BUSINESSMAN Matthew Mooney has asked Tatton MP Esther McVey to instigate an independent inquiry into Knutsford Town Council’s ‘handling’ of 60 King Street.

Mr Mooney was the managing director of La Belle Epoque, which left the grade two listed building in June 2019 following a five-year dispute with the town council.

The council agreed last week to write off a debt of more than £67,000 it said it was owed by La Belle Epoque, its former tenant at 60 King Street.

The iconic building is owned by the council, and had been La Belle Epoque’s home for 46 years.

A report by town clerk Adam Keppel-Green to last week’s council meeting said La Belle Epoque Limited entered administration owing a significant debt to the council of £67,494, and administrators had confirmed there was no prospect of the council recovering any part of this debt through the liquidation process.

He said it was therefore necessary to write off the debt, consisting of recharged legal fees of £49,619, rent of £14,895 for March 25 to June 16, 2019 and VAT on rent of £2,979.

Mr Mooney said the legal fees referred by the council ‘were costs run up by the council using taxpayers’ money, without their mandate or authority’.

He said: “These are costs they have chosen to incur using an expensive Manchester city centre law firm defending a claim made against Knutsford Town Council by my former company for £19,000 of unpaid invoices.

“They chose to spend nearly £50,000 in legal fees, of taxpayers’ money, to defend a claim from the Belle Époque for £19,000.

“If you engage a solicitor for litigation you are liable for their costs; you simply cannot claim somebody else should pay them for you.”

He said the council’s claim that his former company owed it rent for the quarter from March 25, 2029 was ‘entirely false’, and he had evidence confirming the council would not accept rent for that period.

He said the council had sought to blame others after squandering taxpayers’ money, and the town clerk and councillors should consider their positions.

He added: “They claim my former company owe them £2,979 in VAT. If the rent is not owed how can VAT be applicable? This element of VAT could simply be reclaimed at no loss from HMRC.

“I have asked our MP, Esther McVey, to instigate an independent inquiry into Knutsford Town Council’s handling of 60 King Street.”

The clerk said in his report that La Belle Epoque Ltd entered into a Company Voluntary Arrangement in February 2019, triggering the forfeiture clause of the lease and setting into motion its termination.

Adam Keppel-Green told the Guardian today (Tuesday): “The legal fees were recharged to the company in accordance with the lease, and were incurred through the council's efforts to ensure the tenant paid the rent and to defend a baseless and heavily-disputed claim against the council.

"The report outlining the history of the debt and the efforts we were forced to go to to ensure payment of rents is available to read on our website.”

The council said that the VAT element of the debt would be recovered from HMRC.