A WINDFALL which gives leisure company Watermark five rent-free years of operation at the Cotswold Country Park and Beach was this week described as scandalous.

Cash-strapped Cotswold Water Park Society confirmed this week that it could not afford to pay more than £400,000 demanded by a controversial break clause in the lease which sublets the former Keynes Country Park to Watermark.

Had it been able to stump up the cash, Watermark would have left the park by the end of August. It will now take advantage of a five-year rent-free period.

Cotswold District Councillor for the Water Park Esmond Jenkins said he was outraged at the news.

"The situation is scandalous, he said. "That lease should never have been signed it and this simply proves those who signed it were completely incompetent.

"It was a highly dubious deal, done in secret, and it has mired local politics in sleaze. The public deserves better."

Watermark owner Max Thomas ended the lease last summer and has not paid any rent to the society since July.

Watermark paid £70,000 a year to CWPS but a clause allowed Watermark to end the lease, at its will, within the first six years.

Under the terms of the lease, the CWPS would have to pay a minimum of £265,000 plus up to £150,000 of improvement and maintenance costs to force Watermark out.

But the troubled society admitted it did not have the funds.

Speaking exclusively to the Standard Mr Thomas said his company would now remain at the country park rent free.

"Over the last four years Watermark has spent its time, effort and money providing facilities, not just for the local people but for tourists as well," he said. "If you take away all the things we provided, the park would have nothing left.

"We remain as committed as ever to the park, we will keep investing in the site and keep improving it."

He added that he would continue to work with the CWPS.

"We are not closing the door on them and we are not saying a deal cannot be found in the future. But right now we remain committed to the site and will put all our efforts into improving the park."

When the subletting deal was signed in 2007 there was a public outcry, with many fuming over the transfer of such a lucrative publicly-owned asset.

Tasha Flaherty, joint acting chief executive officer of the CWPS, said this week legal advisors had looked carefully at the lease to find grounds for it to be set aside or forfeited but concluded there were insufficient grounds.

Ms Flaherty added that every effort would be made by CWPS to ensure a positive outcome in the future for the local community.