It is quite possible that Folkestone & Hythe District Council are learning from their mistakes, as they have again reopened a planning consultation for Southern Way (Folkestone) due to the Viability Assessment not being available to the public as required by R (Holborn Studios) v London Borough of Hackney (No 2)  EWHC 1509 (Admin). It would seem the ‘technical issues‘ the Council are facing have affected quite a few planning applications now, although at least it was caught before a decision was made this time.
This time, it is the somewhat contentious application for 41 dwellings and 1,000 square metres of commercial space on the former Folkestone East goods yard in Southern Way. Originally submitted back in 2014 as application Y14/0928/SH, it was approved in June 2016, at which point the Section 106 agreement confirmed the applicant would provide 30% affordable housing. However, applications for discharge of conditions were not submitted until April 2019 – rather late considering the applicant had three years from the date the permission was granted to start development, although they seemed confident they could still proceed as they still have advertising for tradesmen to start in August and September 2019. In fact, there were issues with the submitted documents – IDOM stated the Geo-Environmental Investigation included in Y19/0520/FH was not of sufficient quality and Southern Water couldn’t recommend the discharge of Condition 10 relating to surface water drainage (Y19/0488/FH) as construction was too close to a public sewer. Consequently, the application expired, condition applications were withdrawn and the current resubmission Y19/0866/FH was filed in July 2019. Once again, there were concerns from consultees at the application stage – Kent Police noted a lack of natural surveillance for some parking, the KCC Biodiversity Officer found there was insufficient information to ensure development won’t impact reptiles on-site; need for off-site receptor and KCC Ecology likewise required further surveys required regarding reptiles, bats and invertebrates. Network Rail wished to be contacted, as there wanted an Asset Protection Agreement in order to ensure certain conditions were met. After the requested surveys were provided in April 2020, KCC Ecology further required a detailed mitigation strategy and updated site plan to show the planting of additional hedgerows, which further delayed the application until October. However, those who commented were given a reconsultation notice when the Viability Assessment was added to the Planning Portal on 17 December.
However, a topic we have mentioned before has indeed been overlooked yet again – archaeology. In the Nineteenth century, a Roman hypocaust was discovered off Folly Road. Its location is now housing and the Highfield Industrial Estate in Warren Road. Several other buildings were discovered both sides of the road and thought to form a Roman villa, though the main dwelling was not identified. Close by in what is now Burrow Road, the medieval remains of St. Botolph’s Chapel were discovered. It is quite possible that the villa extended onto the former railway site. Even Folkestone & Hythe District Council’s interactive map show that the area of archaeological potential extends onto the application site.
So why has this not been considered? Interestingly, KCC Archaeology were consulted in 2014, 2019 and 2020. On all occasions, they stated they had no comments to make, which seems odd considering their Historic Environment Record has the two entries already mentioned. Fortunately, as was the case with the application in Guildhall Street, the barn in Cherry Garden Avenue and Cheriton Sports Ground, local historians noticed the oversight and contacted KCC Archaeology. It was explained that, whilst no archaeological site assessment appears to have been carried out, the geo-environmental report shows there to be between 1 to 2.9 metres of made ground across much of the site. However, as Historic England guidance states:
“made ground may contain features of historic interest, in particular floor surfaces, and foundations or cellars associated with former structures, which would be identified by a monitoring archaeologist as being of potential archaeological interest.”
Whilst the presence of a railway for over 175 years might mean that any historic building remnants were destroyed long ago, it is possible that these boreholes haven’t been properly interpreted as to their historic content. To their credit, KCC Archaeology responded to the matter being brought to their attention by stating they were not certain that archaeological remains won’t be impacted and requesting a condition requiring a programme of archaeological work prior to development.
