Plans to transfer the care of Albion Gardens from Thanet council to Ramsgate Town Council have been thrown into doubt in a row about legal and estate fees.
In January 2019 Thanet council announced another round of asset disposals with some land and property going to auction and other sites earmarked for transfer to town and parish councils or community groups.
Among the sites on the asset list was Albion Gardens, including the Madeira waterfall and Pulhamite rocks, which was earmarked to be passed to Ramsgate Town Council.
At the time the town council said it was unaware of the proposals and by July of that year the grassroots authority said there has still been “no consultation or negotiations” and the authority has simply been sent Thanet council’s asset disposal policy document.
Now the town council clerk Richard Styles says he is shocked to find out that RTC is expected to pay not only its own costs but also the conveyance/transfer and unspecified ‘estates fees’ of Thanet council.
This is in contrast to when RTC took on responsibility for Charlotte Court on a ‘no value transfer. RTC spent £10,000 on remedial measures to improve the small courtyard for use by the public.
Mr Styles said: “Two years ago, TDC announced out of the blue that it had put Albion Gardens on the transfer list and that RTC was the favoured recipient in the public interest.
“RTC followed up this proposal and agreed to take on the liability for the site, even though it would probably mean a significant burden to local taxpayers. RTC accepted this in the public interest because the gardens, the pulhamite artificial rockwork, and the artificial waterfall contained within the garden, are key features that are clearly identified with Ramsgate as a town.
“The transfer to RTC’s care should have taken place earlier this year, but it has not happened. The Covid-19 pandemic has slowed progress, but what really has brought matters to a complete halt was RTC finding that not only would it be paying its own legal fees for the conveyance/transfer, but that of TDC and unspecified ‘estates fees’.
“RTC felt that this was unfair and not in line with normal commercial or municipal practice, but TDC were or are adamant. RTC asked the TDC cabinet and the Leader to intercede, but they were told by the Senior Management Team (SMT) at TDC that ‘it would set a precedent’.
“RTC had hoped through one of its members serving on TDC to table a question under rule 14 at TDC’s Council meeting on December 10, seeking an explanation. For procedural reasons this was not possible and RTC is now placing those questions in the public realm.”
Ramsgate Town Council is now asking:
- Why, when Charlotte Court was transferred at no cost to RTC, TDC is now expecting RTC to fund both sides legal costs and unspecified ‘estate charges’, with Albion Gardens, on the grounds of maintaining precedent?
- Why does it take so long to convey land/buildings from one council to another?
- Where does the wider public interest feature, when an asset transfer is proposed? Does short term financial returns to TDC outreach the long term benefit to the community, where the asset resides and why?
- What steps are being taken to reform inter council asset transfers between TDC and its Town and Parish Councils, in order to reduce procedural delay and transaction costs? The same applies to management agreements.
- Many of these assets were received by TDC 40 years ago, under the 1974 local government reorganisation, and now that they are either surplus to requirements or becoming a burden to TDC’s resources. Is it justifiable that the host community which may have originally built or paid for the asset, is expected to uphold a principle of ‘maintaining a precedent’.
Mr Styles added: “RTC believes this matter is very important and requires a thoroughgoing reform process to allow assets that are a key part of the identities of all the communities in Thanet, to be transferred and to be given a safe home for the foreseeable future.”
A Thanet council spokesperson said: “It is normal practice for local authorities to charge legal and surveyors fees as well as valuation fees (if applicable) for land transfers. Accordingly, all transfers are subject to the transferee paying Thanet Council’s reasonable legal and surveying costs.
“The surveyor’s fee is not “unspecified”. Each buyer will be informed of the exact fees and we set those fees in accordance with the list published each year on our website under “Fees and Charges” linked here.
“Legal fees are quoted on an individual basis as the complexity of transactions varies. Legal fees are also published under “Fees and Charges”.
“For community asset transfers to Parish or Town Councils, we keep fees to a minimum, but are still obliged to charge our reasonable fees.”