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Council defends decision on land

PUBLISHED: 13:10 23 May 2008 | UPDATED: 20:28 05 July 2010

COUNCIL bosses last night launched a robust defence of their decision to sell a swathe of seafront land in Lowestoft after a barrister accused them of acting unlawfully.

COUNCIL bosses last night launched a robust defence of their decision to sell a swathe of seafront land in Lowestoft after a barrister accused them of acting unlawfully.

The Protect Our North Denes Association (Ponda) sought the opinion of barrister Simon Bird as it continued its campaign against Waveney District Council's decision to sell off its caravan park to a private operator.

Ponda has long claimed that the North Denes site has been used by the people of Lowestoft for recreation for many years, meaning it should not be privatised, and also claimed the council failed to properly consider public objections.

In light of the accusations the council did not follow correct procedures, the matter was considered again at the end of February. Councillors considered a list of objections, but voted to rubber-stamp the earlier decision to sell the site.

Waveney council has already spent about £400,000 on legal fees and has accused Ponda of wasting taxpayers' money by regularly challenging the plans.

However, Ponda, which is backed by wealthy businessman Mervyn Lambert, is still considering whether to seek a judicial review into the decision and asked for fresh legal opinion.

In a statement, barrister Mr Bird says: “Unless it can demonstrated that the authority's error or failing was purely technical and would have made no difference to the decision made, it is wrong to characterise requiring a public body to comply with its statutory obligations as leading to it incurring unnecessary expense. The issues raised by Ponda went well beyond the merely technical.

“In this case it should have been perfectly obvious to the council and its advisers that the procedure it had adopted was unlawful, without the need for any intervention by Ponda.”

A spokesman for Waveney District Council said: “We have acted lawfully, having taken legal advice from our own solicitors throughout.

“Our responses to the issues raised by Ponda have always been designed to ensure minimum cost to the taxpayer. While it may be the barrister's view that Ponda has used the legal process reasonably, its intention throughout has been to delay the disposal of North Denes …

“Without the various obstacles place by Ponda, which the council considers largely to be legal technicalities and not evidence of wrongdoing - it is absolutely clear that a huge amount of money could have been saved.”

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