CPRE Kent has challenged the legality of Dover District Council’s decision to allow hundreds of new homes to be built at Farthingloe, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
We have lodged a Judicial Review at the High Court into the decision to grant planning permission for 521 homes and a 90 apartment retirement village. We believe the development would cause significant, irreversible harm to a beautiful and historic landscape.
Dover District Council granted final permission in April 2015 for a 130 bed hotel and conference centre, residential units and a museum/visitor attraction at Western Heights as well as the 521 homes, retirement village and a health facility at Farthingloe. The council agreed to the scheme because of a claimed shortfall in housing provision in the district and the economic benefits that would result from a £5m contribution towards heritage improvements at the Western Heights.
The High Court judge will consider the legality of the decision which we believe should be quashed for the following reasons:
- It was unlawful of Dover District Council to have regard to a £5m contribution to heritage enhancements at Western Heights in its decision to allow the housing at Farthingloe. The two sites are unrelated, being 2km apart. The heritage improvements would not mitigate the landscape harm at Farthingloe. The contribution of £5m was an unlawful inducement that should not have been taken into account.
- A major justification for the proposal was the lack of a five year supply of housing land. However, a planning inspector’s report on the draft Land Allocations Local Plan (LALP) in December 2014 concluded that enough land had been allocated for five years’ worth of housing. It was a material omission not to consider the inspector’s comments. The council also unlawfully failed to take into account additional sites which had come forward – namely 500 new homes at Discovery Park and 73 homes on land at the Salvatori site in Preston.
- The council acted unlawfully in treating the need for housing in the AONB as an exceptional circumstance. National guidance, government ministers and court judgements have made it clear that unmet housing need is unlikely to constitute “very special circumstances” to justify development in the Green Belt. This also applies to AONB which, if anything, warrants a higher level of protection, designated as of the highest status of landscape and scenic beauty. The council should have considered alternative sites. There was no basis for the council to conclude that land availability was so constrained it would justify significant building in the AONB.
- Even if the £5m heritage contribution could be taken into account, the council failed to properly consider a less harmful form of development. A number of recommendations to reduce the harm to the AONB were made, including a reduction in density (to 365 homes), a requirement for phasing and a review of the design. A viability assessment concluded that this scheme would still be financially viable and provide the proposed £5m. The council officer’s recommendation supported this but the planning committee inexplicably failed to act on it.
Hilary Newport, Director of CPRE Kent, said: “We do not object to new housing development in Dover district and we certainly support heritage improvements, however, there is no justification to build on the AONB. It would cause irreversible harm to this beautiful area which could never be restored and would be lost forever. This is why it is so important for us to mount this legal challenge as it is our last chance to protect this important landscape.”
We will be raising funds to assist with legal fees and will be campaigning to get residents across Kent involved in the campaign. The high profile plans have already attracted national and international publicity.
Building on Green Belt land and AONB was the subject of BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 on Tuesday 9th June (repeated at 5pm on 14th June). This included an interview with CPRE Kent Senior Planner Brian Lloyd. You can listen to the programme (for the next 30 days) by clicking on the link below (you may need to copy and paste into your browser):
June 10th 2015.