Farewell and thank you to two champions of CPRE Kent

It is with great sadness that we must report on the loss of two great friends in February. The CPRE Kent family is all the stronger for its unity and the passing of two of the main players in our recent history will be felt deeply. We and many others have much for which to thank them both. Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, pays tribute.

Gary Thomas (right) with the Thurnham Heritage Award presented to CPRE Kent for its fight against development at Woodcut Farm. Also pictured are, from left, CPRE Kent director Hilary Newport and vice-president Richard Knox-Johnston and Thurnham parish council chairman Daniel Skinner.

Gary was chairman of the Kent branch of CPRE from 2003-2005, but his involvement with the organisation began well before and continued long after. My first memory of Gary was the leadership he exercised in bringing together communities in the North Downs Rail Concern group from across the county along the proposed route of what was then known as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and is now High Speed 1.
With rational discussion rather than blanket opposition, the route of the high-speed line through Kent was gently improved to take more sensitive account of the landscapes through which it was passing, negotiating route alterations that meant the rail line would pass unobtrusively through tunnels rather than over viaducts along the slopes of the downs.
Gary had a keen eye for detail and an overwhelming commitment to improving the environment he would leave behind him. He was part of the formidable team that successfully put up a spirited community response to the challenge posed by AXA to locate a highly damaging road-rail freight interchange at the food of the Kent Downs AONB – just one of the damaging proposals to which he brought his energy, effort and campaign commitment.
A passionate environmentalist and keenly aware of the threat of climate change, he was tireless in his campaigning and for all he did to further CPRE Kent’s objectives.

Brian Lloyd was a genuine gentle giant and central to the court battle to save Farthingloe

Brian joined the CPRE Kent team as senior planner at the end of 2007, staying until his retirement in 2016.
He brought to the role his prodigious professional skill and passionate commitment to protecting landscapes and countryside from inappropriate development.
Brian was the principal player in our lengthy campaign to prevent the despoilation of a stretch of protected landscape at Farthingloe outside Dover, proposed for the inappropriate and damaging construction of more than 600 homes in an area of protected landscape. He saw not only the importance of defeating this application but the importance of the decision in standing up for designated landscapes everywhere.
He helped steer the challenge through the High Court, the Court of Appeal and finally the Supreme Court, where an important judgment was handed down in 2018 that agreed with Brian’s initial assessment: that a planning decision that has the potential to cause substantial harm to a very special landscape must not be undertaken without very substantial reasons.
This was a hugely important judgment that has been referred to widely in subsequent planning and court decisions and has helped communities across the country protect the green spaces they love.
The importance of this judgment does not, of course, belie Brian’s sharp wit and sense of humour. He was a genuinely gentle giant who was taken from us far too soon.
Both Brian and Gary will be fondly remembered by their CPRE Kent friends and our thoughts and condolences are with their family, friends and loved ones.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Threat to Western Heights and Farthingloe confirmed as developer looks to put scheme back before council

Farthingloe: under pressure again (pic Vicky Ellis)

