Backlash after council buys Henry VIII castle for £2.9m

A row has broken out after a historic Kent castle which once belonged to King Henry VIII was bought by a local council for £2.9 million.

Westenhanger Castle, near Folkestone, which dates back to 1343, features medieval turrets, a moat and a classic manor house.

In more recent years it has served as a wedding venue under private ownership, but in the Golden Age of Elizabeth I it was used as a base for 14,000 English troops to guard against the Spanish Armada.

Now the Grade I listed building and scheduled ancient monument has been bought by Folkestone and Hythe District Council to form part of a larger development.

But opposition parties have hit out at the purchase, calling it it a “slap in the face for local residents”.

Connor McConville, leader of the Labour Party on the Conservative-controlled council, said it showed a “lack of sensitivity and humility for those in desperate need”.

He added: “At a time when local councils are being starved financially and struggle to provide basic services, our council, sadly, have paid for a property that is not even included in their current plans for Otterpool.

“Could this money not have been better spent reversing the crippling changes made to the council tax reduction scheme last year?

Westenhanger Castle
Westenhanger Castle has been bought by Folkestone and Hythe District Council (Gareth Fuller/PA)

“Or perhaps investing in social housing, so much in demand by all those currently on waiting lists,

“At a time when children are suffering from the lack of secure housing, the Conservative-run council see fit to make these kinds of decisions.

“The Folkestone and Hythe Labour Group see the purchase of Westenhanger Castle as another slap in the face for local residents.”

But council leader David Monk said the purchase of Westenhanger Castle made the “superb” Otterpool Park development “even more special”.

He added: “The council buying Westenhanger Castle is a real milestone in the development of Otterpool Park, with the castle and the new park becoming the centrepiece for this aspirational development.

“This adds value in so many ways to the development. It will not only be a spectacular place for people who live there but also for those who live around it.”

Otterpool Park is a proposal for a new community of up to 10,000 homes, with 50% of the development designated as green space, according to the council.

An outline planning application for the first 8,500 homes was submitted in February 2019.

Lib Dem councillor Tim Prater questioned why the decision to buy Westenhanger Castle had apparently been made “without discussion and debate by council to do so”.

He added: “This council and local residents needs many things. It is at least debatable if a castle and associated buildings are amongst them.”

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