Greensill lobbying row pauses Cheshire land deal

By Phil McCann
Cheshire Political Reporter, BBC News

Published
image copyrightShutterstock
image captionLex Greensill was an unpaid adviser to then Prime Minister David Cameron

A deal for the financier Lex Greensill to buy 500 acres of council-owned Cheshire farmland has been paused due to the Westminster lobbying row surrounding his firm.

Cheshire West and Chester Council said auditors would review the transaction to ensure it acted with "integrity".

Mr Greensill planned to create a "natural sanctuary for wildlife" in his home village of Saughall near Chester.

Councillors approved the sale in February but it has not completed.

Mr Greensill's firm Greensill Capital is at the centre of a row about access, influence and lobbying that has engulfed Westminster.

The firm collapsed in March, leading to 305 redundancies at Daresbury in Cheshire.

Mr Greensill began developing proposals in 2019 to purchase part of Cheshire West and Chester Council's Shotwick Park farm estate near his home.

The Labour-led council approved the sale for an undisclosed sum earlier this year, on the condition that there would be public access to the land.

In a document outlining his plans, Mr Greensill said he wanted to create "a thriving environment of wildlife habitats and natural features" on the site, by planting new woodlands, wildflower and grassland meadows and by restoring ancient hedgerows and watercourses.

He said the projects was his "dream" to make "a small impact" on issues including climate change, wildlife decline and the loss of natural habitats.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionLex Greensill's company collapsed last month

The council's chief executive Andrew Lewis said the "high level of public interest in Mr Greensill's relationship with central government" had led him to ask the authority's internal auditors to review "all aspects of the transaction".

"The council has acted with full transparency and integrity in its relationship with Mr Greensill and his agents, and we have received no evidence or suggestions otherwise," he said.

Mr Lewis said the review was intended to "assure our residents that best value has been secured, and that the steps taken by the council at every stage in the transaction demonstrate integrity, due diligence and good governance".

The authority said it had also "sought assurances" from Mr Greensill that his "commitment" to the plan was "unaffected" by the collapse of his company.

At the February meeting where approval was granted, senior Labour councillor Matt Bryan said "these are the kind of bright futuristic ideas that we should be considering" to help the fight against climate change.

Saughall Conservative councillor Simon Eardley said the plan was "widely backed by the local community" and that Mr Greensill had been "open and honest about his intentions and the vision he has for the land".

He added that Mr Greensill's motivation for the plan was "a family desire to give something back to community in which they live".

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