INVERCLYDE Council has lost a landmark legal battle over an 'unreasonable and unjust' policy of pursuing Clune Park property owners for money for flats that it wants to demolish.

Actions by Municipal Buildings chiefs in imposing a levy designed to bring empty homes back into use — despite wanting them bulldozed — have been judged to be bordering on unlawful.

The council — described in a written ruling as 'not in keeping with legislative intention' — is now facing a near £2m headache after this latest in a string of defeats over the eyesore estate.

Landlord Gordon Ewing told the Telegraph the local authority now owes him around £100,000 for his 25 flats which have been subject to the wrongful imposition of the 'Long Term Empty Levy'.

Now the ruling by Scottish Assessors, in a case brought against the council by Mr Ewing, looks set to open the floodgates for other owners in the 430-property estate to claim all their payments back.

Mr Ewing said: "I'm very happy that the law ruled on our side and I sincerely hope that this opens the door for Inverclyde Council negotiating properly with property owners.

"Hopefully this will bring to an end the court fights and subsequent cost to the public purse.

"Fingers crossed this is the beginning of the end of the Clune Park saga."

Lawyers for Mr Ewing successfully argued that the council was wrong to charge the levy because it should only be applied where the intention is to bring properties back into use.

The local authority — after introducing a £2.6m regeneration plan for Clune Park ten years ago — has always intended to demolish the rundown Port Glasgow housing scheme.

In a unanimous ruling, the Scottish Assessors state: "The committee accepts appellants [landlords] submission that it is not the appellants fault that the properties are in their current condition and the appellants wish the properties to be well maintained and tenanted.

"The committee finds that the respondents [council] are actively frustrating the appellants efforts to relet their properties..."

The findings continue: "The committee agree with the appellants that the levy should not be used to punish an owner or to force an owner to give up their property so that it can be demolished.

"The committee finds that the respondents' application of the empty homes increase to the appellant's properties has been unreasonable and unjust and has not been in keeping with the legislative intention of Parliament."

Members of the council's policy and resources committee met in private session in February to 'review information' presented to them by local authority officials regarding Clune Park.

The council — which previously encouraged people to move out of the estate by giving individual home loss payments to people of up to £1,500 — then continued to pursue the legal battle.

It lost civil legal proceedings against Clune Park landlords in 2016, with a sheriff stating at the time that its bid to bulldoze the estate was based on 'flawed', 'inadequate' and 'tainted' assumptions.

The Telegraph subsequently revealed that the cost to Inverclyde's taxpayers on litigation and other expenses was in the region of £1m.

Landlord Mr Ewing said after the latest victory for the property owners: "I and others have always been willing to talk with the council and reach an amicable resolution.

"I hope that they are willing now to come and talk to us and negotiate properly."

The council has 42 days to appeal the Scottish Assessors' ruling to the Court of Session.

A spokesman for the local authority said: "We have received the judgement and will now consider the findings in detail and seek advice from counsel.

"We won't be commenting any further at this stage."