Council approves its own plans for Princes Parade but the fight might not be over

If the scheme goes ahead, it will impact on the Royal Military Canal, a scheduled historic monument (image courtesy of Save Prince’s Parade, saveprincesparade.org)

More than 700 letters of objection, an e-petition of 6,292 names, opposition from Historic England, Kent Wildlife Trust and CPRE Kent, together with a peaceful protest by some 100 people, were not enough to stop Folkestone and Hythe District Council awarding itself planning permission to develop land it owns at Princes Parade in Hythe.
The council’s planning committee approved the application for up to 150 houses and associated buildings including a leisure centre, hotel and café or restaurant on Thursday, August 16.
The 100 protesters had gathered before the planning meeting, which saw the proposal approved by the tightest of margins, with five votes in favour, four against and one abstention.
CPRE Kent had objected to the council’s plans on ecological grounds, submitting a detailed report highlighting the harm that such a development would cause to the site’s wildlife and wider natural environment.
Our historic buildings committee had also put in an objection, citing the scheme’s unacceptable impact on the setting of the nearby heritage assets, namely the Royal Military Canal and its associated fortifications.
This was supported by government body Historic England, which expressed its concerns about the effect of the development on the setting of the canal, a scheduled historic monument.
Campaigners against the development were also concerned it could be approved even before the site’s future was fully considered as part of the overall planning process for Shepway.
In response to the application’s approval by the council, campaign group Save Princes Parade has asked the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to call it in.
Graham Horner, CPRE Shepway district chairman, said: “The loss of this green open space in an urban area is regrettable.
“The design of the leisure centre is ugly and it has been put in a position that severely compromises the heritage assets in that area.
“To raise the money needed to pay for the necessary clearing-up of the site, which is contaminated, there needed to be a lot of housing in the application and so we’re left with this monstrosity.
“We’re waiting to find out if this will be called in by the Secretary of State as Folkestone and Hythe has been deciding its own planning application – or effectively marking its own homework. I would support anything that brings about a rethink.”

  • For more on this story, see here
  • Visit the Save Princes Parade website here

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Little Densole Farm: council overturns officer recommendation and approves AONB development

CPRE Kent’s Supreme Court victory over the Farthingloe Valley was cited in the initial quashing of the plans for Little Densole Farm 

A planned development in the Kent Downs AONB that had earlier been quashed by the High Court was last night (Tuesday, May 29) approved by Folkestone and Hythe District Council.
The scheme for 12 holiday lodges, tennis courts and a fishing lake at Little Densole Farm, Densole, had initially been approved by the council (when it was known as Shepway District Council) in February last year, but that decision, which had been recommended for refusal by the council’s own planning officer, was challenged by local businessman Tim Steer and in February this year it was overturned by the High Court.
The consent was quashed by Mrs Justice Lang 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 near Dover.
In the Densole case, Mr Steer had based his bid for a judicial review of Shepway’s decision on three grounds.
Two of these were rejected by the court, but the one accepted by the judge was:
“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 was cited.
Mr Steer was 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.”
Last night, however, the proposal – which was again recommended for refusal by a council planning officer – went back before the Folkestone and Hythe planning committee and was accepted by eight votes to one (with one abstention).
It is not immediately apparent how circumstances have changed, or in what way the overturning of the officer’s recommendation was explained sufficiently.
Graham Horner, Shepway CPRE chairman, said: “Disappointingly, this is what we expected, to be honest. One councillor gave a speech giving all the reasons the committee should override the officer’s recommendation.
“There was no logic to it, but they seemed to think that having a recreational area in the AONB would bring in people and money.
“The new officer’s report appeared softened from the initial one. Previously, it had been poorly defined as to what constituted a major development, but it was now decided that, no, this wasn’t a major development, so that cleared one of the major hurdles.
“Why would they change their view? There were no new drawings, no new reports. It was stated that the applicant had planted a lot of trees, but he was going to plant those anyway as part of the application!”
One councillor asked for a recorded vote, but that suggestion was not accepted as four members of the committee need to agree to it.
For more detail on the background to this story, see here

Wednesday, May 30, 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