Members of a residents’ association that has spent 32 years clearing and maintaining a piece of land in Ramsgate so it can be used by the community are angry and disappointed at Thanet council’s decision to sell the site at open auction.
The Vale Square east garden is due to go under the hammer on September 13 with Allsop property auctions as part of the council’s asset disposal programme.
The sale of council owned land and property is aimed at bringing money into the coffers and reducing any maintenance costs.
But the Vale Square Residents Association, which successfully registered the garden as a community asset in 2014, has been told that if members want to own the site they will have to bid at the auction.
Jocelyn McCarthy, from the association, says a pledge from the authority that the group would be able to have the land under a community transfer has been dumped and letters and emails asking for the site to be withdrawn from auction have gone unanswered.
Mr McCarthy said: “For 32 years we have maintained the square and we were told it would transfer to us.
“When I moved here in 1986 it was a mess, rubbish dumped everywhere. But we raised money and put the railings back as part of a licence agreement with the council for us to be able to use it. We spent about £4,500 on that and every four years we spend about £4,000 to maintain the trees which all have TPOs (preservation orders). We pay about £60 a year for the licence which means we can use the square for the community.
“We have spent a lot of money and a lot of time on it and were promised we’d have the option for it to transfer to us if we paid all the legal costs.
“We went to our lawyers and put in a bid and then on July 19 she (Thanet council asset consultant Edwina Crowley) emailed to say the association was not qualified to bid, the moratorium (temporary hold on sale) was over and it was going on the open market. They are saying we have to take pot luck and bid.”
The site, which is yet to be listed on the Allsop auction catalogue, is said to have an asking price of £1,000 but this could rise if there are rival bidders.
The association also says if the plot goes to a private buyer the community may well lose access to it and could see it deteroiate.
Member Barry Quinn said: “For 30 years the Vale Square Residents Association, under the auspices of Jocelyn McCarthy and Stephen Davies, have taken what was a derelict dumping ground and, using their own money and much time, rebuilt the railings and planted and maintained it and turned it into a beautiful community asset that enhances the square and Ramsgate and at no cost to the council.
“Yet, despite this dedication, and assurances from the council over the years, TDC have decided to ignore this and just sell it off to the highest bidder, the buyer could then then do what they want including potentially letting it deteriorate, and of course the local community would lose access to it.
“Feelings are running high and residents and other concerned groups are organising various campaigns to try and stop this happening, but time is running out as the auction is on September 13.”
The association is being supported by MP Craig Mackinlay and ward councillor Peter Campbell who, amongst others, have contacted Thanet council urging that the sale is put on hold.
A Thanet council spokesman said: “The land at Vale Square, Ramsgate, was listed for disposal in 2015. This decision was approved at Cabinet on 24 November 2015.
“This is in line with our Asset Strategy which requires the council to identify land and property that is surplus to our requirements to be disposed with. By doing this we have the potential to contribute to capital projects and reduce our liabilities through management, repair and maintenance.
“The land is registered as an asset of community value and the disposal process has followed the process regulated statute. Notification of the disposal of the land was given triggering an initial moratorium period between 12 March 2018 and 23 April 2018. During this time expressions of interest were sought from qualifying community interest groups, however, unfortunately there was no qualifying bid.
“We understand this creates uncertainty for the licensee, Vale Square Residents’ Association, but we have an obligation to follow our transparent policy and processes for disposals. This includes now putting the sale of the square in to a market where all residents, including those who are not necessarily members of the association, have the opportunity to bid for the site.
“The license between the council and Vale Square Residents Association is not being terminated and the auction reserve price is a nominal sum, reflecting any restrictions that are registered with the land.”
Vale Square Residents’ Association is holding a gathering in the gardens at 2pm today to garner support for their campaign to stop the site going to auction.
A petition launched to back the residents association claim to the gardens can be found here