The renewed threat to develop the Farthingloe Valley in the Kent Downs AONB has been confirmed.
We reported in June last year (see here) that applicant China Gateway International had requested Dover District Council provide a scoping opinion for an updated environmental impact assessment in preparation for a renewed application at the site.
This followed the Supreme Court’s confirmation, in December 2017, that planning permission for more than 500 houses and a 90-apartment retirement village at Great Farthingloe Farm, together with associated development at nearby Western Heights, remained quashed.
That case had been brought about by CPRE Kent challenging DDC’s granting of planning permission for the scheme in 2015.
The Supreme Court was backing the Court of Appeal’s verdict that DDC  planning committee had not given legally adequate reasons for approving the application. DDC had challenged that Court of Appeal decision, necessitating the Supreme Court case.
Now, however, CGI has submitted “updated application documents” prior to redetermination by DDC.
The letter of submission from planning consultancy RPS, written on behalf of CGI, says: “The scheme has been subject to minor beneficial changes, incorporating advice from DDC and consultees.
“This has resulted in one change to the description of the development, reducing the number of residential units at Farthingloe from 521 to 512 units.”
Responding to the news, Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said: “CPRE Kent maintains its original objections to these proposals.
“There is no doubt that we need to solve the housing shortage facing both rural and urban areas, but we must build the right types of housing in the right places.
“The Farthingloe part of the site is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which should be given the highest levels of protection, and these plans represent a grossly inappropriate incursion to this protected landscape.
“We know that the housing affordability crisis is particularly acute in the South East, yet these proposals will deliver no affordable or social housing at all; they will not provide the homes which are so desperately needed in the district. There is still no justification for sacrificing such a large area of AONB.
“We are particularly disappointed that the promoters still claim that the Farthingloe site is brownfield when it is clearly not – a quick check of Dover District Council’s own brownfield register confirms this. Part of the the site was used briefly as temporary accommodation land during the construction of the Channel Tunnel, but temporary permission for such uses does not grant brownfield status.
“Although DDC granted permission for this project, the Court of Appeal judged that its decision was wrong, since its planning committee failed to give legally adequate reasons for allowing substantial harm to an AONB.
“DDC chose to take that decision to the UK Supreme Court, where CPRE Kent had no option but to defend this challenge if we wished to see this site remain protected.
“And in December 2017 the Supreme Court Judgment confirmed its agreement with the Court of Appeal that there was no legally adequate justification to grant this permission.
“We can see no reason the legal position will be any different for the application this time around, since there is so little difference from the original proposals.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Farthingloe: the developers are threatening its future again

Under threat again? Farthingloe Valley, on the outskirts of Dover

Plans to develop the Farthingloe Valley in the Kent Downs AONB appear to be resurfacing.
When, in December last year, the Supreme Court confirmed that planning permission for more than 500 houses and a 90-apartment retirement village at Great Farthingloe Farm, together with associated development at nearby Western Heights, remained quashed, the decision of CPRE Kent to challenge Dover District Council’s granting of planning permission back in 2015 was vindicated.
The Supreme Court was confirming the Court of Appeal’s verdict that DDC  planning committee had not given legally adequate reasons for approving the application. DDC had challenged that Court of Appeal decision, necessitating the Supreme Court case.
Now, however, the applicant, China Gateway International, has requested DDC provide a scoping opinion for an updated environmental impact assessment in preparation for a renewed application at the site.
Little seems to have changed in relation to the application itself. The planning consultancy says in its scoping report: “The Farthingloe layout is currently being reviewed in consultation with Dover District Council and consultees.
“The layout will include minor changes to reflect comments made by the council and consultees following submission of the application in May 2012.
“Progress on the Farthingloe layout to date includes; a reduction in the area of land to be developed with an increase in accessible green space, and; reorganisation of the proposed built development to reduce the height of buildings in the south west corner and to comply with the required setback distances for the existing sewer in the north east corner.
“It should be noted that between submission of the application in 2012 and permission being granted in 2015, the proposed housing development at Western Heights was reduced from 93 units to 40.”
Dr Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said: “These plans are essentially unchanged from those initially submitted back in 2012.
“They remain as wrong and as unacceptable in an AONB now as they were then.”

Monday, June 4, 2018

Farthingloe court victory crucial in halting AONB development at Densole

The Supreme Court victory at Farthingloe is helping protect countryside across a wider area

CPRE Kent’s Supreme Court victory over Farthingloe continues to have ramifications far and wide, but this recent story comes from close to home. It has a satisfactory conclusion, but some of the events that unfolded during the planning process are disturbing.
In February last year, Shepway District Council’s planning committee approved plans for 12 holiday lodges, tennis courts and a fishing lake at Little Densole Farm, Densole, in the Kent Downs AONB.
This decision was made despite the council’s own planning officer recommending the scheme be refused, while both CPRE Kent and the Kent Downs AONB Unit had objected to it.
Happily, a businessman who lives close to Little Densole Farm challenged the council’s granting of planning permission and the case went to judicial review at the High Court in January this year.
The judgment was handed down the following month, with Mrs Justice Lang quashing the planning consent on the basis of inadequate reasons for overturning the officer’s recommendation.
In making this judgment, she cited the case of Dover District Council v CPRE Kent, where at the Supreme Court we successfully defended the Appeal Court’s decision to quash a planning permission in the Farthingloe Valley on the outskirts of Dover.
The Supreme Court had agreed with the Appeal Court that Dover District Council’s planning committee had not given legally adequate reasons for granting planning permission for more than 600 homes, which it acknowledged would cause significant harm in a protected landscape.
In the Densole case, the claimant [Tim Steer] based his bid for a judicial review of Shepway’s decision on three grounds.
The first two were:

