VILLAGERS in Milverton claim taxpayers could be short changed by almost £1 million after a plot of council-owned land was sold for a fraction of its value.

The 'ransom strip' will open the way to a housing development on a field off Creedwell Orchard, Milverton, and bring to an end a 40-year deadlock between a building firm and Taunton Deane Borough Council.

During the long-running saga dating back to the 1970s, the Deane originally tried to sell the plot to S. Notaro Ltd for £1.2 million to allow a 72-home estate to be built.

The council has now thrashed out an agreement whereby Notaro pays £350,000 upfront for permission to build 20 of the homes and is then billed £16,667 for each subsequent home over the next 25 years, according to documents seen by the County Gazette.

Milverton's district councillor Gwil Wren said: "Villagers feel we've been sold down the river.

"Taunton Deane Borough Council is just focusing on the money. It's sold the site for a fraction of its value and there's no guarantee we'll get any more for it.

"I'm very disappointed with the way they've handled it - it just went through on the nod and very few councillors bothered to ask any questions."

Villager Chris Mann said the contract drawn up by the Deane House means Notaro simply need to sit on the site for 25 years "to avoid paying a penny more" and allows the company to wriggle out of building affordable homes.

He added: "It's the death knell for the heritage settlement of Milverton, a recognised jewel within Taunton Deane, whose medieval streets will be unable to cope with the increased traffic from the worst imaginable position in the village."

Joe Notaro, of S. Notaro Ltd, declined to confirm the figures, adding: "We're still crossing the 'ts' and dotting the 'is' on the contract.

"It's been almost 40 years now, so this is an absolute relief and we just want to crack on and build some much-needed homes for everybody.

"We'll be in shortly to get the first spade in the ground."

A Deane House spokeswoman said: "The land transaction is in progress. The figures that are not in the public domain remain commercially confidential."