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:

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.

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.

Is this what you want Princes Parade to look like?

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.

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.