Unfortunately, residents have pointed out that this scheme would scupper excellent plans for a park-and-ride tram system. Such a facility would be a novel tourist attraction, no doubt popular with people visiting the seafront, which already has huge parking issues and congestion on sunny weekends and Bank Holidays. Three car parks are going to be redeveloped – the Harbour Arm car park, the overflow next door in front of the former café and the eastmost part of the former Rotunda car park, which has already been closed and construction has commenced on it. In total, there are around 750 spaces that will disappear. Whilst Sir Roger purchased the Marina car park and former coach park either side of Marine Crescent, these only have around 250 spaces between them and would have easily been filled on warm days as overflow car parks, as people are illegally parking on the road and in the car parks where spaces aren’t marked out. A park-and-ride facility is sorely needed, but there is precious little space left for a conventional bus-based system. Network Rail were reluctant to sell the stretch of railway line to anyone who wasn’t a statutory body and the Folkestone Harbour and Seafront Development Company were not interested in this further piece of land, so the Council registered an intent to buy, seemingly interested in the scheme. However, they did not appear to make an effort to also purchase the goods yard, despite the permission having just expired at the time. Despite two-thirds of the parking for the seafront being set to disappear, the Council seemed happy to deal with this matter at a later stage during both the outline seafront application and reserved matters for the first block. It would seem there is a lack of forward thinking or indeed a true masterplan for Folkestone, as the effect of a development on the town as a whole rarely seems to be considered.
However, the Remembrance Line Association has recently formed a new community partnership based in the Harbour/East area of Folkestone. They are confident that alternative arrangements will still be possible to establish the Remembrance Line Tramway and will be making an announcement in conjunction with their new partners to coincide with the completion of the sale of the line to Folkestone & Hythe District Council. Hopefully, this will take place in the not-too-distant future.
Of course, the consultation has been reopened to consider the Viability Assessment. So what does it say? Firstly, we note it is dated 4 December 2020. Was there no Viability Assessment submitted at all before? As is usually the case, the report says that the project is commercially unviable, even without taking Section 106 contributions into account. However, in an unexpected twist, the applicant isn’t using this to reduce or totally excuse their affordable housing responsibility – in fact, they still want to provide the full 30% “in line with their corporate values” and to assist the Council in meeting their housing target! What corporate values are they?
Well, the original applicant was Town & Country Housing Group with the now dissolved OFJ Group Holdings Ltd, the director of which was Andrew Shane Nicholas of Guildford, Surrey. The reapplication was made by a company for which OFJ Group Holdings Ltd was listed as a person with significant control until 2017 when Andrew Shane Nicholas took over – Oliver James Homes Ltd, with the other director being an Oliver James Nicholas of Dorchester, Dorset. The original applicant, Town and Country Housing as it is now known, is a society registered in Tunbridge Wells who “deliver quality homes, build communities and improve lives”. They are part of the Peabody Group and have provided more than 9,500 affordable homes across Kent and East Sussex including shared ownership and key worker homes, housing for disabled people, a women’s refuge and a hostel for ex-offenders. This all sounds most commendable, although they have poor ratings on Google, Yell.com and Facebook. Oliver James Homes have the project listed on their website, but they don’t mention any such ethos. Is the applicant referring to a former partner’s ethos that doesn’t appear to be involved any more?
They are, however, requesting to be let off any S106 contributions. This is apparently offset by the provision of a wildlife habitat and a contribution to the Vinters Nature Reserve at Maidstone, who will be taking the reptiles found on the site. However, the Kent and Medway Commissioning Group stated that the development will have a direct impact on services that will need mitigation and requested £35,424 “towards refurbishment, reconfiguration and/or extension of New Surgery, Folkestone”. S106 obligations are generally used to mitigate the impact of a development with the provision of contributions towards providing extra community facilities such as affordable housing, healthcare facilities, schools and play space. So ultimately, the applicant is merely switching the area in which they are excused payments from affordable housing to other S106 contributions in order to gain favour. Perhaps we should appeal to the Nicholas family’s better nature and ask that, if the site isn’t commercially viable for them, they allow it to be used as a park and ride facility instead? After all, we wouldn’t want them losing money!
The Shepway Vox Team
The Velvet Voices of Dissent