An official inquiry into the ‘grass roots’ fight to make the Herne Bay Downs a protected Village Green started with allegations of council waste and bullying. Canterbury City Council were accused of adding massive legal costs of hiring a barrister to cross examine locals, to the £30,000 they have already spent in legal fees.
Campaigners Ros McIntyre and Phil Rose, who want to keep the green by the prom a much-loved area for dog walkers and blackberry pickers, sat opposite the massed ranks of the council as the inquiry started on Monday. With their initially hesitant questions they bravely stood up to the suited and booted professionals who are being paid by CCC up to £500 a day to take them on. [Correction: it’s £850 a day.]
“They might have a top barrister who is charging £8,000 plus £500 a day to rip our case apart, but we have the might of a grass-roots democratic movement behind us. The council plan to build what they call a QE2 Costal Park, got just 41 votes in a national poll and to keep it undisturbed as a village green got 1,181. The council reckon by hiring expensive top legal minds to beat us back they will do what the minority want but we will fight them. This inquiry could well last a long time as we have 49 witnesses and they are all demanding to be heard.”
“There was an argument at the start as the council had stopped one of our witnesses giving evidence against them as she was in fact the local councillor for the area. A lot of what they have come up with is nonsense. They simply just want the freedom to make as much money from the land as they can. They still want to build some beach huts but what about the future? The village green status protects it forever so it will be saved for our children.”
Inquiry chairman, barrister Lana Wood made it clear she is paid by KCC to host the inquiry as a public duty. She said:
“I am a barrister employed by Kent Council because we have a duty to carry out a public inquiry. When local people complain about CCC hiring a barrister they are referring to Richard Grant who is acting for them.”
Mr Grant quizzed the first witness of the inquiry Mr Alan Joiner, 82. He told them how he had enjoyed walking both his and his daughter’s dog for 23 years across the green and during the summer had picked blackberries and held family picnics and hoped it would stay that way. Other witnesses were due to give similar evidence this week as the inquiry moved from St Andrew’s church hall to Christ Church.
HB Times 1st Dec 2011