F&HDC appoint construction company to deliver new leisure centre

Yesterday (23rd Feb 2021) F&HDC announced they had appointed BAM Construction to deliver the new leisure centre on Princes Parade. BAM and FHDC have entered a pre-contact services agreement for the surveys, design, investigations and coordination of services only. There is no building work included in this pre-contact services agreement as far as we can make out.

BAM have secured the two stage tender. The first stage, we assume, is a fixed price of £2.5 million for the pre-contract services agreement; the second stage is for the contract works, that is all the building work. By winning the tender BAM Construction can exclusively negotiate the second stage. This is a standard procurement process for high risk construction which hold great uncertainty.

Many people have asked if procurement procedures were followed correctly but we can only confirm they were followed if we were given a copy of the tender/contract documents, which is very unlikely to happen.

Clearly we are entering last chance saloon but that chance is 50/50 because Princes Parade has always been protected by the prohibitive costs of dealing with the contamination and these costs are completely unknown.

These investigations by BAM will determine the exact composition of the ground, the nature and extent of the contaminated material contained within the ground and the costs of remediating the ground. It is likely that these costs will be very high. If the costs prove to be prohibitively high the project will be abandoned, just as all other development proposals on the site have been abandoned.

If the project is abandoned the £2.5 million of local people’s money committed on the pre-contract services agreement will have been wasted.

If the costs to remediate the site are, for example, 25% higher than anticipated and the overall project cost approaches £30 million it will be a political decision whether or not a £30 million swimming pool offers good value to the people of the district when there is an alternative available site at Martello Lakes for a princely sum of £1.

Martello Lakes: “only chance” for new Hythe swimming pool

“…the proposal to re-route Princes Parade to the north is misconceived, introduces unnecessary costs and undermines the character of the site”

“Although it has sometimes been used insensitively in the past its open character is valuable. The views from the community around Seabrook Road to the beach and sea and back the other way are valuable as is the view down to the site from the higher parts of Seabrook We note the local opposition to this scheme and the concerns of Historic England.”

“…an intrusive roadway close to the scheduled ancient monument”
“The character of this site is of a vibrant sea-front and a quiet canal area”

At F&HDC’s next full council meeting on Wednesday 24th February Cllr Tim Prater plans to table an amendment to the Capital Spending Programme seeking to delete the allocated budget for Princes Parade as the site for a new leisure centre/swimming pool in order to allow further investigation of the Martello Lakes option.

An independent report commissioned by Shepway District Council in 2016 and the Environment Agency’s assessment of the drainage/run-off plans as “just about viable” suggest that the plan is so fundamentally flawed, so logistically and financially uncertain that, if pursued, Hythe may never gets its much-needed new pool.

You can read the Design South East report here and the Environment Agency’s letter here.

The campaign to Save Princes Parade:
The story so far… a very brief summary

The open space that lies between the Royal Military Canal and the seafront at Princes Parade is earmarked for development by the local council with plans that include a housing estate of 150 three- and four-storey seafront homes, a five-storey hotel, commercial premises and a leisure centre.

It had been clear since 2011 that Shepway District Council (now renamed as Folkestone & Hythe District Council) was determined to build on the land and when the Council submitted its planning application in 2017, The Save Princes Parade campaign which had been a hub for opposition to any development on Princes Parade was established as a formal group objecting to the F&HDC planning application and challenging its plans to develop Princes Parade.

In July 2019 formal consent of planning permission for the Princes Parade development was granted and the Save Princes Parade campaign prepared to mount a legal challenge to the decision through a Judicial Review. The hearing in the High Court was eventually held in March 2020 and in June we were notified that the claim was unsuccessful.

In December 2020 our legal challenge was effectively ended when we were denied permission to appeal the decision.

However the campaign continues. The issues we have been highlighting throughout our campaign haven’t gone away and F&HDC still faces serious problems delivering its proposals.

About Princes Parade

Princes Parade is both beautiful and peaceful.

It is also of considerable historic and ecological significance and until recently was legally protected as Public Open Space.

The Royal Military Canal was built more than 200 years ago as a defensive measure during the Napoleonic wars. It is the only military canal in the country and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. In a district that prides itself on its military connections and history, we are lucky to have such a significant and beautiful heritage asset on our doorstep. Today, with its tranquil and accessible waterside paths, the Canal combines with the vibrant seafront promenade to provide a variety of low-key leisure activities that all can enjoy for free.

