A BID by the borough council to buy the Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons and put them under public ownership has been rejected by the owners Targetfollow, the Times can disclose.
The move came after a petition asking for the Commons to be purchased and placed in public hands attracted around 1,000 signatures in November. It’s understood that negotiations between the council and the Norwich based company have been going on behind the scenes for some months.
Despite council leader David Jukes expressing his own concerns at having the council put an additional ‘non-performing asset’ on its books, a substantial offer for the 256 acres of land was made.
Targetfollow purchased the title of Manor of Rusthall, giving it control of the Commons, alongside The Pantiles in January 2008 for a reported £11million – it is believed the majority of this sum was spent buying the historical promenade.
Subsequent offers made by the local authority for the Commons would have been tightly controlled by the District Valuer Services, potentially limiting the amount the council could offer.
“We made a realistic bid to purchase the land, the amount we offered was a reasonable sum”
Cllr Jukes told the Times that the offer was made in response to ongoing calls for public ownership.
He added: “I am concerned that it wouldn’t make sense at a time when we are reviewing all our non-performing assets and when the Commons is well protected through legislation.
“However I requested the examination of a business case to enable the area to come more directly under public management to better protect it and residents’ interests.
“Accordingly we made a realistic bid to purchase the land, the amount we offered was a reasonable sum and was the maximum we can justify through valuation and afford. The offer was rejected but we remain open to the owners reconsidering our bid.”
Clive Evans, Chairman of the Friends of Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons, welcomed the council’s bid.
He said: “The Friends are pleased that attempts are being made to bring the Commons into community ownership, where they most happily belong.
“This may have put any concerns around the effectiveness of statutory protection and commercial ownership to rest.”
He added the Friends still have the right to bid for the commons if they are put on the market and would be ‘very keen’ to do so ‘at a price that reflects their fair worth.’
The news of the failed bid will come as a disappointment to scores of residents with property bordering the commons who have been asked by Targetfollow to pay up to £350 a year, plus a £300 sign-up fee, for the right to walk across so called ‘ransom strips’ of land to reach their homes.
The ‘land tax’ would also allow for utility services running underground to the properties.
Targetfollow yesterday (Tuesday) confirmed an offer had been made but declined to comment further.