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Wild about Prince’s Parade

Mother Nature In Mourning

The land which is earmarked for development at Princes Parade has been largely left undisturbed for many years, and the eastern stretch of the Royal Military Canal from Twiss Road to Seabrook still has soft, reeded banks and unmade footpaths. This has enabled a diverse range of wildlife to establish itself and thrive. The birds in the trees and bushes and on the water delight walkers every day. Not so obvious is the wildlife that has prospered in the land that has been closed to the public for years.

A new campaign group, Wild About Prince’s Parade, has been set up to give a voice to the badgers, the lizards and snakes, the foxes, the bats and the birds that are already suffering from the preparatory work being carried out and will be removed – or worse – before construction starts next year.


Read this feature in KentOnline and join the Wild About Prince’s Parade group on Facebook and follow on Instagram.


Glyphosate used on tree stumps

A number of tree stumps from the trees felled on the north bank of the Royal Military Canal have been found to have been treated with glyphosate plugs, presumably to prevent any regrowth and hasten decomposition.

The use of glyphosate,  a powerful herbicide, which is dangerous to human health and as well as to wildlife including bees and earthworms in an area which is designated for habitat creation is reckless.

Read more about the effects of glyphosate on our environment here.

The controversial clearance of vegetation from the north bank should have been undertaken in February, not March when the nesting season had already begun. A further reason the work should have done before March was the time necessary for enough new reptile habitat to be established.

This document (pdf) spells out the issues.


Remember to Vote!

Thursday May 6th 2021 is polling day for a number of local elections.

Of particular interest to supporters of Save Princes Parade are:

Folkestone & Hythe District Council

  • Election of a Town Councillor: Hythe East Ward
  • Election of a Parish Councillor: Sandgate Village Ward

Kent County Council:

Election of a County Councillor:

  • Cheriton, Sandgate & Hythe East Division
  • Elham Valley Division
  • Folkestone East Division
  • Folkestone West
  • Hythe West
  • Romney Marsh

Details of candidates for these elections can be found on the Folkestone & Hythe District Council Website here.


Interesting Timing

Just as ground investigation works began on the proposed development site Southern Water placed some new signage along the Royal Military Canal asking to the public to be “Pollution Spotters” and alert them of any “discolouration, odours or debris” and “dead fish or wildlife in distress”.

This former landfill site conceals hazardous waste and F&HDC has warned residents that they might notice unpleasant odours as the work continues.

It’s also worth remembering that while the Environment Agency has withdrawn its objection to the Planning Application, describing the surface water drainage scheme as “just about viable”, it is clearly concerned about drainage into the canal. Also concerned is Historic England which hasn’t withdrawn its objection to the development and surface water drainage into the canal – a Scheduled Monument – is a key issue.

You can read our previous article on the subject and find links to comments by Environment Agency and Historic England here.


Site investigation work starts at Princes Parade

After causing a furore among local residents when contractors began clearing trees and vegetation from the north side of the Royal Military Canal, Folkestone & Hythe District Council has begun ground investigation work on the development site. The investigations, which involve drilling and excavation, are scheduled to last five weeks.

According to F&HDC this work will be noisy and generate “some odour” from “deposited materials”. We assume that this refers to waste from the time the area was used as landfill. There are no reliable records of what may be buried there but past ground surveys show evidence of asbestos, heavy metals, oil and hospital waste. The council’s press release says “all operatives are trained and may be required to wear masks and paper suits as a safety precaution”.

That will be a sight to see as we take a stroll along Princes Parade in the coming weeks!

There are few details on the safeguards for the wildlife and once more we need to be concerned about how it will suffer at the hands of the council and its contractors.

You can read the “Site Investigation works – Technical Note” from the contractors here (pdf) for more details.

The stated purpose of the site investigation is to work is “inform the works required to prepare the area (above) for leisure facilities and accessible open spaces” – no mention of 150 homes, hotel, shops, moving the road… etc


Ecologist wasn’t there for nesting bird survey

Green Cllr Treloar has confirmed that the ecologist was NOT present when the tree clearance works were to commence on Monday. In the absence of a nesting bird survey and the absence of a qualified ecologist the work should have never been authorised. Our complaint to the authorities to stop should have been upheld and a thorough investigation completed before work was allowed to start… read more

For a first hand account of the tree and vegetation clearance as it began, read this article by Mark Brophy for Kent Bylines

Outcry as trees cut down along the canal

There has been an outcry from local residents and canal users as trees are being cut down and bushes cleared on the north bank of the Royal Military Canal as part of the project to develop Princes Parade.

