The Cliff warns council of judicial review proposal

THE Seacourt-based The Cliff group may seek a judicial review of Larne Borough Council’s stance on the lease for the £2.5 million sporting facility.

The Cliff (Larne) Ltd, which runs the complex comprising the borough’s only full-size 3G synthetic pitch, has claimed that it is in “real peril of closure” unless the local authority agrees to amend the tenancy to allow sub-letting.

Under the terms of the existing agreement, The Cliff is unable to draw rent for use of the part of the premises which houses Seacourt Community Centre. The Cliff also claims the legal wrangle meant youth work funding from the North Eastern Education Board was withdrawn, as well as a 75 per cent council grant towards running costs.

The stand-off prevents transfer of title to The Cliff (Larne) Ltd from The Cliff Association - a body originally comprised of Seacourt Community Council and Larne Youth Football Club and set up to draw down £2.3 million Sport NI funding for the project. The original lease was signed in February, 2009. Larne Youth has since withdrawn from the association.

For its part, Larne Council has maintained to date that its decisions were informed by its legal advice. Chief executive Geraldine McGahey informed elected members last month that the lease covers the sports facility and pitches, but excludes the community centre, which she claimed, had been “taken over” by The Cliff “without authority”.

The Larne Times understands that the council was to be notified by fax on Friday of the “proposed claim for judicial review” in which The Cliff’s solicitors seek a meeting of council within two weeks to amend the lease.

The legal correspondence states: “This letter has been drafted to allow Larne Borough Council to now deal with our client’s grievances and so as to avoid the substantial costs of bringing an application for judicial review before the High Court.”

Through its solicitor, The Cliff claims to have received written and oral indications from the council which amounted to “legitimate expectation” that the lease would be amended. It alleges that the council “abdicated its statutory functions, powers and duties through indefinite delay in debating the issue of the lease” and lists minuted adjournments between June, 2011 last year and February this year.

A ruling by Mayor Bobby McKee on February 6 which prevented his DUP colleague Cllr Drew Niblock proposing a motion for debate of the lease in a bid to prevent closure of Seacourt Youth Club is also cited in the letter.

The Cliff has demanded that the council meeting be held in the absence of Mrs McGahey and also requests that any members of the council who - like the chief executive - “purported to hold directorships” at The Cliff should “absence themselves from the debate on the grounds that they have had an interest ... and therefore would be presumed biased”.

The council has nominated several councillors and its chief executive to represent the local authority on The Cliff’s board: The Cliff argues that the council has no right to do so.

The solicitor’s letter informs the council that failure to respond “in the above terms and within this reasonable time frame” will result in an application to the High Court for judicial review.

The Larne Times understands the council has passed on the letter to its legal advisers. A spokesperson said the local authority “does not wish to comment at this time”.