Please help us defend legal Open Spaces from being given over for development without proper public consultation. The Oval case is turning out to be of national importance in ensuring that the legal safeguards that exist for Open Spaces cannot be circumvented, and the Open Spaces Society has contributed to our fighting fund.
The Oval campaign team is preparing for a Judicial Review of the Council’s contract to sell the Oval. The hearing will be held at the High Court on 13th – 15th December. Permission to take all five grounds of our case to the High Court was granted on June 8th, after Mr Justice Supperstone listened to arguments from barristers on both sides. Even though it had taken us a longish time to assemble our evidence, permission was granted because of the over-secretive actions and inactions of the City Council (not the councillors) throughout 2015.
The Council, in response to this permission stated on June 8th that: "It is regretful that we will have to waste more taxpayers' money on this case, but we will obviously do so in order to defend our position." The question is, whose position is being defended? Is it that of the Council tax payer?
The Council’s former chief legal adviser Mark Ellender, now retired but still a consultant, now admits that he fell into error and gave councillors and the public incorrect information when he stated at the Executive meeting in October 2013 that there was no indication in the Council’s records that the Oval was to be used as public open space. Had he stated what we now know, namely that there are several such indications in the Council’s records, the course of events is likely to have been very different and cheaper of time and money. For example, councillors would then have been able to consider the powerful arguments that:
1.There is extensive evidence that the Oval has been used for recreation for most of the period of its public ownership. This includes the 52 years use mainly as a dinghy park for the yacht club, on a heavily subsidised annual licence rental of £26, supporting the important leisure activity of sailing for all ages.
2.The land has been legal Open Space since being bought in 1945 under the powers of Acts of Parliament which powerfully protect legal Open Spaces by requiring public advertisement of any proposal to sell them for other purposes.
Councillors were warned to stay out of all Oval related matters early in 2016 and were instructed by officers that the sale contract could not be cancelled. This is wrong. Even the Council's own barrister accepted that a finding of serious illegality on even one of our 5 grounds gives the High Court judge the ability to cancel (quash) the contract. We have been advised that this can be without compensation.
Our barrister, who also successfully led the battle to protect legal Open Space at Kingsmead Field, is confident of success.
But, to achieve a return to legality, public consultation instead of secrecy, and a sensible outcome for this central and sensitive location, we must fund our legal team through the December hearings. Also, prior to the hearing, we must put £10,000 of this into an escrow account, to be paid to CCC if we lose. That money has to be paid by a couple of our trustees personally if we do not raise the funds.
In total, we need at least £25,000 to ensure that justice is done and we appeal for donations. Please also pass this appeal on to anyone you know who wants a better performance from the council on public involvement and/or supports the defence of legal open space and legal due process.
More information and donation details can be found here https://www.crowdjustice.co.uk/case/judicial-review-october/ which pays funds raised direct to the legal team after the hearing is finished.
Readers can also phone 07494205699 for an answerphone message giving details of how to donate to this campaign. Finally, please watch out for more fund raising events.
Chair, The Whitstable Society.
For the Oval Campaign, with the Oval Chalet Protection Community Group