A Rewd Development for Hythe?

Back in September 2018, we reported that Rewd Ltd had bought the Smiths Medical site in Hythe, better known to many as the former Portex factory.

Tomorrow, (Tuesday 23rd) application Y19/0071/FH will come before the planning committee to decide upon.

Smiths had a pre-application illustrative masterplan drawn up in 2017 with a mixture of dwellings and a large commercial unit in the southernmost part of the site. As mentioned previously, Policy UA13 in the Places and Policies Local Plan (adopted 16 September 2020) was implemented to help shape the development. Whilst Officers felt the approach wasn’t linear enough, it must have shaped the policy, which estimated capacity at approximately 80 dwellings and 2,000 square metres of B1 (business) and/or B8 (storage and distribution). It also required at least 4 self-build or custom build plots, along with a stipulation that the southern factory unit and car park be retained or replaced.

Rewd submitted application Y19/0071/FH in January 2019 for a “Hybrid planning application for the redevelopment of the former Smiths Medical site; comprising an outline application for up to 97 dwellings (Class C3) and up to 153sqm of offices (Class B1) with all matters reserved except access, together with a detailed application for the erection of a 66-bed care home (Class C2) with associated access, parking and landscaping.”

Unfortunately, these plans came with considerable concerns from many of the statutory consultees over the next few months. These included environmental consultants Idom Merebrook, who wanted to see further testing carried out including gas monitoring and requested a land contamination assessment, Kent Police required several conditions and pointed out the applicant hadn’t communicated with them and had not “demonstrated that they have considered designing out crime”, Kent Fire and Rescue felt their access to the site was inadequate without a turning point in a particular area; FHDC’s Housing Strategy Officer had concerns about the location of 2 units and the viability of 1 affordable unit and KCC Flood & Water Management pointed out there would be shallow groundwater and recommended additional monitoring, though had no objection in principle.

However, 4 consultees placed objections – the MOD objected on grounds of security due to overlooking with concerns about noise as well, the Environment Agency recommended refusal as the application fails the second part of the flood exception test, Hythe Town Council had several concerns mostly rising from consultee reports, though they mentioned the lack of a Travel Plan and KCC Highways and Transportation put in a holding objection due to a “significant number of issues”:

  • ·The pavement width was unacceptable in places

  • Pedestrian access was needed onto Range Road

  • Details for service vehicle access was also absent

  • There was no plan of the adoptable highway to be included on-site

  • More parking was needed for the care home

  • They disagreed with the assessment of the site being an “edge of centre” location

  • Parking provision was insufficient, including cycle parking

  • The waste collection strategy was incomplete

  • The suggested alignment of a potential through road was “pointless”

Following a meeting with the Planning Department, the application was amended on 12 June 2019 with the following alterations:

  • The care home will now only be outline planning, so the description changed

  • Affordable units were switched around following comments from the Housing Officer

  • 7 self-build units have been identified on the plans

  • Type D housing was realigned to be perpendicular to the main housing line

  • Minor amendments in line with the Urban Designer’s comments

  • The care home materials palette was amended to be more in keeping

  • The care home car park was realigned, now includes an ambulance bay, an extra car parking space (bringing the total to 21) and a bin storage area provided

  • Sectional drawings were annotated to show all habitable rooms above breach level

  • Highway changes were made including 1 bike space per bedroom, wider footways, a pedestrian connection to Range Road, 5 extra visitor spaces in the northern part of the site and roads will be private, not publicly adopted

These changes mostly met approval. The Highways team stated they now had no objection providing the conditions they supplied were secured. However, they pointed out that they were only assessing the outline application and the more detailed information, were it to be resubmitted as-is at the reserved matters stage, would result in their recommendation of refusal. However, the Environment Agency still maintained their objection, stating they had a strong preference that the northern part of the site that stands in flood zone 3 should be assigned for ‘less vulnerable’ use than housing and that the Local Planning Authority must decide if the Sequential Test is satisfied. The last response was received in September 2019 from the NHS, justifying the costing of the already agreed in principle extension of Oaklands Health Centre in Hythe to cope with approximately 215 new patients, requesting £69,810 for this purpose.

