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Westenhanger Castle: A Response

August 28, 2019 6:12 PM
By Tim Prater in Email to Folkestone and Hythe District Council Head of Paid Service Susan Priest sent 27/8/19
Originally published by Tim Prater | Councillor for Sandgate & West Folkestone, Sandgate Village, Harvey West & Hythe East

Westenhanger Castle (photo by Ian Knox [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]) (Ian Knox [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)])Dear Susan,

I read, with some incredulity, the press release regarding the purchase of Westenhanger Castle last week (https://www.folkestone-hythe.gov.uk/news/westenhanger-castle-will-be-the-jewel-in-the-crown-of-the-otterpool-park-development).

My initial reaction was that I failed to understand how such a decision could possibly be made without discussion and debate by Council to do so, and that, at the minimum, such a decision would have to be referred to Overview and Scrutiny to discuss the business case at the least.

This Council and local residents needs many things. It is *at least* debatable if a castle and associated buildings are amongst them.

I was subsequently pointed by Bryan Rylands defending your position (!) to http://www.folkestone-hythe.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s28803/Council%20report%20-%20Otterpool%20Park%20-%2028.11.18.pdf which he claimed gave the council permission to buy the castle.

Not for the first time, I disagree with Mr Rylands.

As the summary of that report says:

"This report considers the recommendation of the cabinet that borrowing for ten million pounds be approved in order that the council can secure further parcels of land within the site of the proposed Otterpool Park Garden Town and to enable to get the scheme to the point where development can start"

Note "within".

The cabinet Report C/18/44 at recommendation 3 says:

"Subject to the council approving the additional borrowing recommended above to authorise the Corporate Director - Place and Commercial in consultation with the Leader of the Council, the Cabinet Member for Finance and the Cabinet Member for Property Management and Environmental Health to acquire property in the Otterpool Park Garden Town area"

Note "in".

Westenhanger Castle and the surrounding lands are OUTSIDE the Otterpool Development boundary, as shown on many plans and maps, including the one that has been submitted for Planning Permission, such as at https://www.folkestone-hythe.gov.uk/media/5795/Parameter-Plans/pdf/Otterpool_Park_Parameter_Plans_27_Feb_2019.pdf

As Westenhanger Castle is outside the development boundary, I'd assert there has been no authority to make such a purchase.

I'd also make the point that this resolution was reached by the previous Council, with a very different make-up to the current Council. However as one Councillor who was at that meeting has remarked to me, that discussion and decision was very much about purchases of properties in the development to aid the development, never outside nor to extend it. Indeed the Report C/18/44 gives the justification to borrow up to £10 million to proceed with purchases as:

2.2 The arguments in favour of securing further land now and granting delegated powers to acquire land can be summarised as follows:

  • The owners' lives have been disrupted through the council's plans and through no fault of their own; many of them have found the uncertainty upsetting and feel it has left them unable to plan their future. As stated above in some cases the properties will not be needed for 8 - 10 years, although the properties are not blighted in any statutory sense the council's plans may make it more difficult for them to sell. It is a matter of fairness that the council should enable them to "get on with their lives".
  • Whilst the properties immediately essential for the development of the town have been identified already, acquisition of further properties will make the development easier, for example in relation to the proposed secondary school.
  • Securing further land is contemplated in the initial collaboration agreement with Cozumel Estates Ltd.
  • It will avoid having some properties surrounded by new development which will look incongruous.
  • Delegated powers will enable speedier decisions to be made on the acquisition of properties that become available for purchase. It should be appreciated that the council will receive a rental income from the properties. It is unlikely this income will cover all the costs of borrowing and managing the properties however it will mean that some of these costs are offset.
  • In the long run the costs should be neutral, as the value of the property will be retained and it can ultimately be re-sold if for any reason development did not take place (assuming purchase is at market rate).

None of those seem pertinent to this purchase.

So I would contend, strongly, that the purchase of Westenhanger Castle as announced last week is ultra-vires, and should have been agreed by Council beforehand, or at the very least if made as an Urgent Decision MUST now be the subject of immediate call-in and debate at Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

I look forward to receiving confirmation at the earliest possible moment that this purchase will be placed on hold until it has been referred to Overview and Scrutiny Committee. If you require we to make a formal call-in and get the support of other Councillors to do so I will, but I'd suggest that the reputation of the council is best served by referring it directly to Scrutiny itself.

I await your response.

Regards,

Tim

-- 
Tim Prater

District Councillor for Sandgate and West Folkestone
Parish Councillor for Sandgate Village
Folkestone Town Councillor for Harvey West
Hythe Town Councillor for Hythe East