The work is being done to create a new habitat for the reptiles that F&HDC are planning to relocate from the development site. However, it has been identified that grass snakes inhabit this area and therefore the stumps should not be removed or the ground broken until later in the year as this would compromise their habitat. We are trying to establish if a nesting bird survey was completed by the responsible ecological officer. It is essential that the work is correctly and sensitively carried out and if this is not the case it should be halted.

The timetable for the preparatory work this year involves, first of all, making new habitats for wildlife, particularly reptiles, which would need to be moved from the development site. And according to that timetable the works cannot be undertaken later than the end of February to allow time for reptile habitat establishment and, crucially, because of the presence of nesting birds from March onwards. Full details can be seen in this document from Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design Ltd to F&HDC Development Management Manager Lisette Patching.

On Monday 8 March a section of the canal was  closed off and it is feared more trees are being cut down, stumps removed and vegetation stripped back.

This letter from the Development Management Manager reminds Tibbalds of their obligations under the Wildlife and Countryside Act but still the destruction goes on.

See this message from our Facebook page


 


Contractor chosen for leisure centre

Contractor chosen for leisure centre

On 23rd February 2021 F&HDC announced they had appointed BAM Construction to deliver the new leisure centre on Princes Parade. BAM and F&HDC have entered a pre-contract services agreement for the surveys, design, investigations and coordination of services only.

There is no building work included in this pre-contract 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.

The next step is to monitor the pre-contract services agreement entered into by F&HDC and their contractor BAM. The procurement was based on a two stage design and build contract. The first stage is the pre-contract services agreement which includes surveys, investigation and detailed design, it does not include any building works. The information gathered by BAM will be used to negotiate the price for the second stage of the contract.

Two stage design and build contracts are notorious for cost increases, this is because they are used almost exclusively on projects with a great deal of risks and uncertainty.

On the planning website, we have discovered documents relating to the pre-commencement conditions relating to ecological and ground investigation works:

It appears that work has already begun.

F&HDC are likely to try and keep any cost increases away from public gaze but we will be asking the Councillors who support us to ask for complete transparency.


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.

 

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

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.

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.

The Background

The Background

For many years Folkestone Hythe & District Council (formerly Shepway DC) have been working on a project to build a leisure centre and “enabling” housing (150 new homes) on land the council owns on Princes Parade in Hythe. This project is very unpopular with local people – not just because of the loss of our unique open space and the impact on the wildlife that lives there but also because of the impact on the Royal Military Canal (which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument); the contamination risk because the site was once used as a landfill site; the flood risk and just as important, the financial risk that this project could pose to the council. There is an alternative site for the leisure centre at the Nickoll’s Quarry/Martello Lakes development.

A planning application was  submitted in September 2017 and approved – subject to the Environment Agency  withdrawing its objection relating to surface water drainage – by the planning committee on 16th August 2018 5 for;4 against and one abstention. Unfortunately in a letter dated 15.1.19 the Environment Agency say that they are satisfied that the secondary scheme now presented by the council (ie into the canal) represents a “just about viable” alternative to a direct discharge into the sea. In a letter dated 17.1.19 the EA confirmed that they are withdrawing their objection.

We asked the Secretary of State to call in the application  but he has declined on the grounds that it is of local (ie not national) importance and so should be determined locally. We are looking to see if we have grounds for a judicial review.

The council’s cabinet approved the business plan for the project on Feb13th . The public were excluded from part of this meeting (we believe unlawfully) and we were not allowed access to the papers for the meeting.

The planners have just finished a consultation on the new surface water drainage system and we expect that they will soon issue the planning permission. At which point we will have 6 weeks to request a judicial review of the decision to approve the planning permission. The diversion of the road will need to be approved before the development can go ahead – this may need a public inquiry.

