A campaign has been launched, with legal action also being discussed, to fight Thanet council plans to sell land at Hartsdown Park which is currently home to sports clubs and a long-standing business.
The plot has been listed to go under the hammer at auction on September 10 following a council decision approved in June to sell off the freehold.
But furious tenants say they will fight the decision which they fear will impact on hundreds of young people who every week use the Falcon and Isle of Thanet boxing and kickboxing clubs, the table tennis club and the prestigious Thanet Taekwondo Club which has been at the site for some 25 years.
Also established on site for 18 years is Fire Technology, owned by businessman Andrew Hunt who says he was encouraged by the council’s assets boss Edwina Crowley to make a formal offer for the freehold and then had “an almost immediate” rejection despite offering the asking price.
Mr Hunt, who is also landlord for the boxing clubs and bought Hartsdown House – where Manor House Nursery is based – from the council in 2003, says Ms Crowley told him in April that the authority wanted him to purchase the site.
He said: “She told me that as a secured tenant the council wanted me to buy the site, she told me the format to make my offer and the amount that I should offer, plus proof of funds.
“I did that, with an offer of £275,000, and had an agreement in principle that the council now seems to have gone back on.
“I have a secured tenancy, they can’t get me off but the whole point of my offer was to secure the future of the two boxing clubs, enable the nursery to expand and secure the tenancy for my neighbour Ted Wolf from the Taekwondo Club.
“There were plans for Hartsdown House for the nursery to expand in the yard and there was even a lease drawn up. If this goes to court the council will surely lose.”
Manor House Nursery lies outside of the plot which has been submitted for auction but has vehicle and pedestrian access rights both on the perimeter and for the yard that is part of the sale.
Plans were to landscape the yard and create an outdoor garden and adventure space for nursery pupils.
Thanet Taekwondo Club has produced numerous title holding champs, including five-times world kickboxing champion and one-time world Taekwondo champion Elliott Allen.
Mr Hunt and solicitor Ed Foster, who is helping the tenants to fight the plans, say there are numerous other issues, particularly with the auction listing.
Mr Foster previously helped to quash council plans to sell the car park next to Manor House Nursery for housing after revealing the huge cost that would be incurred buying out the lease rights on the land and the unsuitability for development due to an historic network of tunnels running underneath the entire site.
He and the tenants say this tunnel network is not listed on the auction details and nor is a 30 foot deep sinkhole outside of the store building on site.
Mr Foster said: “If the site is developed they will have to excavate down at least 10 metres and then backfill the entire tunnel network, potentially costing one maybe two million. There is also the sinkhole which is related to the tunnel network and then there is the issue of the way the leases are listed.
“The auction details list Fire Technology as having an undocumented tenancy. This is not correct. The Taekwondo Club has a 99 year lease and Andy has his tenancy documents, the council lost their copies due to the fire at Ramsgate Library when their deeds and documents were destroyed.”
A question has been raised over whether the land can be sold at all due to it being gifted to the people of Margate under a protective covenant in the will of former mayor Maude Hatfeild. Mr Foster and Hartsdown Park tenants say they also question whether owning a property company means a conflict of interest for assets boss Ms Crowley.
Mr Foster added: “We are aiming to stop the auction going ahead. If the council still seek to sell we will take injunctive action to protect the businesses and the rights of way protected under deed.
“If the council want to compulsory purchase the land and extinguish rights of way then that will cost hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation.”
A Save Hartsdown campaign page launched yesterday (August 21) has already attracted hundreds of likes and comments of support.
Among those posting to the page is Kate White, the co owner of The Falcons Kickboxing Club.
She said: “I am utterly dumbfounded as to why TDC would want to do this?
“There is a boxing club, a Taekwondo club and a kickboxing club all within seconds of each other and as a whole we teach children and adults the art of discipline, self defence, confidence, focus and respect as well as learning to integrate with people from all walks of life and ages!
“We have students that are working so hard to progress in their own journeys eg to become coaches themselves and as a result they have also improved at school.
“I would love to hear where TDC would like to see all these students (hundreds between the clubs) go and what they would to see them doing in their free time. Roaming the streets, vandalising, not exercising and then contributing further to our failing NHS system in terms of obesity?
“We have to fight this.”
In June a report to councillors who agreed the sale of the site said: “A review of the operational buildings shows that the stores used on this estate are now surplus with the contents being cleared and moved to Dane Park Depot. The stores are becoming dilapidated and require substantial investment, they attract a reasonably substantial business rates bill.
“Retention of this estate does not represent value for money and it is recommended this site is sold on the open market through the disposal framework.”
A Thanet council spokesman said: “We are selling the freehold on the land at Hartsdown, but the leaseholds that relate to the occupied units will remain in place and the tenancies are unchanged.
“In short, the only change for the tenants will be a change in the identity of their landlord.
“As a local authority, Thanet District Council has a legal duty when selling land to secure the best consideration reasonably obtainable.
“In this site where there are multiple occupiers, the most appropriate method of sale is by auction – which gives all occupiers the opportunity to bid for the land. We would encourage all interested parties to participate in the auction where they will have the opportunity to bid for and purchase the property at the price set by the market.
“The site includes three units that were previously used for stores by Thanet District Council which are now vacant and surplus to requirements.
“We cannot afford to hold onto property that we do not need or that requires extensive repairs, the cost of which may eventually have to be borne by local people through their council taxes.”
The site is currently listed by Clive Emson auctioneers, under instruction from Thanet council, with a guide price of £320,000 plus.
The buildings included are:
Building 1: The old stable block
Building 3: Taekwondo & Table Tennis club
Building 4: The Barn (Only 2 left in the UK)
Building 4a: Firetec Ltd
Building 5: Storage Shed
Building 6: Individual Garage