LEGAL battles over the Silver Hill scheme make it “more and more difficult” to start the project from scratch, Winchester’s civic leader has said.

TIAA Henderson wants to appeal a High Court ruling that Winchester City Council unlawfully kept the £165 million project from public tender, it announced on Thursday.

Cllr Frank Pearson, the council’s new leader, said the appeal could narrow options for the site but insisted an inquiry into decision-making would not be affected.

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Cllr Kim Gottlieb, who brought the judicial review as part of a campaign to redesign the scheme, accused civic chiefs of a “ploy” to prevent changes.

“The fact that Henderson are now proceeding, it all indicates that it has done a deal with the council which nobody knows about, and which flies in the face of any kind of sense that the council will now openly procure the contract,” he said.

“It seems determined to do the deal with Henderson's come what may, and all the other talk about being open and transparent ... is all fluff.”

Cllr Pearson denied that the council’s own decision not to appeal was made in the knowledge that Henderson would, but admitted cabinet were aware it was being considered.

He said Henderson could sue the council if the scheme goes back to the drawing board.

“One thing is becoming more and more clear to me ... scrapping everything and starting again becomes more and more difficult as we fully realise what the implications are,” he said.

“If we’re seen by Henderson to be acting unfairly, or they’re seen by us to be acting unfairly, there are financial implications inevitably.”

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Silver Hill campaigner Kim Gottlieb

In an email to councillors, Henderson said: “Like the council, we have taken independent legal advice throughout this process and only pursued the alterations to the consented scheme on the basis of that advice. The court judgement was therefore both surprising and disappointing.

“It is important that none of us lose sight of how much support exists within Winchester for the regeneration of Silver Hill.”

The group will have to apply to the High Court to be allowed an appeal.

Simon Eden, the council’s chief executive, said “no commitment” has been made to meeting Henderson’s costs with public money.