A COUNCILLOR says a local authority’s claim that it has saved £800,000 from the sale of historic stately home Windlestone Hall is “pie in the sky”.

Durham County Council told the BBC’s Inside Out documentary programme that the saving came from the running costs of the Grade II* listed property and estate, in Rushyford, County Durham, including maintenance and security.

But County Councillor John Shuttleworth, a prominent critic of the sale, said: “It’s a pie in the sky figure, there is nobody that can quantify that.”

The programme interviewed owner William Davenport’s mother, Terry Green, his sister Gisele Dobson, along with officers from Durham Police.

Davenport, now serving a six year jail sentence after fraudulently financing the purchase of the hall, was heard in police interview telling detectives that he had made an initial offer of just a pound because of the state it was in.

He said he was then told by a council official he could have it for a minimum of a quarter of-a-million pounds.

Davenport also seemed bemused when asked by detectives about a previous identity he had used, William Carrington.

In a statement, Stuart Timmiss, head of planning at the council, said the estate had been sold in good faith and the price fetched, £241,000, was justified by the extremely poor condition of the property and an estimated £3.5m repair bill.

He said: “We did receive confirmation from the purchaser’s bank that the funds were in place to facilitate the sale and received full payment as per the contract.

“As with all property sales, the responsibility for ensuring that the buyer can meet the financial responsibilities of the purchase lies with their solicitor.

“Following long and protracted efforts to sell the property and with no prospect of other offers coming forward in the near future, the sale has to date saved us an estimated £800,000 in costs.”

Cllr Shuttleworth warned the authority could face a repeat of the Windlestone saga elsewhere since members no longer had direct oversight of decisions on the disposal of council owned buildings and land.

He said a committee which allowed councillors to raise concerns and ask questions had been scrapped following the introduction of the cabinet system.

He said: “This will happen again, no doubt. Everything is delegated to the officers, it is not transparent at all. Members receive no information and it’s all done behind closed doors.

“As far as I know it is rubber stamped by one person.”