At the cabinet meeting on Feb 13th it was agreed to delegate management of the project mainly to an officer which means there will be even less public scrutiny of this than there has been so far. From the papers we have been able to see the council believe that the costs of the project will be £29m and that they will have enough capital receipts to cover this. We believe that the costs have been seriously underestimated and the proceeds from land sales overestimated so the council could be left with a multi million pound loss. The council’s own consultants admit this is a risky project. Councillor Monk states that the project is financially viable but the truth is the council is not yet in a position to be sure of that. Even if the project was financially viable, it will require a considerable amount of up front funding. It seems that the council are proposing to cover that by means of internal borrowing.

At a meeting of full council on 26th June 2019 a motion was passed to withdraw the planning application and to start work on a planning application for the leisure centre at Martello Lakes. However the Monitoring Officer claims this decision is not binding on cabinet. We wait to see how Davis Monk the Leader of the council will respond to this.

Scroll down past the aerial picture for more information.

You can read the full resolution  re the planning decision here.

The planning officers recommended that planning permission is granted you can read their reports here committee report  and here Supplement Information

You can watch the video of the meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2Vr5uWOlDw&feature=youtu.be

The summary of the planning application is: Hybrid planning application for the development of land at Princes Parade. An application for outline planning permission (with all matters reserved) for up to 150 residential dwellings (Use Class C3), up to 1,270sqm of commercial uses including hotel use (Use Class C1), retail uses (Use Class A1) and / or restaurant/cafe uses (Use Class A3); hard and soft landscaped open spaces, including children’s play facilities, surface parking for vehicles and bicycles, alterations to existing vehicular and pedestrian access and highway layout within and around the site, site levelling and groundworks, and all necessary supporting infrastructure and services. Full application comprising a 2,961sqm leisure centre (Use Class D2), including associated parking, open spaces and children’s play facility.

Apart from the many harms that will be caused by this development – harm to the setting of the Royal Military Canal (which is a scheduled ancient monument; loss of open space; loss of the wonderful vistas and open character of the site; loss of wildlife habitat and the loss of tranquility along the canal, one of our biggest concerns is that the project is not financially viable . The council do not seem to have an appreciation of the challenges of developing the site nor the risks involved.

There is another site for the new leisure centre at Nickolls Quarry (now Martello Lakes) so there is no justification for causing all this harm nor for the council to embark on such a risky project.

We are very concerned that so much of the application is outline only and that the applicant is trying to leave many of the details (including design and dealing with the contamination) to be decided as reserved matters or conditions. In other words, planning permission could be granted with all these details undecided ie effectively giving the developer who buys the housing land a blank cheque.

Is this what you want Princes Parade to look like?

We believe that Princes Parade is a valuable open space and should be left that way to protect the wildlife and to protect the Royal Military Canal which is a scheduled ancient monument. We have serious  concerns about the financial viability of Shepway’s proposals to develop the site (and the other linked sites) and do not think it is appropriate to build on a contaminated site.

The original idea for a leisure centre to replace the existing swimming pool came about as part of the planning application for Nickoll’s quarry (now Martello Lakes). The s106 agreement for that development includes a prepared site for the new facility which Shepway can buy for £1. The agreement also provides for a payment of £3.2m towards the new facility whether at Martello Lakes or elsewhere in Hythe.

In 2012 Shepway DC commissioned 2 sets of consultants’ reports. One from Strategic Leisure looking at the preferred site for the leisure centre (NQ, Princes Parade and the existing site) and one from GVA looking at Princes Parade.  The brief to GVA said

The purpose of this project is to secure a residential allocation for the mixed use redevelopment of Shepway District Council owned land at Princes Parade, Hythe in the council’s proposed Site Allocation Development Plan Document.”

Mixed use included the new recreation centre, a new Seabrook Primary School and housing.

Strategic Leisure concluded (without any public consultation) that the preferred site should be Princes Parade although the report itself didn’t provide overwhelming evidence to support that. This recommendation was accepted by Cabinet at their meeting in December 2012 when they also authorised officers to continue with the project.

In July 2013 Cabinet authorised the officers to look at a revised plan which included looking at the linked sites as well as identify the sources of funding (which has still not been made public.). At this stage Shepway had still not done a viability study of their plans nor had they done a contamination study.

