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Kent county Council stops bid to block the disposal of eight windmills in the county

An attempt to block the disposal of eight historic windmills has been defeated despite a public backlash against the plans.

Kent County Council (KCC) wants to save around £150,000 a year looking after the structures by handing them over to special interest groups to run and maintain.

Union Windmill Cranbrook Pic Google
Union Windmill Cranbrook Pic Google

Members of the Environment and Transport cabinet committee debated whether the landmarks should stay in KCC hands.

Labour member Barry Lewis put forward a recommendation for KCC to keep hold of the windmills because the annual cost to do so is “chicken feed”.

The move followed the publication of a questionnaire survey completed by more than 2,300 when around 87% said they disagreed with the proposal to offload the buildings.

Cllr Lewis said that by putting the windmills into the hands of new owners risked destroying the county’s heritage, not to protect it.

He added: “It’s an absolute scandal that a Conservative Party that has the name ‘conservative’ is opposed to the conservation of our heritage.”

Committee chairman Cllr Sean Holden said: “These windmills the council owns would probably not exist if KCC had not done a fine job of rescuing and maintaining these distinctive parts of Kent’s heritage”

He feared “the rapid undoing of seven decades of care” by divesting the sites.

Cllr Sean Holden, of Kent County Council
Cllr Sean Holden, of Kent County Council

Cabinet member for the environment, Cllr Robert Thomas argued the windmills are “not being closed, not being knocked down or turned into Air BnBs”.

He told members: “I do not see myself as a cultural or heritage vandal.”

Deputy cabinet member for finance, Cllr Harry Rayner said the council was facing the prospect of finding £83m in savings next year and that all discretionary spending had to be looked at.

The council currently owns the freehold of all eight, which are all located in different local authority footprints.

They are: Chillenden Mill; Union Mill, Cranbrook; Herne Mill, Draper’s Mill, Margate; Meopham Mill; Davidson’s Mill, Stelling Minnis; West Kingsdown Mill and Stocks Mill, Wittersham.

The recommendation to keep them in KCC control was defeated by eight votes to six.

They were acquired by KCC as ‘owner of last resort’ between the late 1950s and the mid-1980s, some of which come with a small parcel of land or ancillary buildings.

KCC Labour Councillor Barry Lewis (Margate) in July 2024. Picture: Simon Finlay
KCC Labour Councillor Barry Lewis (Margate) in July 2024. Picture: Simon Finlay

But the council’s on-going financial constraints - caused by squeezed government funding and rocketing costs - means it is looking to “divest” them into the hands of interest or heritage groups who can pay for the windmills’ day-to-day upkeep.

Council papers report: “Financial responsibility for the maintenance and management of these eight windmill properties rests solely with KCC, apart from small-scale investment by the mill groups.

“The annual cost to the Council of maintaining the windmills portfolio in a safe structural and mechanical condition is considerable.

“Management of the windmills is only possible, however, through the work of the Friends volunteer groups who carry out small scale maintenance tasks, operate the windmills and open them to the public.”.

A nine week public consultation ended in January this year in which the vast majority of respondents to a questionnaire disagreed with KCC’s idea.

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