Published: 06:00, 29 March 2021
| Updated: 17:47, 01 April 2021
Work has finally been completed on homes worth almost £10 million combined built in-part on a plot of council land sold for just £165,000.
As new images provide the first glimpse inside the stunning seafront properties in Sea Street, Whitstable, critics have accused the local authority of missing a chance to cash in on the lucrative site.
The sale of the land by Canterbury City Council seven years ago proved controversial, sparking a High Court challenge that ended with a judge ruling it had not secured the best price for the plot.
Gorrell councillor Chris Cornell said this week: “It just shows £165,000 is not what it should have been priced at – it was an absolute steal.
“The prices [the flats are being marketed for] reflect the land should have gone for more.
“I would have thought it should have gone for three or four times more, easily.
“This money could have paid for improved transport in the area, a play park – Whitstable residents have lost out on this additional money.”
Despite ruling the 0.2-acre plot was significantly undersold, the judge ruled the sale to Sea Street Developments Ltd could go ahead.
The eight new homes are part of a complex known as The Warehouse, with the development incorporating the formerly council-owned Oval Chalet land and a plot previously occupied by Tile Warehouse.
The properties are being advertised by town estate agency Christopher Hodgson for prices ranging from £800,000 to £1.45 million, with five of them set to fetch seven-figure sums.
Company director Will Roalfe told the Gazette: “It is now completed and ready for occupation – they’ve been finishing the landscaping in the last few weeks, but it’s essentially finished.
“The first sale completed in January and we’ve got lots of interest in a number of the units, both from local buyers and buyers out of the area.
“There are two more sales going through, so there are five units remaining. The development’s really smartened up that section of Sea Street.
“The market is improving by the day and there’s huge interest in Whitstable still.”
Controversy surrounding the Sea Street development began in 2014 with the sale of the Oval Chalet land, which had been a dinghy park for more than 50 years.
The site was also used as a large retail area for the storage and sale of tiles and associated products, before trading ceased in 2016.
Plans for the development -in which the Green family had a controlling interest - were given the go-ahead by councillors five years ago.
In addition to the new homes and holiday lets, the site includes space for a new café or commercial unit, on-site parking, two public toilets and a landscape garden for public use.
City council spokesman Rob Davies says the authority has “learned” from its experiences with the site.
“A judge ultimately allowed the sale to go ahead on the basis that the council followed its processes correctly,” he said.
“For this site to be a success, and to be transformed from a piece of derelict scrubland, it had to be combined with the land that used to be home to the Tile Warehouse which limited who we could do a deal with.
“An independent valuation failed to pick up on changes to the rules on the provision of affordable housing which would have increased the value and we have learned from this.
“Having said that, we have never recognised some of the wilder valuations cited by campaigners.
“The completion of work brings to an end a process that has lasted many years but we accept it has been a controversial issue in the town and may well continue to be one in the future.”
But Graham Cox, from the Whitstable Society, which led the challenge against the sale, says the group is “astonished” by the council statement, which he claims is “plainly wrong” in several keys areas and misrepresents the judge’s ruling.
“The judge did not allow the sale to go ahead because the council ‘followed its procedures correctly’,” he said.
“He actually said the sale was well below the market value, which is illegal.
“He only concluded the sale should be allowed simply because it would have been unfair to the developer to have it cancelled after all this time.”
Mr Cox also challenged the council’s statement that the land had to be combined with a neighbouring site for the development to work.
“We provided a vast amount of evidence to show that the Oval land could be developed by itself and we actually had a scheme drawn up by local developers to show how much it could be sold for alone.”
Mr Cox also contested the council’s claim that an independent valuer had failed to pick up on changes to the affordable housing rules, which significantly affected the valuation.
“This statement maligns the valuer, whose documents we saw in detail. The valuer actually told the council that if the rules change, come back to us and we will modify the valuation accordingly.
“But when the council learned the rules had changed, they did not go back to the valuer but persisted in selling at the original price, for whatever reason."