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Judge refuses permission for legal challenge to sale by council of seafront land

A High Court judge has refused to give campaigners permission to proceed with a judicial review against Canterbury City Council over its decision to sell land near the seafront in Whitstable.

The claimants had sought to advance a number of grounds of challenge to the local authority’s decision to enter into a contract for the sale of the Oval Chalet site. The council sold the land for £160,000 in December 2014.

But Mr Justice Hickinbottom found that the proposed claim for a judicial review was out of time and that the Whitstable Society did not put forward a good reason for what he described as a “substantial” delay.

According to the local authority, the judge had also noted that the rights of a third party, Sea Street Developments Limited, were affected, and had stated that he was “unconvinced that the claimant has arguable merits”.

Mr Justice Hickinbottom added that the Whitstable Society’s evidence that people could walk over or play on the land was “quite insufficient” to make an argument for open land, making the central point of their claim “unarguable”.

The Whitstable Society will be required to pay the council’s costs of preparing its Acknowledgement of Service.

Canterbury City Council’s Chief Executive, Colin Carmichael, said: “We are pleased with the judgment, which vindicates our decision to contest the claim for JR by the Whitstable Society. The judgment is clear that even if the claim had been made in time, there would be insufficient grounds to allow the claim to proceed to a JR.

“We have said throughout that our legal advice was very clear that we had entered into a binding contract and that we could not change the decision that the previous council made to sell the land. We acknowledge that this was not a popular decision with some people in Whitstable, but it was properly taken and the correct procedures were followed.”

The council’s Planning Committee is reported to have approved the planning application for the Oval Chalet this week (26 April).

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