Beach battle may cost city £1.2m

The nudist beach at Eastney.
The nudist beach at Eastney.
Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (180470-1)

Portsmouth’s returned Lib Dem council leader wished well by ex-MP Mike Hancock

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A DEFENCE firm is trying to force Portsmouth City Council to pay £1.2m after a five-year legal battle over a seaside development.

QinetiQ is demanding the money it paid out in legal costs during its fight to build flats next to an Eastney beach.

The firm took the city council to two judicial reviews – and won both. It believes the authority should now pay its fees.

The council has already paid the company an £83,500 ‘interim payment’ in the last month.

But the council’s legal team is attempting to negotiate a reduced settlement.

The issue relates to QinetiQ’s attempt to close Fraser Beach, a nudist spot at Eastney, as part of its plans to build 131 flats on land next to the coastline.

The city council gave the firm permission for the homes.

But when QinetiQ banned the public from the beach, the council refused to widen an access road, which it owns and is necessary for the work to go ahead.

The first judicial review found in QinetiQ’s favour, saying the council had acted unreasonably.

It also won a second review, in which Qinetiq argued the council was deliberately delaying an agreement for the road-widening work to start.

The company confirmed the costs of the first review were £200,000.

But the second, which lasted much longer, cost £1m.

QinetiQ said it intends to claim every penny.

A spokeswoman said: ‘These are our legal costs. The council caused this to run for far too long, and cost us a great deal of money.

‘It has delayed a development which would have brought benefit to the area, with affordable housing and environmental space.’

Council solicitor Michael Lawther said: ‘Although the council admitted it acted unreasonably in the first review, I believe we did everything appropriately in the second, so we don’t believe we should have to pay the amount the company says.’

QinetiQ could now take the council to court to attempt to gain the full amount.

Tory Councillor Steve Wemyss said: ‘This has left us open to a huge repayment.

‘It’s totally irresponsible by the council’s cabinet. We are making cuts, laying off librarians. Even the first payment we’ve made would go a significant way towards keeping them employed.’

The city council has since struck a deal with QinetiQ to allow the public to access the beach.

Lib Dem council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘We have made a payment in the last month.

‘But as part of the deal which keeps the beach open, we were paid £75,000 by Qinetiq. We don’t want to have to pay them any more than we must, and we’re working hard to keep the amount down. But we have to remember the situation.

‘The beach should never have been privatised. It is used by the people of this city, and visitors to it. What we have achieved is to keep access open to a beach which was wrongly privatised, not just for the rest of our lives, but forever.

‘We worked hard for that, and we succeeded.’