Campaigners decide to end bid to safeguard Knowle parkland

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7705-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7705-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

Campaigners who have decided not to pursue a bid to secure legal protection for Knowle’s parkland claim the bid has cast doubt on future use of Localism legislation in East Devon.

Jeremy Woodward’s hopes to have the site listed as an ‘asset of community value’ were refused by East Devon District Council (EDDC), but he said the decision could still be challenged in the courts.

The legal office acting on behalf of the campaigners argued that the authority’s approach was ‘wrong in law’ and leaves it open to potentially costly judicial reviews in the future if it does not change.

EDDC has responded by saying it acted lawfully and accused Mr Woodward of engaging in a ‘pointless exercise’ which has caused ‘aggravation and cost’ to the council.

In a letter to EDDC, Mr Woodward’s lawyers said: “We consider that the council has fundamentally misunderstood its duties under the Localism Act 2011 in considering applications to list an asset of community value and the council’s approach to this case was wrong in law.

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“Any future decisions to refuse to list land as an asset of community value would be highly susceptible to judicial review if the council maintains its approach to the law as set out in its pre-action protocol response.

“Our client’s decision not to pursue a claim in judicial review is not an indication that the claim had no merit. It is our opinion that the claim had good merits.”

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The council offices and 14 per cent of the parkland are set to be sold to Pegasus Life Ltd and developed into a 100-home retirement community under plans for the site.

The asset of community value application was pursued by Mr Woodward and, when it was refused, he secured £660 in crowd-funding to instruct specialist lawyers to make EDDC explain its decision.

Mr Woodward said those who have contributed to the campaign with funds for the legal action will be duly informed – and thanked for their support and encouragement.

An EDDC spokeswoman said the application could have jeopardised the transfer of Knowle’s parkland to Sidmouth Town Council.

She added that the challenge had caused ‘aggravation and cost to the council’.

“It will be interesting to see whether Mr Woodward refunds the money of those who contributed to his ‘cause’ and perhaps, more importantly, whether he is prepared to offer to pay the council’s costs of having to engage in what appears to have been a pointless exercise so that the public purse is not out of pocket,” said the spokeswoman.

“Perhaps the reality of the situation is that actually Mr Woodward and his lawyers accept that the council has acted lawfully, but they are not prepared to acknowledge this.”

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