Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council told a developer the Camrose covenant was not enforceable, it has been claimed.

Basron director Malcolm McPhail told councillors that the authority's legal department said there was "no restrictive covenant" on the Winchester Road football ground.

The claim - made at a public meeting on Wednesday night where plans to develop the Camrose were rejected - contrasts with the council's public position.

Since the Gazette unearthed the 'lost' covenant in February using public records, the authority has maintained it has never sought or given legal advice because it is not its place.

This saga has raised questions over the council's handling of the infamous document, with a senior opposition councillor saying "it could be better".

A covenant is an agreement between the landlord and tenant of a site restricting its use to certain criteria. Famously, a covenant was put on land at the Camrose stadium to prevent it from being used for anything other than a football stadium until 2053.

One of the council's officers previously told the public there was "no documentary evidence" of a covenant in 2017, leading to years of confusion about its existence.

Former director of borough development and improvement, Chas Bradfield, said in a committee meeting in July 2017: "Our legal team has been searching records and the Land Registry for evidence of the covenant and I think their advice to us is that they cannot find documentary evidence of it.

"What the covenant can do and how it can be enforced really lies with that documentary evidence."

The Gazette proved its existence in February using public records, and debate has since raged over whether it is enforceable.

At the council meeting that saw Basron's planning applications refused on Wednesday evening, Mr McPhail's comments raised questions over who had the documents.

He said there was no covenant on the ground, adding: "We were in discussion with the legal department at Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council many moons ago and they have confirmed that is the case."

Furthermore, when the Gazette asked the council about whether legal advice had been sought at the end of January, a spokesperson said: "As the council would never have been in a position to enforce this covenant, there has been no legal advice sought."

The handling of the covenant could have been done better by the authority, according to Labour group leader Cllr Andy McCormick.

He told The Gazette: "It does concern me when covenants are written and then 50 or 60 years later we are being told they are not enforceable, especially when we are talking about putting them on the land if the application was approved.

"If covenants are not enforceable then why have them?

"I would like to think that we would not ignore it and it would be enforced [if it is enforceable].

"It wouldn't be the first time someone in the council has failed to find a document.

"I am not a legal expert, my understanding is that the reason you put a covenant on land is to restrict its use in the future. The council place covenants on the ex-council housing stock including my house.

"It is all a bit of a legal minefield. If it is enforceable then who is going to enforce it?"

His views were echoed by fellow Labour councillor Tony Jones, who said: "We should have investigated a little more before we agreed to hand that strip of land to Hampshire County Council for a road.

"It is not good enough," he told The Gazette about the council's support for the club, saying they should stop "trying to hide behind putting all this money into Winklebury".

Cllr Jones likened the situation with the football club to the Anvil - which costs the council money to subsidise - but he says delivers "community benefit" in return.

"We seem to be going backwards on sport in my view."

A spokesman for BDBC said: "The only covenants relating to the use of the Basron land as a football ground that we are aware of are contained in the lease between Basron and Basingstoke Town Football Club. 

"Only the landlord can enforce these covenants. The council is not a party to this lease and cannot enforce it in any way.

"We have found no other covenant on the Basron land that is enforceable by anyone other than the land owner and tenant that would restrict the use of this land to that of a football ground."