A MAJOR £4m shopping centre expansion in Wirral could fail to materialise after a council split over selling land to developers.
Ardwood Properties, who took over Liscard's Cherry Tree shopping centre last year, want to extend the existing shopping area by building a two-storey car park and increasing the number of shop units.
Planning permission for the controversial scheme, which has been opposed by local residents, was passed by the council in February.
But now the Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors on Wirral's cabinet have rejected an offer from the developers to buy back the council's lease to the car park where much of the development would be.
Liberal Democrats said they would not accept the loss of £110,000 per year in revenue from car parking charges and joined with Conservatives in rejecting the Ardwood Properties's offer.
Cllr Stuart Kelly, leader of the Liberal Democrat group and cabinet member for central services, had the casting vote.
He said: "I'm not prepared to lose money from the council's revenue budget to subsidise shops.
"If they upped the offer so the effect was neutral on the budget I would consider it. But the amount they offered was not enough."
The offer by Ardwood Properties was rejected after Liberal Democrat and Conservative cabinet members voted against it on the hung council.
Cllr Kelly said: "The director of finance described it as not a particularly good financial deal."
Wallasey MP Angela Eagle accused Liberal Democrats and Conservatives of "taking a narrow and short-sighted view of this issue and putting the whole development in jeopardy".
She said senior council officers had recommended the offer be accepted, and added: "Since my election in 1992, people have been telling me that the shopping centre has been at risk of going downhill.
"I have worked with the council to try and reverse that trend. Quite rightly, public money was used to encourage Wilkinson's into the centre and that has given it a boost. This is the next logical step."
When news of the plans to develop the centre emerged last year opposition to the scheme was fierce, and local people threatened to barricade roads around the town centre if the scheme went ahead.
At the time Robert Maxted, managing director of Ardwood, said the scheme was crucial to the centre's future, and the council's decision meant they could not proceed with their plans.
He said: "Unless they reconsider it means all the months of negotiations have been fruitless. We have pre-let a lot of the space and there are retailers who want to come to Wallasey or expand there. The council only has a 10-year lease on the car park, and we think they would pick up something in the order of £150-200,000 in rates from the new businesses of the development went ahead."