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Whitstable: Community groups' lawyers write to Canterbury City Council

Campaigners against the sale of a piece of land with sea views in Whitstable are taking legal action.

Lawyers for The Oval Chalet Preservation Community Group (OCPC) and the Whitstable Society have sent a pre-action protocol letter to Canterbury City Council after it sold the land in Sea Street to developers for £150,000.

Critics claim the land was sold far too cheaply and should remain as public open space.

Campaigners at the Oval Chalet site
Campaigners at the Oval Chalet site

The protocol is a legal document, sent in advance of court proceedings, that sets out the grounds on which the lawyers believe that a judge would declare the contract void.

It also claims to prove that the Oval should legally considered to be public open space.

The document demands information that campaigner say has been kept secret, even from councillors, including council reports and minutes of meetings, the full contract with Sea Street Developments Ltd, and the briefing from Canterbury City Council to Urban Delivery, the company which valued the land at a reputed £160,000 – a small fraction of its estimated worth of between £1m to £1.6m.

The Oval Chalet, behind the Tile Warehouse in Sea Street, Whitstable
The Oval Chalet, behind the Tile Warehouse in Sea Street, Whitstable

Suzanne Blaustone, the co-chairman of the OCPC said: “We have been forced to issue legal proceedings to assure the council’s attention to this matter, as they have not, up to now, been willing to review the case in detail, in order to resolve the errors that occurred and terminate the illegal contract.

“The council should now be in a position to decide one way or the other how to resolve the sale of the property when their legal advisors comment on our grounds put forward in the pre-action protocol.

“We are promised the council will respond as soon as possible to minimise the time and public money wasted, if they decide to work with us and the wider community.”

Campaigners at the Oval Chalet site
Campaigners at the Oval Chalet site

The council has until January 15 to respond. Court proceedings, in the form of a judicial review, could follow.

Kim Foster, OCPC steering committee member, said: “Following the submission of the letter, and a recent meeting we have had with the council, we are hoping they will accept that the contract is illegal, and work with us.

“The Oval site, in its entirety, should remain public open space – developed to Sea Wall level – as was always intended.”

Canterbury City Council chief executive Colin Carmichael said: "We can confirm that the Oval Chalet campaign group has launched the action against the council.

"We too hope that there will be no need to take this through the courts, as public money would need to be spent to deal with it.

“However, as it is formal legal action, the council will take advice and consider what has been said.

"So far, it seems that the position put by the group contradicts the advice we have so far received from our own advisers, but we will, of course, in the light of this new position, test that advice yet again.”

In December, the directors of the Whitstable Oyster Company which formed Sea Street Developments, threatened legal action against protesters who they claimed were making unfounded accusations of corruption.

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