Council costs hit £360,000

A legal challenge aimed at derailing controversial plans to privatise a council-owned caravan park Lowestoft has been withdrawn - but not before taxpayers were left to foot a lawyers' bill running into tens of thousands of pounds.

A legal challenge aimed at derailing controversial plans to privatise a council-owned caravan park Lowestoft has been withdrawn - but not before taxpayers were left to foot a lawyers' bill running into tens of thousands of pounds.

Waveney District Council leader Mark Bee last night defended the council's outlay on legal fees, but said work to regenerate the North Denes caravan site could now proceed.

However, while objectors have dropped their bid to have the site declared a village green and out of private hands, they revealed they were still considering a legal challenge to the council's decision to sell the North Denes' lease.

Figures show the council had already shelled out £300,000 on legal fees relating to the proposed sale of North Denes and the EDP understands a further £60,000 has been spend on preparing for the inquiry into the village green application, which was due to start in four weeks.

Mr Bee said: “Unfortunately, despite always maintaining the application was flawed, the council was left with no choice but to make formal preparations for the inquiry, spending a substantial amount in legal fees and tying up considerable resources internally.

“It is a great pity, therefore, that the application - submitted a year ago - was not withdrawn earlier and an even greater pity that it was made in the first place.

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“We are pleased that we can now continue with our plans to regenerate this area of Lowestoft and secure much-needed investment for the caravan site and open space area.”

The Preserve our North Denes Association (Ponda) applied to Suffolk County Council for the land to be declared a village green on the basis that the people of Lowestoft have had free access to the site for many years

However, the application was dropped after lawyers told Ponda that the site was effectively acquired as open space for the people of Lowestoft under the 1875 Public Health Act and was therefore already in public ownership.

Wealthy businessman Mervyn Lambert, who has bankrolled Ponda's case, said the campaigners would now seek a judicial review to rule on the council's right to dispose of the land and also the processes it followed.

He said: “If I did not believe that I would win this case, I would not subject the taxpayers of Waveney to any more expense. I may be a wealthy individual, but I do not throw money away on lost causes. It is my firm belief there will never be a caravan again on North Denes.”

Waveney District Council said it could not afford to continue operating the rundown site and decided to sell a 99-year lease to a private operator last September. It also insists 33 acres of the current site will be landscaped as public open space.

Sally Spore, leader of the opposition Labour group at Waveney, has sent an email to the council's legal team asking for clarification of the council's legal position.

“I have asked for reassurances that if the public takes this to judicial review, they will not win,” she said.

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