In May 2014 Cabinet considered further reports from Strategic leisure (who now recommended a cheaper model for the leisure centre) and GVA.  The financial assessments provided by GVA were “high level”.  Jeremy Chambers said he would ask GVA to provide more detailed financial data but this was never done. It was agreed that the number of houses be limited to 36 and that a covenant be out in place to protect any remaining open space and parkland. We remained concerned that Shepway had still not identified all the costs and potential risks. GVA and Strategic Leisure differed in opinion as to whether the east or west end of Princes Parade would be the most suitable so it was agreed this would be put to the public. Unfortunately this was done by Shepway’s PR consultants who insisted that the contaminated waste would be removed. Shepway eventually conceded the waste would be capped not removed.

During the summer of 2014, Shepway commissioned a heritage study from Lee Evans. Shepway weren’t keen to publish this but we eventually got hold of it via a FoI request. Lee Evans recommended that Shepway delete housing from their proposal and discussed the risk of significant damage to the Royal Military Canal if the Leisure Centre is built on Princes Parade. Historic England have serious concerns about the effect on the setting of the Royal Military Canal. Read more here.

Early in 2015, Shepway held a public consultation as part of the Local Plan process. 80% of those who responded to the Princes Parade question were against development on the site but Shepway have never publicly acknowledged this.

In July 2015 Shepway officers attended a Hythe Town Council meeting with proposals to put a new pool and housing either on the existing site and/or on the South Road recreation ground. Both of these options were later ruled out (mainly because of parking but also because Shepway needs the capital receipt from the existing pool to part fund the new facility) but Hythe Town Council suggested they also look at The Green for the new leisure centre.

On 28th October 2015 Shepway’s resource Scrutiny Committee recommended that Cabinet reconsider Nickoll’s Quarry as the preferred site but cabinet ignored that recommendation.

On 4th November Cabinet were presented with a new report which:

-said that the new primary school was not financially viable (any final decision resting with Kent County Council);

– included a comparison of the 5 possible sites for the leisure centre including The Green concluding that The Green should be the preferred site with Princes Parade second preference. (However we would dispute the reasons given for ruling out NQ.)  Note that even if the leisure centre was built on The Green then there would be housing on Princes Parade.

– said that remedial measures would be needed to deal with the contamination (but note the contamination will be capped not removed.)

– included land value assessments for the various sites (note that lower density housing on Princes Parade gives rise to a higer land value because more of the land would have to be sold off.)

– recommended submitting outline planning applications for The Green (subject to HTC approval) and Princes Parade

Some of the supporting documents (including the contamination report and another report from Lee Evans looking at the planning risks due to risk of harm to the Royal Military Canal)  were published on Shepway’s own Princes Parade website but it is not clear if cabinet members were aware of this.

http://www.princesparade.co.uk/plans.html

At the cabinet meeting Councillor Collier tried to ask how this fitted in with the Local Plan (currently a work in progress) but was ignored.

The report failed to mention the previously agreed covenant on the open space on PP nor the limit of 36 houses but it was confirmed at the meeting that that the relevant resolution still stands.

Hythe Town council  agreed to make part of The Green available to Shepway for the new leisure centre but during the full council meeting at Shepway on 24 February Councillor Monk said that because of problems with the covenant on The Green the leisure centre would be built on Princes Parade after all. He tried to claim there would be no extra cost of building it there – thus ignoring the contamination, harm to the Canal and other known and unknown problems of developing the site.

On 6 April 2016 a report was presented to the Resource Scrutiny Committee. This report was not made public and the public were  excluded from the meeting on the grounds that a third party was involved and hadn’t given their permission. Shepway attempted to do the same for the cabinet meeting on 13th April. We argued that they had not given the required notice/and or reasons. In the end the Hythe & Saltwood Sailing Club who were apparently the third party gave permission for their identity to be revealed and so the public were allowed into the meeting at the last minute.

At the meeting cabinet were presented  with a land use report which showed three options – all three including 150 or more new homes ; two include a leisure centre  and one a “yacht” (they mean sailing) club.  Cabinet members unanimously voted to allow officers to use this report as a basis for a planning application. A budget of £500k for this preparatory work has already been agreed. Officers are due to report back to cabinet before November 2016

Princes Parade is currently designated for open space and recreation – not housing and despite the fact that Shepway keep referring to it as a brownfield site it is not a “previously developed site” as defined in the NPPF. We believe that any attempt to change  the designation of the site should be carried out via the Local Plan ie the proper democratic process.

You can read more about the various council/cabinet meetings including watching videos of some of them here and read some of the reports here.