*Update* – Despite considerable opposition from residents, Folkestone & Hythe District Council met last night (Tuesday 24 April) and voted to go ahead with the Section 73 application. This means that it will now be referred to the Secretary of State and, if his office feels it meets the criteria, will be scrutinised by them. If you have watched this unfurl, like many of us, feeling powerless in the face of our own councillors, why not stand as a Labour councillor yourself in our local elections in May 2019? We are just starting the process of selecting candidates – you could make a serious difference to your town and community. We have a councillor training session this Saturday which will cover what’s involved and give advice and guidance.
The Labour Party’s Folkestone Town Councillor, Jackie Meade, has called on Sajid Javid MP, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to take charge of the outstanding application concerning the Folkestone Seafront Development, which is due to come back before Folkestone & Hythe District Council on Tuesday 24 April 2018. Amid public outcry against the sweeping changes to the outline planning permission, which developers have dubbed “minor” amendments to get through a planning loophole to avoid greater scrutiny, the Council had adjourned their meeting on 3 April 2018 for legal advice to be sought.
Jackie has now asked Javid to exercise his powers under section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to ‘call in’ the developers’ application, and to refer it to a public inquiry, because of numerous shortcomings in the application and the lack of proper scrutiny of the amendments by the Conservative dominated Council.
Jackie Meade says:
“As the District Council itself raised doubts about this I have taken the decision to ask the Secretary of State to take charge of the Folkestone Harbour planning amendment application to investigate and rule on the changes proposed to our wonderful and historic coastline. This decision was made as, despite two District councillors telling me they were going to ‘call in’ at District level, this does not seem to have happened. I want to ensure that Folkestone is making the right decision for current and future residents including our children and grandchildren.”
The application for the seafront development has been significantly changed since the original plans were approved, and the developers are trying to put the changes through as a ‘Section 73’ application, which means ‘minor material amendments’ to the original application. As the amendments are, in truth, significant, the Council deferred the decision at the last meeting in order to obtain legal advice on whether it could be approved as a Section 73.
If a planning application is called-in, there will be a public inquiry chaired by a planning inspector, or lawyer, who will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can choose to reject these recommendations if they wish, and will genuinely take the final decision.
Jackie Meade has invited the Council to suspend its meeting on Tuesday until Javid’s department, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, has had a full opportunity to decide whether to ‘call-in’ the application, having heard representations from all relevant parties.
Why has a call in application been lodged?
Labour has campaigned consistently to push for a public meeting with developers, to attempt to bridge the gap between what developers are proposing and what the people of Folkestone want and need. Jackie Meade has worked tirelessly on Folkestone Town Council to push for social housing, not shared ownership; and the ringfencing of the £3.6 million which is to be paid by the developers in lieu of public amenities, among numerous other issues. We believe the people of Folkestone should have their say on this monumental issue.
Development decision is one of national significance
Applications that are called in normally relate to plans which raise issues of national significance. The call-in application includes the following:
The Folkestone-Dover coastline is a National Heritage coastline, with Folkestone Harbour visible at virtually all points on that coastline up to Dover port. The proposed alterations would change the character of the development from a formal layout consistent with the historic buildings within Folkestone town centre, to a much taller, ‘Benidorm’ style design, which would blight this National Heritage coastline and effectively privatise an area that has been used as a public beach for generations. The proposed amendments would fundamentally alter the wonderful views that draw visitors to the area and go far beyond what was originally authorised.
Questions over the ability of the council to make sound judgements
At the last District Council meeting, the long-awaited vote on the Section 73 issue was delayed while the Council took legal advice. There is much contention over whether the changes to the plans are minor amendments. Around 150 members of the public went to the council meeting to make their feelings known. It is strongly felt by a large number of residents and Labour that these are not minor amendments.
Add to this the recent court case brought by Timothy Steer about Little Densole Farm, in which the High Court struck down the Council’s planning decision on the grounds that inadequate reasons were given, which raises questions as to the ability of the Council’s Head of Planning – whose witness evidence the High Court branded “unreliable” – to resist what is clearly overwhelming pressure from the developers, and to give independent guidance to the Council.
The call-in document gives full details of the reasons for this application. All that can be done now is to wait and see what action the council takes.
In the meantime, residents can continue to contact their district and county councillors, and MP using the WriteToThem website, to let them know their feelings and concerns.
Labour have organised a protest outside the Civic Centre at 6pm on Tuesday in advance of the meeting at 7pm if it still goes ahead after this application has been received. Please come along – more details and updates can be found here.
Jackie Meade says, “The seafront development will affect everyone living and working in and around Folkestone. I am certainly not against development but it has to provide something for the wider community and business.
“The current amendments seem not to deliver this and residents feel their concerns — and indeed their ideas — are not being taking into account. I have been campaigning from the start of these amendments for social housing, amenities and a full public consultation on the changes. There is also considerable doubt as to whether the amendments can be classed as minor.
“As the District Council itself raised doubts about this I have taken the decision to ask the Secretary of State to take charge of the Folkestone Harbour planning amendment application to investigate and rule on the changes proposed to our wonderful and historic coastline. This decision was made as despite two District councillors telling me they were going to ‘call in’ at District level, this does not seem to have happened. I want to ensure that Folkestone is making the right decision for current and future residents including our children and grandchildren.”