Nothing more was submitted until 23 January 2020, when the Environment Agency reiterated that they were disappointed that ‘more vulnerable’ housing is in the area with the greatest flood risk, pointing out they didn’t object to Policy UA13 on the basis that ‘less vulnerable’ uses would be in Flood Zone 3, with housing restricted to Flood Zone 1. Even with the applicant ensuring habitable floors remained above the flood level, they felt this “cannot be considered to be developing the site in a sequential or sustainable way”. They quote the NPPF Paragraph 163 highlighting points A and E:

  • 163. When determining any planning applications, local planning authorities should ensure that flood risk is not increased elsewhere. Where appropriate, applications should be supported by a site-specific flood-risk assessment50. Development should only be allowed in areas at risk of flooding where, in the light of this assessment (and the sequential and exception tests, as applicable) it can be demonstrated that:

  • a) within the site, the most vulnerable development is located in areas of lowest flood risk, unless there are overriding reasons to prefer a different location;

  • b) the development is appropriately flood resistant and resilient;

  • c) it incorporates sustainable drainage systems, unless there is clear evidence that this would be inappropriate;

  • d) any residual risk can be safely managed; and

  • e) safe access and escape routes are included where appropriate, as part of an agreed emergency plan.

They make clear that they weren’t asking for confirmation of a strategic Sequential Test during the preparation of the PPLP, nor a retaking of this test, but “sufficient justification to place so many new residential properties in the part of the site that is poorly defended” and that “could subject to up to 1.8m of flooding, should the defences fail.” They go on to state they “have yet to see evidence of a satisfactory Flood Warning and Emergency Plan (FWEP) and that it is “essential that a suitable FWEP has been agreed with the LPA prior to development.” They highly recommended consulting Emergency Planners and the Emergency Services to ensure the speed, depths and velocity of flood water can be adequately managed “without putting lives at risk.”

Nothing was added to the Planning Portal for nearly 6 months, when the Environment Agency again wrote on 10 July 2020 following a meeting with Hume Planning (the agent) and the Council on 28 May 2020. They still feel a sequential approach is imperative, but now feel it “acceptable to include the improvements to the Standard of Protection (SoP) that are being undertaken as part of the Hythe Ranges Defence Scheme.” However, they still advise that “the housing element of the proposal is located on the higher ground”, though they feel it “appropriate for this change in the standard of protection to be a factor for the LPA to consider when assessing the suitability of the site layout.” They go on to say that “if the LPA confirms that the current proposed layout is sequentially justifiable then we will further assess the proposal to ensure that the proposal can pass the Exception Test.” They appear to have relented and accepted that this would mean all living floors would remain above the flooded area should the defences fail. From the submitted documents, they believe it would pass the test. They also require the submitted FWEP is deemed fit for purpose and the Emergency Planners and Emergency Services are happy with the management previously advised. They end saying that “we have other comments to make in relation to issues within our remit, which will be provided once the above have been addressed.”

Unfortunately, this is the last document submitted, aside from a Schedule of Accommodation and two plans submitted in December 2020. Where is the FWEP? Perhaps it was not made available to the public. It is possible the Flood Risk Assessment of February 2019 has been superseded (as it is marked as such) but also wasn’t uploaded as pointed out by the Environment Agency, though we suspect the Council amended the wrong document in error as the earlier version is not marked as superseded. Were the Emergency Services happy? Did the MOD and Kent Fire and Rescue drop their objections? Have the Environment Agency made their further comments? We simply don’t know, as nothing has been uploaded to the Planning Portal.

The application is to be decided by the Planning & Licensing Committee on Tuesday 23 March. According to the Officer’s Report, the objections of the MOD and Kent Fire and Rescue still stand. It says that the site was considered “sequentially preferable” compared to other sites in the character area and necessary to meet housing requirements, but doesn’t mention a FWEP at all, so perhaps that hasn’t been provided. The report does say that, as layout is reserved for later consideration, it can be addressed at a later stage. It also considers the replacement of the factory and car park with a care home and associated parking to be compliant with Policy UA13. Whilst this does result in the loss of industrial space, we accept that there is some office space provided and the provision of much-needed modern care home facilities outweighs such a loss, especially in the current climate. What is rather exceptional is that the applicant has not objected to the 30% affordable housing provision, thus a Viability Assessment was not needed.

So, will the flood mitigation be adequate? Neighbours’ opinions were evenly split on this one, with 4 objections and 4 in support, plus 1 letter of comment. Our view remains unchanged – this will likely be passed by the Planning Committee, if not on Tuesday, then in time and come to be by and be a positive contribution to our district’s ever-increasing housing target.

The Shepway Vox Team

Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful

About shepwayvox (1293 Articles)
Our sole motive is to inform the residents of Shepway - and beyond -as to that which is done in their name. email: shepwayvox@riseup.net

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