Caught between a rock and hard place is never a nice place to be, but that is where Sandgate Parish Council (SPC) find themselves. Do they keep the half a million they have borrowed, without a mandate, or do they return it and pay a redemption fee – a charge for returning the money, so depleting their reserves?
On Wednesday 9th May SPC consulted residents in a referendum to purchase the land surrounding and including Martello Tower 6 & 7. Residents voted by 6:1 to support the purchase.
Martello Towers 6 and 7 sit in woodland above Sandgate Village and are subject to planning consent to develop part of that woodland for housing and to convert the two Martello Towers into a dwelling house and a holiday home. A proportion of that land has planning permission for 5 houses on it gained by the former owner, John Forge. SPC resolved if they bought the land, the planning permission would NOT be used and the woodland would be retained and made more accessible to local residents and walkers.
The referendum was transparent and set out this would add £9.75 to a Band D council tax precept a year. So SPC set about negotiating a purchase from the former owner John Forge (whose Judicial Review stopped the Lorry Park at Stanford). In doing so the council borrowed and drew down £500,000 from the Public Works Loans Board, prior to the purchase, for which they had a mandate.
On Tuesday 4th Sept SPC was advised by John Forge owner of the escarpment site the property had been sold to Saif Jabarkhel and he (Forge) was withdrawing from the sale to SPC. We understand contracts have now been exchanged.
Now SPC drew down the money prior to the sale, which is not normal. Most people draw down the money at the exchange of contracts, but SPC drew down early; perhaps a schoolboy error some might say. So to return the money to the PWLB there will be a redemption charge – a fee for returning the £500,000. This will come out of SPC’s reserves of approx £80,000, thus shrinking the reserves. How much any redemption fee would be is unknown presently.
SPC could keep the money and use it for other projects in the Parish, however, they have NO mandate from the people to do this. That was only given to purchase the site. So you now see why SPC are caught between a rock and a hard place.
Chairman of SPC Cllr Robert Bliss (pictured) though has said that if the Parish chooses to keep the money, the Council Tax precept will not rise and any monies to pay the interest on the £500,000 will be found from elsewhere. Where they will find the money to pay the interest on the borrowed money was not specified.
The motives of SPC were honourable and transparent. However, it has left them with a dilemma, Keep the money and use it on other projects without a mandate, or return the money and pay the redemption fee. Politics it’s a funny old game.
The Shepwayvox Team – Dissent is NOT a Crime