HUNDREDS of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent paying a company off to finally end a long-running dispute involving a rare species of bird.
Portsmouth City Council has forked out thousands in damages to defence giant Qinetiq over the way it blocked the firm turning a stretch of land near Fort Cumberland, in Eastney, into a road.
Qinetiq was awarded planning permission in 2005 to build three blocks of flats overlooking the nudist beach, and wanted to build a road to the site.
But the former Lib Dem-run council refused and when taken to court by Qinetiq, it argued the legally-protected Dartford warbler was nesting nearby and could be harmed.
It also feared the road would block public access to the beach and go over council land.
The council lost and had to pay £150,000 in costs – but finally agreed to the road being built and has now forked out another £325,000 as a settlement to Qinetiq for the amount spent on legal fees.
Councillor Donna Jones, leader of the council, blasted the Lib Dems, saying they had gone against the advice of council lawyers that they would lose since planning had already been given for the development.
‘It is absolutely disgraceful we have had to pay this money,’ she said.
‘This is yet another diabolical example of a poor decision taken by the previous administration, it shows their complete lack of business acumen.’
‘That money would have paid for 74 school crossing patrols in the city.’
While the company can now build its road, it no longer has planning permission as too much time has lapsed, so a fresh bid will have to be made.
Tory ward councillor Luke Stubbs said it was alarming given the council is already strapped for cash.
‘The planning committee shouldn’t have given the original 2005 application,’ he said. ‘I was concerned about the widening of the road but it was one of those things that kept going round and round, and it became clearer that the Lib Dems were overplaying their hands.’
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Lib Dem group leader, said while it was a disappointing amount of money, the battle ultimately stopped ‘tower blocks’ going up along the coast and prevented a strip of the beach being privatised.
Qinetiq says it now wants to work on future proposals.
A company spokesman said: ‘Now the legal case has been settled, we look forward to working with the council to develop new plans for the site, taking into consideration the environment and what is best for the local community.’
Saga over flats saw access to beach being restricted
NATURISTS launched a campaign to stop the development amid fears that it would prevent them using the beach.
Although it has never been officially designated a nudist beach, it has been used by naturists for more than 40 years.
The city council’s refusal to let QinetiQ create a proper access resulted in the company barred the public from accessing the beach and putting up ‘keep out’ signs.
QinetiQ had originally hoped to get £1.2m from the council in legal costs, but a compromise was reached with lawyers on both sides.