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Cheshire council pauses deal to sell land to Lex Greensill

Helen Pidd North of England editor
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Ian Tuttle/Rex</span>
Photograph: Ian Tuttle/Rex

A council in the north-west of England has paused a deal to sell 500-acres of local authority-owned farmland to Lex Greensill owing to the Westminster lobbying row surrounding his firm.

The Labour-run Cheshire West and Chester council approved the sale in February but on Friday the chief executive said auditors would review the transaction to ensure it acted with “integrity”.

As first reported by the BBC, Greensill secured the deal after telling councillors that he planned to create a “a thriving environment of wildlife habitats and natural features” by planting new woodlands, wildflower and grassland meadows and by restoring ancient hedgerows and watercourses.

He began developing proposals in 2019 to buy part of the council’s Shotwick Park farm estate near his home in the village of Saughall near Chester.

The council approved the sale for an undisclosed sum earlier this year, on the condition that there would be public access to the land.

The council’s chief executive, Andrew Lewis, said the “high level of public interest in Mr Greensill’s relationship with central government” had led him to ask the authority’s internal auditors to review “all aspects of the transaction”, the BBC reported.

“The council has acted with full transparency and integrity in its relationship with Mr Greensill and his agents, and we have received no evidence or suggestions otherwise,” he said.

Lewis said the review was intended to “assure our residents that best value has been secured, and that the steps taken by the council at every stage in the transaction demonstrate integrity, due diligence and good governance”.

The authority said it had also “sought assurances” from Greensill that his “commitment” to the plan was “unaffected” by his firm going into administration last month, with the loss of 440 jobs, most of them in Cheshire.

The collapse of Greensill Capital and the extent of its lobbying operation are now the subject of a number of inquiries, including independent and parliamentary investigations.