Published: 16:00, 27 January 2016
A popular country park which could have been sold off has been given a temporary reprieve after campaigners set up a petition.
Kent County Council wanted to outsource the running of the Blue Bell Hill picnic site to save money, but following a huge public backlash, it has halted plans.
The controversial move was part of wider plans that would see the authority offload smaller country parks.
The Larches in Pilgrims Way, Detling, was also earmarked, along with three other sites in Sevenoaks, Appledore and Eynsford.
A spokesman for KCC said in the current financial climate, the council has had to consider its portfolio very carefully to ensure resources are used where they have the biggest benefit for residents.
MP Tracey Crouch hit out at the council’s handling of the situation, but welcomed the decision to suspend the proposed sales pending further consideration.
She said: “Blue Bell Hill is a wonderful site, which has huge environmental and historical significance and understandably everyone is concerned about its future.
“There was little or no consultation with interested parties and there is no information available as to what it is being sold for, or how the contract with the excellent Kent Wildlife Trust will be affected.”
The council currently works with Kent Wildlife Trust to protect habitat.
The park, at the top of Blue Bell Hill, is a popular attraction and sits within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
It forms part of the 10km stretch of chalk cliff between Wouldham and Detling.In less than 24 hours, more than 1,300 people signed an online petition calling for the plans to be halted.
KCC will now review the proposal in the coming months.
John Devlin, of Greenfield Close, Eccles, said: “It has been a real escape for me from the stresses and strains of the day and is a beautiful place to recharge your batteries and replenish your spirit.”
Gill Goode, of Cornwall Crescent, Wouldham, said: “The site has magnificent views, I cannot think of another viewpoint on the North Downs which is so easily accessible.
“Having looked at the KCC vision for country parks, I think it is important the council realises smaller parks such as Blue Bell Hill offer great beauty for an increasingly urban population.”
The spot also features a memorial to three people killed when the Kent Air Ambulance crashed nearby in 1998.
Every morning at 10am we play you an hour of tunes from the 90s. We call it, #WeLoveThe90s.
Play 'Say It' with Garry and Laura on kmfm Breakfast and you could win £1,000!
Wake up to kmfm Breakfast with Garry and Laura - it's Kent's alarm call.