FRUSTRATED council chiefs are considering wresting back control of two seafront cafes which have stood empty for seven years, but they face a court battle to do so.
Bosses at Southend Council are preparing to use a get-out clause in the leases of two units, built during a £6million revamp of Pier Hill in 2005, to return them to public ownership.
But the current leaseholder, businessman Peter Woolf, claims the authority has no right to act and will burn up taxpayers’ money in the courts trying to force him out.
Mr Woolf said: “I will fight it all the way.
“They do not have a case and they will just waste time and money in the courts if they go ahead with this.
“It is in nobody’s interest to do this.”
Southend Council used European grant money to fund the revamp of Pier Hill, which included the Sky Tower observation platform, its lifts and the two outlets which have lain empty ever since.
The project was finished in 2005 and an agreement was reached with Mr Woolf to lease the shops, but problems with leaking water meant the deal was not finalised until May 2011.
Under the terms of the leases, council chiefs claim Mr Woolf must have the cafes open - either by running them himself or sub-letting them to another business - by next summer. If he does not, they believe they can activate a clause which will terminate the deals after a month.
Andrew Moring, the Tory councillor responsible for support services, said: “Clearly the council is concerned that, despite a considerable length of time, these units have not been brought forward and the council and the tenant now need to consider their options.
“The council is in discussion with the lessee and it would not be appropriate to discuss the details at the delicate state in negotiation, but taking the leases back might be one option.”
However, Mr Woolf claims a miscalculation in the size of the units - which are much bigger than first thought - means the leases are invalid.
He says he is happy to return the leases, but only if the council agrees to pay £75,000 in compensation to cover his costs from the last seven years.
Mr Woolf said: “Two solicitors have looked at my case and say it is strong.
“I’m quite happy to get out and let them get on with it, but I want my costs to be covered.”