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You Can't Please All of The People...

August 20, 2018 1:08 PM

Jerry Ridgway letter copyOver the last few days, I've been made aware of a leaflet being circulated to some areas of Sandgate by Jerry Ridgway questioning many points of the puchase of Sandgate Escarpment and Martello Towers 6 & 7. I know that Mr Ridgway has asked many of these questions to Sandgate Parish Council before, and had had responses, but it seems those have not reassured him - that is his right, despite a 6 to 1 majority (359 to 60) of those local residents who voted wanting the Council to buy the land and towers in the referendum held in May.

Having received that letter, one local resident has emailed me and asked me a number of questions based on the concerns it raises. That email, and my (personal) response are below.

"Dear Mr.Prater,

"Yesterday,18 Aug.2018,I received a document from a Mr Jeremy Ridgway on the subject of the Escarpment and addressed to all Sandgate residents. While alarmist in tone, it does raise some points which I think need answering as a matter of urgency.

"1. Was legal advice taken prior to the referendum on/purchase of the Sandgate Escarpment? Mr.Ridgway speaks of possible illegality leading to a judicial review,obviously based on his gaining support - and the funds - for such an action but never- theless disturbing.

"2. Has the purchase of the Escarpment been finalised so that the Parish Council is now the owner?

"3. Mr.Ridgway questions the future of the Escarpment,therefore it would be useful if the Parish Council could publish an outline business plan online, which might reassure Sandgate residents.

"4. The Martello Towers. Is the Council in contact with English Heritage as to their future? If so and again this should be mentioned as further reassurance to the residents. Of course Mr Ridgway doesn't voice a future for the Escarpment. However,his document might well unsettle a proportion of the residents. Therefore a thoroughly researched and concise business plan, published online, would be invaluable for preventing further such interventions.

"Yours sincerely,"

And my reply:

"Many thanks for your email: I've only recently been made aware of Mr Ridgway's letter being distributed to local residents.

"This answer is from me as a Councillor rather than on behalf of the Council. However, to be clear, I have supported the proposal to both ask local residents if they wanted to buy the land and towers, and then the proposal to buy the land and towers after it received 6 to 1 local support, throughout.

"To address your points in turn:

"1. Was legal advice taken prior to the referendum on/purchase of the Sandgate Escarpment? Mr.Ridgway speaks of possible illegality leading to a judicial review,obviously based on his gaining support - and the funds - for such an action but nevertheless disturbing.

"It would be disturbing if legal advice had not been taken, but it was.

"Local Government can't just go out and borrow £500,000 on a whim: you need to follow tight procedures, have the process and deal agreed by the Local Association of Local Councils, follow legislation and carry out a consultation to the satisfaction of the Public Works Loan Board, who are in themselves a Government Agency working to legislation.

"Sandgate Parish Council have sought and been guided by the legal advice of their "professional body" - The Association of Local Councils - throughout (who provide legal advice to Town and Parish Councils across their country).

"The Council obviously can't stop someone threatening to sue them any more than they can stop someone threatening to sue any individual, but I am confident in this case that there are no grounds to do so. The Council followed legal advice and legislation throughout, and the process and decision has been open to and received full scrutiny at all points - well in excess of the legal minimum.

"I would be disappointed if someone sought at their own expense to challenge that process through the courts, as the Council would be required to seek legal advice to defend themselves, and that would cost money I'd far prefer spent on securing our heritage, but that it his right.

"2. Has the purchase of the Escarpment been finalised so that the Parish Council is now the owner?

"No: I understand the legal work on the conveyancing is progressing, but not yet completed.

"3. Mr Ridgway questions the future of the Escarpment, therefore it would be useful if the Parish Council could publish an outline business plan online, which might reassure Sandgate residents.

"The Council provided a business case and more, at some considerable detail, to all residents prior to asking local residents their opinion on this on May. As you'll see from the Parish Council website the Council published:

"...all published before the vote itself. http://www.sandgatepc.kentparishes.gov.uk/sandgate-escarpment-referendum-result/

"However a key point is that the Council have taken on board the feedback of local people through the consultation process: there is no business. This is a proposal to buy and secure the future of the escarpment and the towers and protect them from future development - that is all.

"There is currently planning permission in place on the land and the towers: we will allow it to lapse, and put in place legal protections to ensure they are not developed in future. By buying them, we are stopping property developers from owning them, and developing them. That is what local residents told us they wanted to see, and they were much less interested in ideas to bring the towers into any sort of use. There are therefore no proposals to bring the towers into any sort of use.

"The financing of the deal has seen us take a loan equal to:

  • the purchase cost;

  • some money to improve the escarpment (path improvements, fencing, seats etc) do some limited works to protect and open up view of the towers (removing trees from moats, probably stripping off climbing growth, fencing of moats, possibly steps into moats to allow people to walk around the foot of the buildings - all under Historic England guidance) but no further. There has been no substantial renovation work done on the towers probably in a century, and Heritage England and we are confident that few additional works would be required to keep them in that state for many decades to come. Substantial expenditure will only be needed if you were trying to open up the towers or bring them back into use, which we are not.

  • some further money to hold as an "endowment" to maintain the land and towers in future (costs do of course arise with any land, and holding some reserves to deal with them as they come up seems prudent).

"4. The Martello Towers. Is the Council in contact with English Heritage as to their future? If so and again this should be mentioned as further reassurance to the residents.

"The Parish Council are in contact with Historic England (which is commonly referred to as English Heritage and is the body actually responsible for managing the National Heritage List for England https://historicengland.org.uk/about/what-we-do/historic-england-and-english-heritage/ - English Heritage is actually a different body) and have discussed the proposals with them throughout.

"We discussed, as I'm sure you'd expect, the views of Historic England before making the final decision to proceed at our meeting on 22nd May. As you'll see from the minutes and report of that meeting (at http://www.sandgatepc.kentparishes.gov.uk/extraordinary-parish-council-agenda-22-05-18/) the main report at http://www.sandgatepc.kentparishes.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/22-5-18-consultation-report.pdf under point 12 gives the following advice by the principal South Eastern adviser to Historic England:

"should you acquire the towers we will not expect you to implement immediate repairs. It has taken a long time for the towers to get into their current condition. They are not deteriorating at a fast rate and we can work with you to deliver a solution in a phased way. Unlike for listed buildings there are much more limited powers of enforcement to make owners repair a scheduled monument".

"I hope that is reassuring to you, as it was to me, that Historic England neither wants nor expects significant immediate expenditure, and have reassured the Council so, in writing.

"The Council are also in touch with a number of other bodies - from charities to the National Lottery to Kent Public Rights of Way department, and have sought to reassure Mr Ridgway on this point repeatedly.

"I hope this is of help."