  • “The council failed to consider or apply NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] when deciding the application.”
  • “The council reached an irrational conclusion that the proposed development would not harm the Kent North Downs AONB.”

These were both rejected by the court.
Firstly, there was confusion caused by Shepway’s inadequate minutes of meetings, which meant the judge could not be certain NPPF had not been referred to in the meeting.
However, the further conclusion here is that there needs to be a higher standard of minutes at planning meetings.
The second ground, meanwhile, was rejected because of the difficulty of establishing proof. Mrs Lang said in her judgment: “There is a high threshold to surmount before a finding of irrationality can properly be made. The burden of proof rests upon the claimant, and I consider he has failed to establish irrationality.”
All of which brings us to the third ground, the one that was accepted by the judge:

  • “The committee was under a common-law duty to give reasons for its decision, as it was not following the OR’s [officer’s report’s] recommendation, and the application concerned a protected AONB. It failed to provide adequate and intelligible reasons for its decision to grant planning permission.”

It is here that the Farthingloe case is cited. Without that ruling, the challenge to the granting of planning permission at Little Densole Farm would have fallen short.
Despite what was ultimately the right result for the countryside – and a scathing verdict on Shepway planning committee’s failure to provide “adequate and intelligible reasons for its decision” – it is concerning that the challenge had to be brought by a member of the public financially able to do so.
Mr Steer, who reportedly paid some £35,000 to bring his challenge, is quoted in the Folkestone and Hythe Express as saying:
“We hope that in the future the council will take its responsibilities more seriously and carefully and follow planning policy and logic.
“I have had to buy this victory. And I think it is perverse that even though I have won this case on one of three counts I have to pay out.
“This means that if people see a council decision they believe is unlawful they need to find up to £40,000 to legally challenge it.”
The inadequate minuting of planning committee meetings also raises worries about the democratic process at Shepway, a spokesman for whom said the local authority hoped to establish a system of recording and broadcasting meetings from April.
Hopefully, such an approach will avoid the sort of ‘confusion’ that occurred in this case, where – as detailed in the judgment – Shepway planning committee chairman Dick Pascoe, when asked to explain why an application recommended for refusal was in fact being approved, apparently replied that “he wanted to overturn everything that was recommended to be refused”.
Cllr Pascoe ‘clarifies’ this extraordinary statement at a subsequent meeting thus: “To clarify… what I stated was, all the reasons for refusal of the application, were my reasons for approval.
“So all you have to do is to just turn the wording around and that was the words I used and I am seeing nods as well, that’s what I actually asked for. That the reasons for approval, were it to be opposite of my reasons for approval and that is why this is staying as it is because this is exactly what I said and asked for…”
Got that?
Either way, let’s all be grateful for Farthingloe and, in this case, Mr Steer, who fought for the Kent countryside – and an AONB – in a manner his local authority chose not to. We live in worrying times…

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Farthingloe Valley saved as CPRE Kent wins battle in Supreme Court

