The planning loophole used so frequently by Sir Roger’s companies looks set to be closed

Gareth Bacon MP for Orpington, sought leave to bring in a Bill to make unauthorised development without planning permission an offence; to prohibit retrospective planning applications; and for connected purposes, on the 21 Sept 2021.

The purpose of this Bill, so says Gareth Bacon MP, is to ensure that everyone who engages with the planning system is on a level playing field and follows the same procedures. It is not to remove permitted development rights, nor is it to target particular communities. Regrettably, in the current planning system, there are loopholes that are all too frequently exploited and, to ensure fairness, it is important that they are closed.

Christmas is drawing near, and Folkestone is blessed this year with not one but two Christmas markets; the Town Centre offering makes a return and is joined by a new Festive Marketplace at The Goods Yard adjacent to the Harbour Screen. Several huts were constructed on the site in November. A planning application, 21/2135/FH, was submitted on 20 October and you may be forgiven for thinking it is permission for the Christmas market. On closer inspection, though, this does not appear to be the case.

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It is actually for a ‘temporary’ market with 20 units to run 7 days a week for 8 years, 7am until 11pm (8pm on Sundays). This could cause noise or traffic issues for neighbours along The Stade, Marine Parade and perhaps beyond, but only businesses in Beach Street and Harbour Street (plus the Burstin and Rock Salt) were informed. Whilst this proposes an hour less than the current permission on Sundays and no difference on Saturdays, it is an additional 1 hour per day on weekdays.

So what about the Christmas market? Planning application Y18/0718/FH granted an 8 year permission for the cinema’s original layout, which was then amended by condition variation 21/1210/FH to allow 13 huts in total.

As the Christmas huts are in addition to those, it would appear the new ‘temporary’ market has been installed in a different (and undocumented) layout as the Festive Marketplace, prior to the application being approved.

Whilst the agent, Giles Fitch of Blueprint Projects Ltd, is also listed as the applicant, the project is ultimately the brainchild of Folkestone Harbour & Seafront Development Company, which a dormant company, according to Companies House. This is a trading name of Folkestone Harbour Limited Partnership, the partners of which are Folkestone Harbour (GP) Ltd, Folkestone Harbour (1) Ltd, Folkestone Harbour (2) Ltd, Folkestone Harbour (3) Ltd. And Folkestone Harbour (4) Ltd. Folkestone Harbour Company Ltd. Is also listed as responsible for the seafront development on the Harbour Arm website. All of these companies have the same major shareholder and director – Sir Roger Michael De Haan (pictured above).

This have been previous occasions where development has started before planning permission has been granted (or conditions satisfied) on Sir Roger’s land. You may recall that:

We mentioned huts being installed on The Stade whilst the application 21/1492/FH made by Ben Boyce of Buro Happold, was still under public consultation. It would appear this matter is ongoing, as a response (through Giles) in November stated their client would remove the stalls during winter, though “do not agree to the Viaduct bar being seasonal”.

At the same time, Mr. Boyce requested permission to install a shepard’s hut adjacent to Rock Salt to serve food and drink for 4 years in application 21/1493/FH. Again, the hut was already in situ during consultation and a decision has not yet been given. Presumably, this is the ‘Viaduct bar’ referred to above.

We pointed out in January that Folkestone Harbour Limited Partnership had built several storeys of the seafront apartments, apparently forgetting several conditions needed to be approved under application Y18/1252/FH before they build above ‘slab level’. Only one condition approval had been submitted. It seemed there was little consequence; work continued unhindered and further applications were duly submitted and granted.

Folkestone Harbour Company Ltd, submitted application Y19/1474/FH in December 2019 for the Pilot Beach Bar, validated nearly two months later and noted as part-retrospective. Permission was granted before the bar opened in August 2020. In April 2021, we noted that they were digging up palm trees in a Conservation Area. The trees were not mentioned in the application, nor in the seafront development outline permission Y12/0897/SH, S73 amendment Y17/1099/SH, or reserved matters application Y18/1252/FH.

In February 2019, change of use application Y19/0188/FH was filed to convert the harbour signal box to a café. Permission was not granted until May 2020 – a delay for which the Council appeared to be responsible. However, the applicant, Folkestone Harbour Co, hired out the signal box as a café anyway and the fabulous Bobbies Bakehouse had been operating there for 10 days shy of a year when the decision was finally made. By then, the application wording had been changed to retrospective.

In fact, both the cinema and subsequent condition variation were also retrospective applications, and there are more, quite a few more retrospective applications:

Application Applicant Location Proposal

Y11/0631/SH Folkestone Harbour (GP) Ltd. Rotunda Car Park Temporary watersports slipway until December 2013

Y12/0068/SH Creative Foundation Former Rotunda Amusement Park Erection of ‘Out of Tune’ Triennial artwork (bell)

Y17/1103/SH Folkestone Harbour Company Eastern Apron Change of use from Customs House to exhibition space

Y18/0440/SH Creative Foundation Former Rotunda Amusement Park Temporary installation of Jelly Mould Pavilion

Y18/0441/SH Creative Foundation West Pier 9 year installation of ‘Another Time’ artwork (Gormley)

21/1194/FH Folkestone Harbour Seafront Development Company Folkestone Harbour Extend current building (Harbour Coffee Co.) to include roof terrace for 8 years

The Planning Portal website states that:

“If you have made a change to your property that requires planning permission and you have not had approval, a local authority can request that you submit a retrospective planning application for the work that you have already carried out. The local authority will make the request to the owner or occupier of the land concerned.”

It would seem the landowner makes a habit of installing structures before planning permission has been sought or approved; some might suggest he has the chutzpah to believe approval will be a foregone conclusion. We will leave you to ponder that.

We do have to ask whether the Local Planning Authority is overly lenient when it comes to planning enforcement on land owned by Sir Roger (including a site visit on the builders’ day off to monitor dust), especially as small developers and property owners have found the Council’s planning enforcement team  and environmental team far more stringent?

It is certainly the case that there have been delays in validation and issuing decisions, even before the pandemic, however the planning portal makes it very clear, decisions should be made within 8 weeks, or 13 weeks for complex developments.

Would closing the retrospective planning application loopholes harm Sir Roger’s companies? Or will it force his companies to follow the rules like the rest of us? We’ll leave you to ponder those questions.

The Shepway Vox Team

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2 Comments on The planning loophole used so frequently by Sir Roger’s companies looks set to be closed

  1. The end result is better looking seafront, bringing in revenue to folkestone and much needed employment opportunities which’s million times better than what that area was few years ago

  2. I suggest that the Council is in sway to Sir Roger and his cash not least because other developers have not been prepared to take on the development themselves.

    It is interesting to note that in Nick Ewbank’s book “Adventures in Regeneration – Folkestone’s New Tide” he states on page 65, paragraph 3, that,

    “It was never De Haan’s plan to become a property developer: the scheme required external investment in the order of £800 million, and it needed to be delivered in one huge single parcel.”

    That particular scheme designed by Norman Foster did not come to pass following the 2008 economic downturn and at some point Sir Roger decided that he would have to become the developer.

    Whilst it is laudable that he wants to bring much needed investment and economic development to the town I don’t see any reason why he should not be subject to the same laws about planning permission that apply to every other resident. For that reason I welcome Gareth Bacon’s bill and I hope that it becomes law.

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