Ramsgate Town Council has taken Thanet District Council to the High Court in a battle over former allotments.
In 2017 Thanet council (TDC) sold former allotment land in Manston Road at auction for just under £1million. But Ramsgate council (RTC) said it was the rightful owner of the site, and therefore the sale proceeds, and took TDC to court.
The issue was whether the land should have transferred to the town council, which took on responsibility for allotments, when it was created in 2009.
The judgement for the case, was published on November 9 with the High Court finding in favour of Thanet council, saying the land was no longer used as allotments when the town council was constituted and so would not legally transfer to the authority.
RTC clerk Richard Styles (pictured) said: “Ramsgate Town Council (RTC) took an interest because it inherited a large waiting list and a much-reduced allotment estate. TDC sat on the land for 11 years, failed to get full value for the land and also dropped a significant liability on to RTC, which it is still trying to resolve.
“RTC tried to negotiate and mediate with TDC, but they were adamant, and the matter ended up before the High Court. RTC took the best legal advice it could obtain before going to court. The High Court was asked to adjudicate on a narrow issue of process and not on any idea of fairness or equity.
“The judge unfortunately found for TDC and this now means that in future, any statutory allotment land can be disposed of without any legal restraint, provided that the Government gave its permission for disposal.
“The outcome is that RTC has had to settle a large legal bill, and Ramsgate has been denied a chance to create a really first-rate allotment estate.
“This matters, because there is a need for more allotments, not less. The £980,000 (sale income) would have been well spent on acquiring land and helping those who need it, to grow their own and to rely less on food banks.”
Allotments and the law
Under the Allotments Act 1925, a local authority cannot sell, use or dispose of land which it acquired for use as allotments without first obtaining the consent of the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The Secretary of State can only give consent if they are satisfied that adequate provision will be made for allotment holders displaced or that provision is not necessary or reasonably practicable.
Thanet council was given Government permission to sell the final part of the former allotments in 2006. The authority says the sale was delayed due to the recession but that it was supported by local allotment associations
A Thanet council spokesperson said: “Ramsgate Town Council (RTC) claimed that they were the rightful owners of this land and decided to commence legal action against TDC to recover the proceeds of sale.
“TDC had asked RTC to withdraw the claim before the matter came to trial, in order to limit both parties costs, however this action was still pursued and the High Court ruled in TDC’s favour. In deciding to pursue this claim, RTC has now had to pay their own and TDC’s significant legal costs.
“£894,700 was generated from the sale of part of the Manston Road allotments for reinvestment in allotments in the district.”
In 2007 permission was granted for 207 homes on the site.
Mr Styles says the town council is disappointed at the outcome and will now campaign for the law on allotments to be amended to prevent landbanking and examine how proceeds of any sale are spent.