Published: 06:00, 09 January 2020
| Updated: 09:51, 09 January 2020
New luxury homes built in-part on land sold by Canterbury City Council for just £165,000 are now on the market for almost a combined £10 million, KentOnline can reveal.
A high court judge ruled the council had not obtained the best price for the 0.2-acre site, which was off-loaded in a deal originally not subject to open bidding or public scrutiny.
But he decided not to quash the sale because of how much time had passed since it was agreed, saying it would be unfair on the development firm.
The eight new homes - three of them valued at £1.45m - are now being marketed for sale, sparking renewed frustration from opponents of the original deal.
Local author Julie Wassmer, a vocal campaigner against the sale, said: “The Oval site, which came to the council for use as public open space, but was sold on in secret for the paltry sum of £165,000, is now a development which will forever remain a blot on the landscape for many locals and visitors alike.
“It is a stain on the council’s reputation and those councillors who waved this development through without even the site meeting requested by Cllr Ashley Clark to assess the impact of its proportions. Shame on them.”
The new homes are part of a complex known as The Warehouse, with the development incorporating the Oval Chalet land and a plot previously occupied by Tile Warehouse.
As well as eight family houses offering two and three bedrooms, there will be seven one-bedroom holiday homes. The houses - due for completion in the spring - range in value from £800,000 to £1.45m.
Former Gorrell ward councillor and campaigner Bernadette Fisher said: “The community rose up against this development because the price paid for public land was a steal.
“What we need now is homes local people can afford, not more, mostly unlived-in, mansions for millionaires.”
As well as the new homes, there will also be a new café / commercial building, on-site parking, two public toilets and a landscape garden for public use, which was added after pressure from opponents.
Road improvements will also be made in Sea Street, while a new footway to Sea Wall will be installed.
Cllr Ashley Clark (Con) describes the development as “Manhattan-on-Sea with a Manhattan price tag to match”.
“The public space at the front will be in shadow for much of the time and it is hardly an attractive prospect for buyers given the potential for noise from those outside at all hours,” he said.
“Some people will buy anything, I suppose, but the old maxim has to be considered - let the buyer beware.”
The Whitstable Society, which spearheaded the legal challenge, claims the central part of the development is too high.
“While a low replacement building might have had planning reasons for ignoring the rest of the Town Conservation Area, one as high as it is does not and never had such a leeway,” said the Society’s Graham Cox.
“The failure to refer to the conserved styles so near along Sea Wall and, in effect, pretending that the Oval area was somehow the start of a new area of the town which could be radically different in design style at a considerable height are both absurd in our view.
“Various people did not perform their duties properly in various respects and complaints are planned, ready or in train.”
City council spokesman Leo Whitlock says the arguments over the sale of the land have been “well rehearsed over the years”.
“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 in the centre of Whitstable, it had to be combined with the land that used to be home to the Tile Warehouse which limited who the council could do a deal with.
“An independent valuation took place just before the government made 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.
“As with every scheme like this one, the developer is risking its money in the hope that whatever it builds will sell for as close to the asking price as possible.”
Sea Street Developments says the approved scheme is the “result of four years of design development with Canterbury City Council officers, public consultation and discussions with Kent Highways”.
A spokesman says the development is nearing completion, adding: “This will include a large area of public open space that was previously inaccessible and provide a quality development of residential, holiday lets and a kiosk on what was a much-neglected site in the centre of Whitstable.”
Controversial sale in 2014
The Sea Street development has been at the centre of controversy since 2014. It began with the sale of the Oval Chalet land to Sea Street Developments Ltd.
The site had been used by Whitstable Yacht Club as a dinghy park for more than 50 years.
The lease expired in March 2013 and the developers argued the site was “unused” and an “eyesore”.
As the name of the complex suggests, the site was also used as a large retail area for the storage and sale of tiles and associated products - and trading ceased in 2016.
Plans for the development - headed by Oyster Company boss James Green - were given the green light by councillors in April 2016.
A local group, the Whitstable Society, launched a legal bid against the purchase price, which at £165,000 was considered far too cheap for the vacant site.
The sale was regarded by critics as “reprehensible in the extreme”, with an official challenge going before the High Court in February 2017.
The Whitstable Society argued the land opposite Reeves Beach should be kept as public open space, but was unable to overturn the sale.
Judge Mr Justice Dove accepted the best price for the land was not secured by the council, but still ruled the sale could go ahead - a decision which the Whitstable Society applied to appeal.
Following the court case, the council launched an attack on the Whitstable Society - arguing local people were fed up with the lengthy and expensive legal battle against the sale of the Oval Chalet site.