Saved! Farthingloe Valley, on the outskirts of Dover

CPRE Kent is delighted and relieved to announce that it has successfully defended the Appeal Court’s decision to quash a planning permission in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the Farthingloe Valley near Dover.
The Supreme Court agreed with the Appeal Court that the Planning Committee at Dover District Council did not give legally adequate reasons for granting planning permission for more than 600 homes, which they acknowledged would cause significant harm in a protected landscape.
CPRE Kent Director Hilary Newport said: “This is the best possible news: we have been absolutely determined to save this beautiful and iconic area of countryside. Such significant harm to the AONB cannot be justified purely for economic benefit.
“This case is not just important to the people of Dover but for the principles of planning law; AONBs merit the highest possible level of protection. Today’s judgment confirms that not only was the decision flawed, but so was the planning committee’s decision-making process.”
When the application was originally considered, Dover District Council planning officers recognised the adverse impact and put forward comprehensive proposals to limit the damage to the landscape. Councillors rejected those mitigation proposals and granted permission anyway.
This permission was quashed by the Appeal Court in 2016 on the grounds that the planning committee did not give legally adequate reasons for permitting a scheme, against their officer’s advice, that they acknowledged would harm the AONB. The Supreme Court has now confirmed that the permission is quashed.
Kristina Kenworthy of CPRE Kent’s solicitors Richard Buxton Environmental and Public Law said: “This decision brings much needed clarity to the need for public authorities to give reasons for their decisions. The Supreme Court has confirmed that planning is not a special case: the need for transparency and scrutiny means that people are entitled to know what has been decided and why, and if necessary enable effective recourse to the courts. This decision should lead to more rigour, better planning – and less argument.”
CPRE Kent Chairman Christine Drury said: “We will never give up on our countryside. This was a really bad proposal which the planning officer tried hard to improve, and it should never have received permission. I would like to thank our legal team, our volunteers, our members and everyone who support us in protecting our countryside.”

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

See the judgment here: uksc-2016-0188-judgment


Landscape Heritage?

By Rose Lister

In my last article I asked what you think of when someone mentions heritage. Have I opened your eyes to the idea that heritage covers more than just bricks and mortar? Now let me ask you, what about hills? What of the valleys and rivers that stand stretching and winding through our county? What of the farmlands that make us the Garden of England? Our landscape is something we all use and rarely consider to be an inheritance, a place of magnificence that holds the secrets of our past. Our landscape feeds us, clothes us and gives us shelter. It gives us the air we breathe. Do we really appreciate it?

In recent years our built heritage has been making waves in the planning system showing that what we created in ages past is precious. Don’t you think that the landscape this lies in deserves to make the same waves? Areas such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty have long been recognised and now the settings of historic buildings are also making their mark. In 2014 Barnwell Manor in Northamptonshire won an appeal case that affected the setting of a Grade I listed building. 2015 saw a home win for CPRE Kent when the Waterside Park application was quashed due to the developments negative effects on the setting of the Grade I listed Leeds Castle.

Leeds Castle Aerial Shot, photo Leeds Castle Foundation

However, although landscape that was the main issue, it was the attachment to the heritage asset that made it worth saving. Surely the same curtesy should be extended to our landscape heritage?

Since 2014 CPRE Kent has been fighting a battle to save our landscape heritage. The Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has been the subject of a skirmish between developers and defenders. The prospective development at Western Heights and Farthingloe is threatening our landscape heritage. Much of the AONB is carefully managed – it is home to much of Kent’s historic fruit farming industry, it thrives with ancient woodland, the landscape holds the stories of generations long gone, even some of the species that live there are endemic. As such this beautiful and versatile landscape has been threatened for the very reason it was designated. It is a beautiful place and people will pay a premium to live in it.

Farthingloe view from Western Heights, photo CPRE

Farthingloe view from Western Heights, photo CPRE

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Seeking leave to appeal Judicial Review decision on Farthingloe

As you know CPRE Kent is challenging Dover District Council’s decision to grant planning permission for more than 600 homes on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) at Farthingloe.  We took our challenge to the High Court for Judicial Review on 15/16 December. The judge agreed that this was an important case, but did not accept our arguments in favour of protecting the AONB.  We are continuing to challenge this very wrong decision.

Farthingloe, photo by Vicky Ellis

Farthingloe, photo by Vicky Ellis

We have today (January 6th) applied to ask the Court of Appeal to consider the issues raised by the Farthingloe application, which the High Court acknowledged were “important”. Dover District Council’s planners recognised that the Kent Downs AONB would be seriously damaged if this development goes ahead, without any mitigation of the harm that would be caused. Planning permission was granted on the basis of a “composite” planning application which would include the housing development at Farthingloe and a contribution to work at the Western Heights Drop Redoubt. We maintain that this was unlawful, went against planning regulations and must be fought. We have decided to take this next step because protection of the Kent countryside, particularly the designated landscapes of AONBs which should be protected by law, is fundamental to our cause.

