Anger over a ‘mishandled’ sell-off of a park lodge led Labour councillors to boycott a meeting about the green space’s future.

Labour members of Barnet Council staged a dramatic walkout of last Tuesday’s (March 5) ‘council as trustee’ meeting in protest at the sale of the lodge at Victoria Park, Finchley.

The Labour Group claims the sell-off was flawed from beginning to end and the council missed out on opportunities to get a better deal for residents.

But Conservative Group chairman Cllr Peter Zinkin branded Labour’s protest a stunt and called it “the longest walk-out in history”, pointing out that the sale of the lodge had been agreed five years ago.

The lodge was sold for £623,000 in 2016 – and the Victoria Park Masterplan, agreed by the remaining Conservative members on Tuesday, will see the money invested in upgrades to the green space.

But in a statement issued after the meeting, Cllr Ross Houston, Labour member for West Finchley, branded the sale “commercially inept”.

Cllr Houston claimed it was “subject to a chaotic and highly questionable decision-making process” and “against the overwhelming opinion of residents and local Labour councillors”.

A restrictive covenant on the lodge drawn up in 1898 stated that it could only be used in connection with the park’s recreational purpose – as a gardener’s cottage or similar structure.

But the council was told the covenant was not enforceable and a developer subsequently won permission to build six flats at the site.

Cllr Houston said: “The site should never have been sold. Labour councillors warned that, if sold, it would end up in the hands of developers. We were proved right.

“As I pointed out at the time, we sold it for the price of a three-bedroom house, not a block of flats.

“I understand that the site will now be sold for at least double the price we sold it for.

“Everything about the sale was mishandled.”

Cllr Houston insisted that the Labour group had no objection to spending the money from the lodge’s sale on the park but wanted to make a point about the handling of the whole process.

He said the council could have negotiated a better deal with the developer.

But Conservative chairman Cllr Peter Zinkin branded Labour’s move “a complete and utter stunt”.

He pointed out that the sale of the lodge was first proposed in 2009 and agreed in 2014.

Cllr Zinkin said the point of the meeting on Tuesday was to ratify a previously agreed decision to spend the money from the lodge’s sale on the park – a move Labour had backed at a meeting of the environment committee in November.

He said: “Why did Labour unanimously agree the proposal if at full council meeting they thought it was so bad they had to walk out in protest?

“What we were voting on was whether the money raised from the sale of the lodge could be spent on improving the facilities in the park for the benefit of local residents.”

Cllr Zinkin pointed out that the council’s planning committee had rejected the proposals for flats, but its decision was overturned by the secretary of state following an appeal.

In response to calls to rule out selling off any more public open space, Cllr Zinkin said the council would act “in the best interests of the Barnet community”.

He said: “Councillors have to make judgements and choices. We have a parks strategy. Barnet has a good reputation for consultation, and where we can, we try to accommodate that.

“Some decisions we make will not please everyone. That does not justify Labour walking out of a decision. It is completely irresponsible.”

A Barnet Council spokesman said: “The sale of the former lodge will enable a substantial investment of more than £620,000 into improving the park for the benefit of the many residents who use it – something which would not be possible had the building not been sold.

“These improvements have been guided by detailed public consultation.

“The decision to sell the building was taken in 2014 with agreement from Full Council as trustee for the park.

“After the Planning Inspectorate granted approval for development of the site, the council sought legal advice which established that the covenant could not be enforced.”