FOUR council bosses have refused to bow to calls to resign following a hammerblow decision by a High Court judge over a £165 million city centre scheme.

A High Court judge, Mrs Justice Lang, yesterday ruled that Winchester City Council had acted unlawfully over its handling of the development.

When the council agreed to allow developer TIAA Henderson Real Estate to propose dropping the plans for a bus station and 100 affordable homes the changes were so important the whole scheme should have gone out to tender as per EU regulations, ruled the judge.

Upholding the challenge by city councillor Kim Gottlieb, Judge Lang ruled: “In my judgment, the council has committed a serious breach of the procurement regime, which is both substantive and procedural in nature.

“This is the second occasion upon which it has committed such a breach in the lifetime of one contract. It would be an exceptional course to allow its unlawful decision to stand.”

Cllr Gottlieb called for the immediate resignation of council leader Rob Humby, chief executive Simon Eden, deputy leader Victoria Weston and the Corporate Director Steve Tilbury.

Daily Echo: Kim Gottlieb by Kings Walk, set for demolition

Cllr Kim Gottlieb

The Daily Echo asked all four whether they would step down - but all said no.

Cllr Gottlieb said: “Having its actions judged as unlawful brings great shame on Winchester City Council. The positions of those who led and guided this process are now clearly untenable.

“The council's leader, chief executive, together with the deputy leader and the corporate director should immediately resign.”

Cllr Gottlieb launched the Winchester Deserves Better campaign in June 2014 concerned at the scale, nature and alleged poor design. The Winchester march last November attracted more than 1,000 people.

In a statement, Cllr Humby said: “This is clearly disappointing, and runs against the external legal advice the council had received on this matter, and indeed the initial legal judgement which rejected a judicial review.”

Daily Echo: Cllr Rob Humby

Cllr Rob Humby

In a statement Henderson said: “We are surprised and disappointed by the Judicial Review decision, however we still have a fully consented scheme that is free from procurement challenge.

“We will now carefully consider the judgement that has been made before we determine our next steps.”

The council faces a bill of more than £1m in the fallout of the announcement, which came hours before cabinet backed the council's budget for next year.

Revised figures assessing the “immediate impact of the findings” include potential costs of more than £1m over the next four years, including an internal review, legal bills and borrowing to replace £5m which was due from Henderson.

Opposition leader, Liberal Democrat Kelsie Learney, told cabinet: “I think we have to recognise that the council is very close to the edge of a financial cliff and that was the same yesterday as it is today.

"The difference that the Silver Hill judgment has made is that we're now that much closer to the edge and stopping us going over will be that much harder.”

  • What next?

What happens next remains unclear.

One option would be that the city council could challenge the decision, as Cllr Humby told the cabinet.

He added: “Officers are considering with legal advisors next steps, including the possibility of an appeal. Meanwhile, it is important to note the court has not overturned the decision of the planning committee last December, so there is still a viable scheme which has democratic support and could be developed.”

But Huw Thomas, local architect and prominent critic of the scheme, said: “The Silver Hill monument to the Architecture of Greed is beginning to crumble.

“What they need to do now, is return to the far more sympathetic development plan that was commissioned in 2003. Moving away from this has been a very expensive and near fatal misjudgement which could have ruined the city for years to come.”

Developers Henderson have implied that they think the present scheme - with building work due to begin this April - is unaffected by the decision.

But Cllr Gottlieb has warned he will consider another High Court action if the council tries to press ahead.

Politically, the Conservative-controlled city council will be under strong pressure to review the scheme.