RESTAURANT and hotel owner Matthew Mooney and Knutsford Town Council are locked in a bitter battle over the rent and repairs for an ‘iconic’ listed building.

Mr Mooney is the owner of the Belle Epoque in King Street, which is in a Grade II* listed building.

His landlord is Knutsford Town Council, to which Mr Mooney has made an official complaint over the way he says he has been treated by the council.

Mr Mooney claimed the council had refused to enter into ‘meaningful mediation’ on several occasions and had broken written agreements.

In response, the council said Mr Mooney had been in rent arrears since 2015, and ‘with regret’ it had taken legal action to recover the debts.

Mr Mooney is asking for his complaint to be dealt with by an independent third party, and the town council said it had agreed to mediation in a bid to seek to ‘resolve issues and repair relations’.

Mr Mooney made his official complaint at the council’s Assets Committee about the conduct of the council and the committee.

He told the Guardian: “The Belle Époque has been a tenant for 45 years. We are a second-generation family business employing 40 people. Knutsford Town Council owns the building and is responsible for the repair and maintenance of the exterior.

“Over the past 45 years we have employed generations of Knutsfordians and raised thousands for charity.

“We are a great ambassador for the town. We host over 100 weddings per year, which brings huge revenue to the town. Our wedding guests fill local hotels, restaurants, bars and use many of the retailers.

“The main element of my complaint is how the town council has treated me over the past year and particularly in the past six months.

“My treatment has been unreasonable, aggressive, unethical, and disproportionate. The council has refused to enter into meaningful mediation on several occasions and has broken written agreements.

“Instead, they have rushed to litigation at every stage at a cost of thousands to my company. It is all the more galling given that successive surveys document that by any standard the town council is in breach of its repairing covenant.

“The first survey was commissioned eight years ago, the last in July 2017 - all are damning of the poor condition and state of the exterior of the building. These surveys cost thousands; I have had to fund them.

“The last survey recorded the cost of the repairs required to be over £50,000, which reflects the amount of work required. I am owed over £20,000 in unpaid invoices from the town council and have had to make a claim via the small claim court to recover these costs.”

Mr Mooney added that he had asked the town council for several years to clean the passageway at the side of 60 King Street of pigeon droppings.

The town council responded in a statement: “Knutsford Town Council takes seriously its multiple responsibilities as a landlord, custodian of one of the town’s most treasured buildings and, as a council, its responsibilities to the tax payers of Knutsford.

“The council has considerable obligations under the lease to maintain the exterior of 60 King Street and has spent more than £200,000 in the past six years, with another £50,000 of works planned for 2018.

“At the same time, the rental income from the tenant has meant we have been able to keep the precept down by £21,500 each year.

“The tenant has been in arrears of rent since 2015, through which time the council had sought to be extremely patient.

“The tenant missed numerous informal agreements on when debts would be settled, and it was with regret that the council has had to progress four legal proceedings to recover the debts, which have included claims via the County Court and most recently a wind-up petition.

“This has, naturally, put a great strain on the relationship between the town council as landlord and its tenant, La Belle Epoque Limited, and this is deeply regrettable.

“However, not receiving the income we were due would begin to affect our ability to maintain this iconic Grade II* listed building and our ability to minimise the council tax paid by our residents; this was a situation considered unacceptable by the council.

“The town council disputes it has responsibility to clean the exterior of the building of pigeon mess, but has put in place plans to minimise pigeon roosting on the building; this requires listed building consent and the council’s agent has been in discussions with the Conservation Officer regarding this.

“The town council had planned to undertake a programme of high-level works which would require the erection of scaffolding for an extended period.

"We have had difficulty in arranging these works due to the disruption it would have on the tenant’s business, but we are proactively seeking to arrange these when we are able to agree with the tenant a suitable period.

“There are further ancillary issues, including the unauthorised installation of decking and the repair of the staircase in the tower which is a tenant responsibility.

“Throughout all discussions the town council has made it clear that the payment of the rent is of paramount importance.

“The town council has agreed to mediation in an effort to seek to resolve issues and repair relations between us as landlord and La Belle Epoque Limited and throughout the council has never refused mediation.”