Published: 14:58, 29 October 2020
| Updated: 14:59, 29 October 2020
A parish council's plans to purchase a new office as an investment for residents has sparked criticism from a former councillor.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the council has argued the monthly tax increase required to pay for it is less than the price of one cigarette.
Margaret Ludwig who was a member of Walmer Parish Council until 2018 says she has no objection to the plan to purchase a suitable property to replace their current leased offices in The Strand.
But she has questioned whether 62 The Strand is the most suitable premises as well as the timing of the proposal, when householders might be struggling financially as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The council's move - which is subject to an ongoing consultation - requires a loan of £250,000 and comes at a cost of an 11% precept rise for ratepayers.
Chairman James Murray has highlighted that the rise is an equivalent to 10.5p a week or £5.42 a year extra on a Band D property, which currently pays £48.66 a year.
He said: "The cost of one cigarette is 65p. And if accepted, the people of Walmer will still be paying less than those in Deal and around half the amount of Sandwich residents."
The majority of Walmer Parish Council members agree the current leased office in The Strand brings no long term benefit to parishioners, as well as being too small and lacking in privacy.
Following a virtual meeting on September 30 they agreed to move forward with the purchase proposal which requires a loan of up to £250,000 from the Public Works Loan Board.
The location of this property, giving the council strong visibility to parishioners, is favoured by members. Cllr Murray says other properties along The Strand have been considered but are not as affordable as the one proposed.
It is currently up for sale at a guide price of £365,000 with Bright & Bright estate agents but the council’s lower offer of £335,000 has been accepted, subject to contract.
Using £15,000 from the discontinued Hawkshill conservation plan and £57,000 of unrestricted funding, the council has a shortfall of £200,000.
The loan would also cover the £15,000 estimated contingency costs associated with the move.
Mrs Ludwig said: "I have the working knowledge of how the council operates, the purpose of the various committees and how they all come together to work as a council team for Walmer residents.
"I have no objection to WPC having a plan to purchase a suitable property however is this a suitable property.
"It is a small two up, two down terraced Fisherman’s Cottage, converted from residential use to business premises, organised into four small offices. I have looked at the floor plans online and concluded that without some further re-organisation these offices will not be suitable."
She also says the building is also not disabled friendly - although the council say they are keen to remedy this.
'The cost of one cigarette is 65p. And if accepted, the people of Walmer will still be paying less than those in Deal and around half the amount of Sandwich residents.'
Every household in Walmer is expected to have recieved a questionnaire survey allowing them to share their views before November 10 - which the council says has been completed.
But Mrs Ludwig claims she has not had letter through her door.
She added: "As of Monday, October 26, many residents still had not received the form.
"I am concerned that local residents have not been made fully aware of the plans, nor been given adequate opportunity to object.
"This consultation has not been undertaken in an acceptable rigorous manner."
Responding to criticism, Cllr Murray: "This is a consultation in which Walmer ratepayers are being asked to consider whether they wish us to continue to put their money into the pockets of private landlords or into a mortgage which, once the loan period is over, will mean rent free offices.
"We have made calculations based on recent lettings on The Strand and over the mortgage repayment period ratepayers would be paying around the same amount in rent as they would in mortgage payments - with nothing to show for it at the end of the lease period.
"Under this proposal Walmer will actually own a valuable community asset and the cost for the average household is a total of just £104 over the whole 20 years.”
The council is satisfied a copy of the consultation document has been delivered to every household in Walmer but would ask anyone who has not seen it, to visit the parish council’s website: walmerpc.kentparishes.gov.uk, where it has been available since October 10.
Alternatively, they can call 01304 362363 or drop into the offices.
Cllr Murray continued: "The consultation document and timetable have been approved by the Kent Association of Local Councils and by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government."
The responses will be considered by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.