A SPORTS group says a council is "holding a gun to its head" over a new lease at the Hazlemere Pavilion - a claim denied by a council.
John Horton, who sits on the Hazlemere Sports Association management committee, said the group - tenants at the building - is being held to ransom by Hazlemere Parish Council over the terms of the Ken Williams Memorial Pavilion lease.
The council has rebuffed that claim and says it is simply trying to protect its asset to ensure it is of the benefit to the whole of the community.
The row centres over a ‘£1 peppercorn lease’. The council’s solicitors say the agreement has expired, is not legally binding and want a commercial lease in place on the pavilion, valued at £40,500 per year.
But the HSA believes the peppercorn lease should be honoured and says it simply cannot afford to pay that commercial evaluation - a view backed by an 900-strong petition calling for the council to stick by the current rent arrangement.
The council has served HSA a Section 25 notice to vacate the pavilion by May. It says it is to force the group to the negotiation table.
Mr Horton, who decided to stay away from the meeting to let pavilion users have their say, said: "How do they expect us to run the pavilion on that valuation when we already have a repairing lease obligation?
"We don’t believe you can have a commercial rent on a community building. They’ve gone back on the original agreement, we wouldn’t have taken it on had we’d know this would happen.
"They have served us with the Section 25 notice and are basically holding a gun to our head. It’s hard to negotiate with the threat of eviction hanging over your head."
About 80 people connected to the sports association attended HPC’s full council meeting last Tuesday to quiz councillors about the dispute.
Council chairman Cllr Brian Mapletoft told the meeting the council had not received formal indication that the two original trustees of HSA were willing to negotiate a new lease.
HSA members disputed that claim and said the group had a proposal rejected out of hand in January 2013 by a previous incarnation of the council, which Cllr Mapletoft and other current councillors were part of.
But Cllr Mapletoft said that had not been made since he became chairman in May and no-one from the group had been in contact since.
He told the meeting a two-year agreement signed in 2010 by then council chairman Cllr Judy Weaver and the HSA’s Millie Roberts had a number of legal discrepancies and was not legally binding.
Cllr Mapletoft added: "If terms cannot be agreed with the trustees of HSA, either the council may consider running the pavilion itself, or a new operator may be invited to take a lease of the pavilion.
"Either way it is the council’s aim that the pavilion continues to be used for the benefit of the community, sports enthusiasts and associated clubs, for as long as it is viable to do so."
A public consultation would be held, subject to the agreement of fellow councillors, about the future running of the pavilion in the event a deal could not be struck, Cllr Mapletoft pledged.
Steve Roy, whose wife is a HSA trustee, said he felt the council were "preparing for a court battle, not a negotiation".
The group has called for a full and open public debate on the situation.
More than 900 people have signed a petition calling for the council to stick by the peppercorn rent arrangement. Click here to view it.