Dudley shopping centre accused of using snails to avoid paying tax
Snails are at the centre of a bizarre row between a council and a shopping centre over unpaid tax.
The Trident Centre in Dudley has been accused of using snail farming to try and get around paying business rates on one of its units.
Dudley Council was not happy where the trail led them and took the owners of the shopping centre to court over the allegations.
Magistrates ruled in favour of the authority but Atlantis Property, which owns the High Street centre, denies any wrongdoing and has said it is fighting the ruling.
Some business are eligible for exemptions on business rates if buildings have agricultural uses, such as fish farms. But councils have seen an increasing trend of molluscs being used as an underhand method to get around business rates.
John Sykes, chairman of Atlantis, which runs shopping centres up and down the country, confirmed a tenant was using part of the sixth floor of the Trident Centre to breed snails.
He insisted Atlantis had paid tens of thousands of pounds in business rates over the last few years and would not try and get out of paying tax.
Dudley Council's chief executive Sarah Norman said: "On February 23, the council took court action against Atlantis Holdings for business rate avoidance.
"Atlantis Holdings were seeking to avoid payment of business rates on a building owned by them, by representing to the council that a tenant company was in occupation. That tenant company was allegedly breeding snails in the building.
"This was not accepted by the council and in a court case against Atlantis before Dudley Magistrates in February 2017, a liability order was granted in the council’s favour.
“Since then we have expressed our willingness to work with Atlantis and its regeneration proposals. However, Dudley Council has a duty to collect business rates from local businesses."
But Mr Sykes said: "We have never tried to and never would avoid business rates, this is an ongoing legal matter which is not related and another example of the council trying to muddy the water, being underhanded and deceitful to the people of Dudley. It is a travesty."
It is a fresh twist in a row between the council and the shopping centre and comes after Trident Centre bosses revealed they were pulling the plug on a proposed redevelopment of the town centre site over what they called a lack of dialogue with the council.
Despite revealing details of the court action, council chiefs have insisted they are still willing to work with Trident.