A council has been accused of “selling off the family silver” amid plans to place a 700-year-old medieval tower under the hammer.
Canterbury City Council this week doubled down on its hopes to auction off Sudbury Tower in the city centre despite being met with fierce opposition.
Some say the distinct building is a community asset which should remain within the authority’s portfolio. However, the council considers the tower “surplus to requirements”.
Stewart Ross, chairman of the Canterbury Commemoration Society, likened the potential deal to “selling off the family silver for a bit of short-term gain”.
“It’s part of our heritage, it’s been here since the Middle Ages and it commemorates a bishop who had his head chopped off, so it’s pretty special,” the 74-year-old said.
“I think the short-term gains are not worth it. Here is a really valuable piece of our heritage which – with a bit of imagination – we could make a really exciting place.
“We’re more than happy to work with the council on this, it’s a wonderful opportunity.
“I know their intentions are good – they haven’t got any money – but we’ll work with them to get something done with this wonderful building.
“Like many old cities, Canterbury’s future lies in its past, and we want to make the maximum possible use of it.”
Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society says the tower was gifted to citizens in April 1911 to help preserve the asset.
Yet the city council recently unveiled plans for the building to go under hammer on November 1 with a guide price of £370-£380,000
But the potential sale was delayed as the council and critics scrambled to settle the issue.
However, since the 1972 Local Government Act reformed the council, it is not technically the same body which inherited the site – with bosses confirming its position to sell it had been legally verified.
Newly-appointed chair of the Canterbury Society, Hilary Brian, echoed Mr Ross, adding she felt the most important element was to see “the fabric of the building is kept and maintained”.
“I think it’s really important a building of this heritage is kept as it is so that people in the future can appreciate the history of the city,” she said.
“Perhaps a commercial opening – a public house, a restaurant, a museum, gallery space – something like that that the public can appreciate.
“It’s been left to the citizens and we should be able to access it.”
The unique riverside house is named after Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury between 1375 and 1381, who helped fund the strengthening of Canterbury’s northern fortifications.
The three-storey squat square tower is constructed of flint and has medieval features such as stone quoins, a castellated parapet and a medieval gun port.
It boasts views of the River Stour through 15th-century iron windows, a period fireplace and a paved courtyard.
Announcing plans to press ahead with the auction, the city council said on Wednesday: "It remains our intention to sell Sudbury Tower and it will be listed at the next auction.
“As stated previously, it is surplus to our needs and its sale is part of our property disposal programme, which has been very carefully thought through.
"It was removed from the most recent auction following queries from some residents about our legal right to sell it.
"This issue had already been considered some time ago, and we sought legal advice which confirmed that we could.
"However, given this recent contact from residents, we decided to withdraw from the auction and double-check the legal position.
“The advice remains the same and this is why we now plan to proceed with the sale."