With the pandemic lockdown, it has never been clearer how essential this tranquil and natural open space is for both the physical and psychological well-being of the local community.

Of incalculable value to residents, Princes Parade also attracts many visitors from outside the immediate area. Its seafront road and promenade are renowned for their open character and panoramic views of the Hythe hills to the north and the open sea and France (on clear days) to the south.

Prior to 1974 the site was used for landfill but has long since greened over and is now a safe habitat for migrating birds, a range of animals, insects, and plant life. When dismissing an earlier attempt to grant itself planning permission in 2004, the Government planning inspector said, “it is one of the finest vistas in the district”.

This video illustrates why local people and visitors to the area are so upset by the proposals to develop this beautiful green open space – most definitely not a wasteland!

The Damage

The Council’s proposals will: destroy the tranquillity and beauty of the Canal and its place at the heart of the local community; undermine the Canal’s status as a Scheduled Ancient Monument; devastate the site’s ecology and wildlife and obliterate the historic seafront views for which Princes Parade has been long renowned.

Among those who have objected to the plans are Historic England, the Environment Agency, CPRE, Kent Wildlife Trust, KCC Archaeology, Hythe Town Council and Sandgate Parish Council.

To make way for the beachside development, the Council’s proposals involve the removal of all vegetation from the site, the diversion of the existing road away from the seafront to run alongside the Canal and six metres above it, and the drainage of surface water from the site into the Canal itself.

The Council’s own consultants admit that the contaminated landfill is of no risk to current users of the site. It is, however, totally unsuitable for a residential development since it is impossible to remove the contamination and deep piling will be required, disturbing the landfill creating a risk that asbestos dust and other unknown contaminants will be released which could affect children in the primary school just a few hundred yards away.

This is just one example of many hazards inherent in developing this fragile site which is far better left undisturbed. Past ground surveys have produced evidence of asbestos, heavy metals, oil and hospital waste contamination.

The Council concedes that damage will be done to Princes Parade by this development and to compensate, an ‘amenity area’ and a leisure centre are planned for the site. But problems with drainage (the site is in a flood zone) means that the ‘amenity area’ will now be taken up by a 1¼ acre muddy attenuation drainage pond for surface water disposal.

The Campaign

Initially formed in 2011, the Save Princes Parade campaign group was formally established in 2017 to oppose the Council’s latest attempt to develop the site.

Since then, the Council have refused to accept a petition of over 6,500 names and has brushed aside many individual emails and letters objecting to the plans. They have also ignored more than 600 formal written objections from residents submitted at the consultation stage of the planning process.

A timeline of significant events can be found here.

The district elections of May 2019 ensured that nearly half our Councillors are now opposed to the development. Shortly after this election, the Full Council voted to abandon the Princes Parade scheme. Although this decision was overridden by the Cabinet, opposition councillors continue to work hard within the District Council to prevent this development.

In a hugely powerful demonstration of support for the cause, residents and SPP members organised fund-raising events and generously donated nearly £50,000 to pay the costs of our attempt to overturn the Council’s grant of planning permission for Princes Parade through a Judicial Review.

What’s next?

The campaign continues…

Unfortunately, our legal challenge was unsuccessful. The Judicial Review, however, was but one of many hurdles for the District Council to overcome and they still have some extraordinarily difficult problems ahead. For example, F&HDC still needs to take account of the many objections to, and logistical problems of, ‘stopping up’ the road. There are also extensive environmental, drainage and ecological issues to be addressed as well as justifying the financial viability, yet to be ascertained, of building on this site. Despite F&HDC’s previous claims, Princes Parade is certainly not the cheapest and quickest means of providing a new swimming pool for Hythe. There is an ideal alternative location for the leisure centre available to the Council for £1 at Martello Lakes on the west side of Hythe which would better serve the residents of Romney Marsh where there is a real need for a swimming pool.

Currently we are working on promoting Martello Lakes as the only guaranteed deliverable solution to the challenge of providing Hythe with its a much-needed new pool. We are also investigating the ‘conditions’ imposed when the Princes Parade planning permission was granted and will be ensuring they are adhered to if, or when, development begins. We are also exploring the options we can pursue to prevent the ‘stopping up of the road’ and pressing for a realistic examination of the costs of development.

How to help…

There will be opportunities to object to aspects of the scheme in the future and we will flag these up as and when they arise. Meanwhile it’s always worth writing or emailing councillors to make your views known and we will keep you informed of any formal opportunities for you to object.