BRITANNIA Hotels has accused Manchester City Council of drafting a "forced sale agreement"  rather than a proposal to bring forward the development of the derelict London Road Fire Station.

In September the council used the threat of a compulsory purchase order (CPO) to encourage Hale-based Britannia to agree to a legally binding agreement to implement an existing planning consent for a 227-bed hotel.

Yesterday the council said it would seek a CPO after failing to receive a "satisfactory response" from Britannia.

But Britannia finance director Robert Ferrari has described the council's document as a "cleverly drafted one-sided forced sale contract and not an implementation/development agreement at all".

In a letter to council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein, he said it gives the council the power to buy the fire station whenever it chooses and also gives the council the right to pass the "purchase benefit" on to any third party.

"It takes away all our rights completely, exemplified by the draconian clause that prohibits our right to appeal to the secretary of state in the event that the planning department reject a planning application," wrote Mr Ferrari.

He added: "To be completely clear, we are not rejecting the idea of an implementation agreement but we are rejecting this specific forced sale contract. Despite the executive's seemingly intransigent view, I wish to reiterate that Britannia remain prepared to enter into a reasonable agreement that is designed to ensure operational status on this site as quickly as possible."

The council, which failed to CPO the building in 2011, argues that the fire station is a strategic "gateway" site that must be brought forward after decades of decay.

In a statement issued on Tuesday council leader Sir Richard Leese said: "We would still welcome a positive response from Britannia to our request for an implementation agreement as set out in our letter in October - but currently we are fighting for the future of this building and the significant contribution bringing it back in to use will give to the regeneration of Piccadilly.

"The building's owners have shown a reckless abandon in their management of what is an incredibly important, landmark property. Despite consistent public promises to develop the building, they have failed to make any tangible progress - and have therefore failed as guardians of this fine heritage building.


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