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

Why we are fighting to save the countryside at Farthingloe

You may have noticed some recent media coverage (BBC South East and Dover Express) where Dover MP Charlie Elphicke claimed CPRE Kent was against all development and was wrong to challenge the decision to grant planning permission for more than 600 homes on an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at Farthingloe (which he mistakenly claimed was brownfield land). Here CPRE Kent Chairman Christine Drury sets the record straight and explains why this campaign is so important for Kent:

We are absolutely not against development in Dover. Our planning expert, Brian Lloyd, spent a huge amount of time working on the Dover Local plan to help make it a good plan. We want Dover to  be successful as much as anyone. We also want the Western Heights to be conserved and restored: they are just as important as Dover Castle and both are incredibly important parts of our national heritage.

Dover Farthingloe from Mount Road Vic 030

What we have to challenge is when the wrong things are being proposed. The Farthingloe site was specifically rejected as an unsuitable site in the local plan process, and the statutory agencies Natural England and the AONB unit, as well as non-statutory bodies, the National Trust and ourselves, thought likewise. But it has fallen to CPRE to take the fight on. It is a pity Charlie Elphicke takes a challenge against one thing that is wrong as a challenge to everything. He is incorrect about it being a brownfield site. A key principle of all good construction projects is that civil engineers make as light an impact as possible on the ground they only need temporarily, and restore it afterwards. That was the commitment at Farthingloe, as it was at  many other sites along the subsequent Channel Tunnel Rail Link construction line through Kent. There will always be those who try to claim brownfield status. It is unfortunate and misleading that Charlie has taken up this line .

On the lorry park, that was a necessary campaigning phase in Dover Port taking greater responsibility for the wider impacts across Kent of the huge volumes of lorry traffic passing through Dover:  Their latest plans do make more provision for trucks needing to park up, though this will no doubt be an ongoing issue.

We do  acknowledge progress and we continue to work hard to get the right things to happen.  But we will continue to challenge when we see the wrong planning decisions being made. We will see in December whether the courts agree. We did not take this action lightly but if CPRE does not take a stand to save our countryside who will?

Dover is a really important part of Kent – we will continue to campaign to look after it as we try to do for all of Kent. We have fantastic countryside and a great county which we need to protect for future generations.

November 17th 2015