A scramble track aimed at making sure young motorbike riders stay off the streets has been forced to close after Cheshire West and Chester Council sold the land to a neighbouring business.
Graham Lee, founder of BASE Motopark community interest company, who gained planning consent for the initiative in 2011, claims the council sold the Shellway Road site, Ellesmere Port, “from under us” and told The Pioneer he had been in the dark about the option taken up by William Sinclair Horticulture.
The company, which has just opened a £30m factory employing 75 workers, needs the site for storage but says it is prepared to help BASE in locating an alternative site.
Mr Lee informed BASE members: “The land has been sold from under us by the council to a company called Sinclair’s. Sadly this weekend (November 15-16) will be the last time any riding can take place on the site.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our volunteers for their hard work and all the people who have supported us with equipment and vital materials, excellent advice and services, you know who you are, thank you very much.”
Mr Lee told The Pioneer he only discovered the land had been sold by accident after involving a company “to get power on site” who approached the council for planning consent but were told the site had been bought. It was then that he “started digging”.
“I had signed a 10-year lease with three year breaks. Why would I be entering into a 10-year lease knowing that?” he added. “Everyone knew it was going on but me.”
The council says it is committed to finding an alternative location and Mr Lee acknowledged two sites had been mentioned but said the locations given were “too vague” to pursue. He remains “passionate” about the sport and the “positive impact” the project has on the young people involved. “I still want to do this with or without the council’s support,” he added.
BASE member Mike Ayrton, who has contacted Home Secretary Theresa May about the saga, agreed the land “has been sold behind the back of all the members”.
He commented: “The local kids have put their heart and soul and a lot of hard work into this track. Graham Lee, who runs the community-run project, has turned the lives of a lot of young kids by getting them off the streets with their motorbikes and on to the track.”
Mr Ayrton, who said Graham had secured helmets and safety gear for free, added: “If they do not relocate the track the day of young kids riding on the streets will come back. The local council need to come up with an alternative land for a track.”
Fellow member Cllr Justin Madders, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for the town, told The Chronicle CWaC’s behaviour was “a scandal”. He said on Facebook: “Shame on you Cheshire West for allowing this to happen.”
Council spokeswoman Laura Johnson said the council had leased the land to BASE for a “peppercorn rent” and the team had “known for over a year” that Sinclair had an interest in the site. The council was committed to working with BASE to find an alternative location.