High Court challenge to city after U-turn on arena site

A LEADING property developer is challenging Leeds City Council in the High Court over its shock decision to develop the city's new 12,500-seat arena on land not originally on the shortlist.

Businesswoman Jan Fletcher has begun court proceedings against the council after it opted to buy land from Leeds Metropolitan University and not proceed with the only two options thought to be in the running – one of which involved Mrs Fletcher's company Montpellier Estates.

Leeds Council confirmed yesterday it had received a damages claim over the choice of a site in Claypit Lane alleging "...that the council breached its statutory duties in relation to the public procurement exercise which the council decided to terminate in November, on value for money grounds".

The council insisted it strongly denied any breach and would be vigorously defending any claim. It said it would continue to work on its plans for the arena.

The council's decision, made by the executive board in November, was a complete surprise, no earlier public indication being given that the Claypit Lane site was under consideration.

At the same meeting, the council agreed to buy a building from Leeds Met for 6m to join up with an adjacent council-owned car park to create a five-acre site for a new arena development.

How Claypit Lane emerged on the shortlist is not entirely clear. It was previously planned to become a major commercial and residential development but that fell through after developers Castlemore pulled out of the 275m scheme early last year.

A site at Elland Road, put forward by private developer GMI, was selected by the council as a reserve option for the arena, and Montpellier's site at Sweet Street, in Holbeck was sidelined.

Leeds Council has told the Yorkshire Post it first considered alternative uses for the site around April.

Regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, which has controversially agreed to pump millions into the project despite objections from the rival Sheffield Arena, said it became aware that Claypit Lane was a possible site in June.

An economic impact assessment on what had become three possible sites was carried out in September on behalf of Yorkshire Forward.

Last night Montpellier released a statement which said: "Montpellier Estates can confirm that it has issued proceedings against Leeds City Council (LCC) in connection with the competition to award a contract to develop the Leeds Arena. Montpellier has issued the proceedings to obtain information from LCC that Montpellier is entitled to, has requested and that LCC has refused to disclose.

"Montpellier regrets that LCC left it with no alternative to issuing proceedings. The proceedings necessarily involve the choice of the Claypit Lane site as the site for the Leeds Arena. As the matter is sub judice, Montpellier can make no further comment on the matter."

Montpellier chairman Jan Fletcher OBE said. "It is with great regret, that Leeds City Council have left us with no alternative, other than to take this action. No-one could be more passionate about the success of both Leeds and Yorkshire than I am."

Woman behind legal threat

Jan Fletcher is probably the best known businesswoman in Yorkshire.

The 54-year-old has a wide range of interests, including international property investment and development, natural health products and restaurants, such as the Drum and Monkey in Harrogate.

She helped set up and chaired Marketing Leeds for four years before standing down last year to concentrate on her business interests.

A former Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year, she was awarded an OBE in 1997 for services to industry.