Our local planning system is “failing” and silence over public meeting is unacceptable

Labour is calling on Shepway planners to break their silence and urgently organise a public meeting about Folkestone seafront development plans.

Following strong lobbying by Labour Town Councillor Jackie Meade for a public meeting with the seafront developers, the Folkestone Town Planning Committee last Thursday unanimously objected to the plans proceeding in their current form.

Town planning councillors have strongly objected for a second time to attempts by developers to push through significant changes to the seafront scheme, such as heights of buildings and removal of public amenities, as ‘minor amendments’. They have also said that £3.5 million promised to Shepway District Council for the loss of sea sports centre facilities in the development should be ringfenced for residents’ facilities and recreational / sporting amenities in Folkestone.

Labour has consistently pointed out the total lack of any social or council housing in the scheme and the critical shortage of GPs in the town. Town Councillors have now echoed these concerns. Current figures show Shepway District Council has spent more than £1 million so far this financial year on B&B costs to house people in temporary accommodation, yet the proposed seafront flats — along with other luxury developments in the town — will do nothing to address the critical shortage of genuinely affordable housing.

Community group Folkestone Seafront Development Public Voice is also campaigning for a public meeting and Labour supports their calls. Labour wants the meeting to happen before the next Town Planning Committee meeting, and before any decisions come before Shepway District Council. Labour understands that it is Shepway planners who decide whether a public meeting should be held.

The party’s suspicions as to the lack of transparency in Shepway’s planning system were fuelled further by Shepway Council’s defeat last week in the Little Densole Farm case, in which the High Court struck down a planning decision made by Shepway District Council for a development at the farm, and criticised both the councillors who approved it and the top planning official at the Council.

The actions of Shepway’s head of planning, Ben Geering, were called into question last week for providing an unreliable witness statement in the Densole Farm case. In a damning ruling, the High Court ruled that councillors ignored planning officers’ advice and agreed to the scheme in breach of the law.

The High Court also rejected Ben Geering’s statement as “self-serving” and “unreliable”, and that there was a lack of a reliable record of the planning meeting concerned. Minutes appear to have been written up afterwards to include points that were not made.

Labour is now questioning the judgment of the very people who are making decisions about Folkestone seafront development.

Local residents can add their voice to councillors and campaigners calling for a public meeting by emailing ben.geering@shepway.gov.uk and asking him to take action. Please share any replies with news@fhlabour.org.

There has also been frustration because the Shepway planning website has been experiencing problems, meaning many people could not lodge objections individually.

Labour is urging the community to continue to make representations about the seafront development. Comments may be made on www.shepway.gov.uk/planning by searching for Y17/1099/SH until midnight every day, via e-mail to planning@shepway.gov.uk or in writing to Head of Planning, Civic Centre, Castle Hill Avenue, Folkestone CT20 2QY, stating the application number (Y17/1099/SH), your name and address. Objections should also be made to Damian Collins MP and your Shepway district councillors through www.writetothem.com.

Laura Davison, Labour’s candidate in the 2017 general election said:

“Campaign group Folkestone Seafront Development Public Voice should be congratulated for their hard work on this issue. I would also like to pay tribute to our Labour town councillor for East Folkestone Jackie Meade who is a determined and lively voice on the Town Council speaking up for local people and waking up Tory Town Councillors to what’s going on.

The united, strong message now coming from Town Councillors and campaigners alike is clear: we want a public meeting on the development plans and we want it urgently before Shepway Tory councillors try and wave the plans through on the quiet. What is being proposed are not minor amendments but significant changes.

The fierce criticism of Shepway’s planning process in relation to Little Densole Farm shows that we have a systemic problem with the way local planning decisions are made. Development decisions on the plans for Folkestone seafront should be transparent, and decision makers should be responsive to public concerns. Campaigners who have been questioning other council pet projects like Otterpool will be scrutinising this judgement very carefully.”

Notes

Labour is keen to hear people’s positive alternative vision for Folkestone’s seafront, especially from our young people. Watch this space for more details!

You can read the Little Densole farm judgement here

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