Published: 06:00, 08 September 2019
The purchase of a medieval castle by a council has been described as a "slap in the face for residents".
Westenhanger Castle has been snapped up by Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) for £2.9 million amid plans to make it the centrepiece of the proposed controversial Otterpool Park development.
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It now plans to create a 100-acre public park around the castle - once used as a hunting ground for Henry VII - as well as refill the moat and renovate the surrounding barns.
The venue, currently used for weddings, sits close to the border for the new garden town which, if given the green light, will see 10,000 new homes built on green land around the villages of Newington and Westenhanger.
The purchase by the authority was made possible following a decision in November 2018 from the cabinet to "purchase property to facilitate the development of Otterpool Park as necessary".
But the decision has been slammed by opposition councillors who have criticised the council for its "lack of sensitivity" and say the money could have been spent better elsewhere.
Residents give their views on Otterpool Park
Labour group leader Cllr Connor McConville said: “The Folkestone and Hythe Labour Group see the purchase of Westenhanger Castle as another slap in the face for local residents.
“At a time when councils are being starved financially and struggle to provide basic services our council, sadly, have paid over the odds for a property that is not even included in their current plans for Otterpool.
“Could this money not have been better spent reversing the crippling changes made to the council tax reduction scheme last year or investing in social housing in demand by all those on waiting lists?
“The purchase of this property goes to show the administration’s lack of sensitivity and humility for those in desperate need.”
As well as thousands of new homes, the Otterpool Park garden town - which has received many objections since it was first proposed, including one from Hythe Town Council - will include new schools, health centres, office space, convenience stores, sports halls and green spaces.
An outline planning application for the first 8,500 homes was submitted in February.
In a letter to FHDC’s head of paid service, Cllr Tim Prater, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, also opposed the new purchase: “This council and local residents needs many things.
“It is at least debatable if a castle and associated buildings are amongst them.”
Cllr Prater also took issue with the location of the castle and its relation to Otterpool: “Westenhanger Castle and the surrounding lands are outside the Otterpool development boundary, as shown on many plans and maps.
"At a time when councils are being starved financially and struggle to provide basic services our council, sadly, have paid over the odds for a property that is not even included in their current plans for Otterpool" - Cllr Connor McConville
“As Westenhanger Castle is outside the development boundary, I’d assert there has been no authority to make such a purchase.”
But the leader of the council, Cllr David Monk (Con) says by bringing the castle back into public ownership will protect the "district's heritage for future generations".
The leader added that the council "will be developing a plan for the long term future of the castle" and that part of these plans include restoring the historic tithe barns and flooding the currently dry moat.
He added: "Garden towns across the UK have been proven to work better as places for new and existing residents with a central asset.
"With Westenhanger Castle as a centrepiece, Otterpool Park can become a fantastic garden town with a strong identity.”