THE owner of La Belle Epoque has defended his decision to lambaste Knutsford Town Council on huge signs outside his restaurant – despite being accused of 'putting the public at risk'.

Matthew Mooney's company vacated 60 King Street at the weekend after a long-running dispute with the town council.

The grade-two listed building is owned by the council and has been La Belle Epoque’s home for 46 years.

Knutsford Guardian:

Matthew Mooney

Banners appeared on the Gaskell Memorial Tower at the end of last week, one stating: ‘Destroying Independent Businesses – Knutsford Town Council – Wasting Tax Payers Money – Knutsford Town Council', and a second stating: ‘Au Revoir From Belle Epoque And Merci Beaucoup To Our Wonderful Customers’.

Mr Mooney told the Guardian: “Obviously we wanted to mark the occasion and thank our very loyal customers of the past 46 years, and we thought it was appropriate to do it in a Belle Epoque style.

“In reference to the banner referring to the conduct of the town council, we completely stand by those comments. We very much believe that in their persistence in our removal from 60 King Street, they’ve squandered taxpayers' money on unnecessary legal fees, and ultimately the demise of a well-respected, highly-acclaimed family business.

Knutsford Guardian:

The banner slamming Knutsford Town Council

“I just want to say a massive thank you for all the support our customers have shown to us. We’re very proud of what we have achieved over the past 46 years with two AA rosettes, being recommended by the Michelin guide for more than 30 years and a host of national awards, but most importantly, it’s our long-standing customers that have made it worthwhile.”

Last month the council revealed that the company had accepted that its lease had been forfeit, and it had been agreed the company would vacate the premises.

Town council clerk Adam Keppel-Green told the Guardian: "La Belle Epoque Limited vacated the premises by 4pm on Sunday when the town council entered the building and took possession. This marked the end of four challenging years between the council as landlord and La Belle Epoque Limited as tenant.

"Notwithstanding the message, the council was extremely disappointed that La Belle Epoque put the public at risk by hanging two banners off the Gaskell Memorial Tower on Friday afternoon. When the banners were removed it was apparent that the wood used to weight the banners was close to falling off and down onto King Street."

The Assets and Operations Committee met last Thursday to consider the future management of the property, and councillors agreed to seek a new tenant for the property, which dates back to the early 1900s.

Mr Keppel-Green said: “The committee appraised three options; the sale of the building, a new tenant and running the building ourselves. The decision taken was to progress finding a new tenant for the property.

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“The town council anticipates letting the building on a full repairing and insuring lease, removing the obligation on the town council of being responsible for the building’s maintenance.

“Over the next few weeks we will be agreeing the heads of terms for the new leasing arrangements and appointing a commercial estate agent to market the property. We anticipate it being advertised in late July.”