We will update further when we hear back from the Court of Appeal.

For more on the Judicial review see here and here.

January 6th 2016

Disappointment at judgement over building in AONB

High Court judge Mr Justice Mitting has rejected CPRE Kent’s grounds for Judicial Review of the decision to grant planning permission for more than 600 homes in the AONB at Farthingloe, Dover. But he said the charity was right to bring the case to test the planning system.
The plans at Farthingloe include 521 new houses, a 90 apartment retirement village, health facility and conversion of a farmhouse into a bed and breakfast, a thatched barn into a pub/restaurant and a stable block into a shop. All this development wopuld be on AONB land which is supposed to be protected under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).An additional 31 homes are planned at Western Heights, as well as Victoria Hall being redeveloped for nine residential units and a 130-bedroom hotel, plus converting the famous Drop Redoubt into a new museum and visitor centre.
Dover Farthingloe from Mount Road Vic 030
CPRE Kent is not opposed to the principle of new housing development in the district but this should be in the right place, not on an AONB. And we are in favour of the proposed improvements of heritage assets, but this cannot justify the destruction of the AONB.

CPRE Kent Director Dr Hilary Newport said:
“We are utterly dismayed and disappointed at the judgement. It is vital that we protect Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty for future generations and to allow this intensive building at Farthingloe makes a mockery of the whole planning system which is supposed to provide the highest level of protection for AONBs. The reality, when tested through the courts, is that it has failed to protect the AONB.

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Important Judicial Review

A High Court judge will today and tomorrow consider whether the decision to grant planning permission for more than 600 homes on an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty near Dover was lawful.

We have taken the plans for Farthingloe and the Western Heights to Judicial Review in a last ditch attempt to protect this beautiful and iconic landscape.

South across the valley to site B from Little Farthingloe Farm 2

View across the valley at Farthingloe, photo Brian Lloyd

Dover District Council has granted planning permission for 521 houses and a 90 dwelling retirement village in the AONB at Farthingloe and a large hotel on the historically important Western Heights.

We have discovered that the Government’s planning experts had recommended in 2013 that the then Secretary of State for Planning Nick Boles “call in” the application because of the question mark over justification of building in the AONB.

We finally have a copy of the un-redacted letter (dated 19 June 2013) recommending this, obtained after a two year process of Freedom of Information requests.

The two statutory advice bodies, Natural England and Kent Downs AONB Unit, as well as CPRE Kent and the National Trust all requested that the outline planning permission be called in for a public inquiry. The planned development would have a major detrimental impact on the AONB, was contrary to national planning policy, was not sustainable and was not part of Dover’s agreed Development Plan.

In the advice to the Secretary of State, the planning casework officer said: “If you decide not to call-in this application, this could place the protected landscape of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at risk, leading to potential negative press coverage and reputation risk for the Government.”

There was shock and disappointment when the decision was made NOT to call in the application in July 2013. Planning permission was granted in April 2015.

“A Judicial Review is not a decision to be taken lightly,” said CPRE Kent Chairman Christine Drury. “But as this planning decision was so clearly wrong and so important it is now up to us to fight for the AONB through the Planning Court.  In planning law, AONB has the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty and we do not believe there are the exceptional circumstances to justify the destruction of this fantastic landscape.”

A High Court judge will consider the case for judicial review and hear the arguments on Tuesday and Wednesday this week (December 15th and 16th).  We expect the judgement early in the New Year.

December 9th 2015

Autumn Winter 2015 Kent Voice

The Autumn Winter edition of Kent Voice should be arriving on your doorstep any time now.

cover photo jpeg for website

It contains lots of interesting articles on subjects ranging from the Magna Carta to grazing management of some of our most beautiful countryside as well as all the latest campaigns news. Find out about good news fro the Romney Marsh, good news on Waterside Park, and our latest efforts to save the AONB at Farthingloe.

There is also information on the AGM coming up on 20th November and events and outings coming up over the next year.

To read click on the photo.