Hatters Row lease was an appalling deal negotiated by a Labour administration who were naive, poorly informed or worse.

“However, both the LibDem-led administration of 2006-2011 and the post-2011 Labour administration have taken legal and financial advice as to whether the deal can be un-picked and it appears that it can’t.”

The pair say the losses that will accumulate on Hatters Row are most unfortunate.

They added: “When local authorities start to undertake ever riskier entrepreneurial activities to make ends meet, it is inevitable that some deals will go bad and the consequences will be picked up by future councils and the taxpayer.

“Being far more open about deals, and getting cross-party approval for long-term investments, would help. But ultimately this is the wrong way to fund local services.”

But Cllr Bowden, Labour, says the deal for Hatters Row was signed more than 30 years ago by people ‘that aren’t here any longer and can’t answer for it’.

He said: “My job is not to judge them now with information that we do not have, but to get the best possible future outcome for the council and our residents.

“That is why I commissioned the last review into the terms of the deal and why this council will continue to make the best possible use of Hatters Row going forward.”