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Go Folkestone Update on Seafront

GO FOLKESTONE UPDATE ON SEAFRONT :

  1. Town Council’s submission with corrections
  2. What actually happened at the Planning and Licensing Control meeting .

Town Council Clarification : Tuesday 3rd April Planning and Licensing Committee : Former Rotunda Amusement Park : Section 73 application for removal of various conditions and amendment of scheme to build on Folkestone Seafront

Folkestone Town Council Planning Committee ‘ wishes to see the Seafront proposals proceed to provide an exciting replacement for the derelict ferry sheds , nightclub and funfair that have occupied the site in the past’ . [We don’t want to lose Roger De Haan]

Folkestone Town Council originally objected to the Section 73 amendments to Y12/0897/SH at a meeting which had 3 Conservatives, including the Mayor, 2 UKIP members and a Labour Party member. Most votes on various parts of the representations were unanimous although Cllr Richard Wallace felt that the Harbour Arm was a fantastic, public-spirited planning gain that justified some flexibility being given to the developer on affordable housing , sea sports centre cancellation etc Probably the two most strongly held opinions were :

Firstly that the amendments were so extensive that they should be the subject of a new planning application or at least the subject of certain assurances on multiple future amendments, references to PLC etc. Most notably significant additional buildings were now being demolished i.e. the Harbourmaster’s house, and extra storeys were being added to large parts of the site increasing heights in several places by over 5 metres . If these amendments are deemed to be in the lesser category of Section 73 changes, what other changes can then be put through more easily in future? Some recent rumours and publicity, talk of a larger, single enormous block next to The Burstin ( Plot H) with potential to overshadow  Sunny Sands Beach . Other rumours are of Plot A becoming a nightclub and the inner harbour being shut to local fishermen. Can there be assurances or planning conditions re additional alterations?

                                                         Secondly the increases in height in particular seemed to be intensifying the development to too great a degree and undermining one of the original selling points of the 2012  scheme, which was lauded as intended not to overshadow Marine Crescent or the beach . Residents on The Leas, The Bayle etc were seriously upset by the amendments. The scheme is still better and lower than  old schemes such as the Godden 13 storey scheme of circa 2005 . But it is much higher in places than the current, much higher calibre developer originally assured us . Some assurances on heights , screening of plant , greening up roofs etc must be mandatory. The extra heights and dominance of Pots A,B and H seem particularly unpopular .

It would be fair to say, in the context of the greater height, that the alterations were clearly part of an effort to improve the scheme, with a series of quid pro quos which the planning officers support as worth conceding, and which the Town Council itself accepts as involving better design. For example  the Committee liked the seafront crescents which now contained most of the dwellings , replacing the denser , short closes of the 2012 scheme . It also liked the alterations , but not the height , in the vicinity of the wonderful Grade II* Leas Lift, and approves the assurances that the beach will always be open to the public and will now have some small additional beach facility ‘triangles’ at the rear of the crescents . However there is a question over whether the tit for tat alterations also involve filtering through an excessive increase in the density of the original approved scheme.   Ideally If there is too much underlying increase in the scheme density over 2012 , then the heights should be reduced by further discussion. However with up to 1000 units being authorised originally, and only 784 dwellings planned currently, this may be a forlorn hope. Can we have a comment on this , since it implies MORE development?

Most other detailed Town Council objections relate to matters which date back to earlier worries about the 2012 Seafront Scheme , mentioned as  ‘ some worries which it [had] thought would be resolved over time .’ The Committee realises that these were largely covered in the original application and cannot be reconsidered here  but wished to flag them up . If the developer can redraw his scheme  comprehensively , cannot the public continue to at least raise concerns about approved parts of the scheme ?  FTC members have some local knowledge but realises that greater technical experts than they are involved. But sometimes experts are influenced by cost or political factors. The Committee is worried.

……………’Firstly it is worried about the impact of future seafront levels on the development and particularly on low level parking’, The Environment Agency’s comments are qualified even if they let it through . And sea level forecasts are tending to get worse .

…’. Secondly it is concerned about the road access for the development which has always looked difficult. Members see the Tram Road alterations as having been successful but not the Tontine Street alterations. If the Section 73 amendments do mean more bedrooms and more people [ Do they?] this may cause more traffic and parking problems.’

      ‘  Thirdly, the Committee is concerned about the plans for provision  of schools and particularly surgery facilities for the Harbour area ’   [ 500m2 on-site surgery  now abandoned but £1,008,000 alloted for surgery facilities . Is this enough? Is scheme  expected to appeal to retired people or to families?]

Fourthly the majority of the committee was ‘ disappointed about the lack of real social housing ‘.This is , of course part of the approved 2012 application and not the amendments . But it could be seen as something that should be looked at again in view of the loss of the Harbourmaster’s House , which we regret. It would be good to see the 8% affordable housing , about 60 dwellings , accomplished by improving  poor fringe areas e.g. Pavilion Court and Marine Terrace.

Fifthly the Committee is concerned about the impact of the building works and the plans for minimising the disturbance to local residents’  Can we have comments re building disturbance?  

Finally and largely outside the ambit and powers  of the PLC , FTC did secure its own meeting with the developer and pressed for a further  open  public meeting. It is of course a matter for the developer and open meetings have often not be granted by other developers in large schemes. But this developer did have open meetings in the past on its plans. The developer feels  focus groups would be the best way to address concerns. If this is the best that can be done, we would expect FTC and also the most informed protestors and amenity groups would be included in these bodies. This might even stop some rumours or ‘hares running’.We can hope.

At the ‘Development Control’ meeting the decision on passing the seafront scheme was deferred. I think  councillors have been spooked by the idea that if a development is huge enough a developer can change his mind every year on important things with relative impunity . This is unfair but you can see where people are coming from .Many people , including me , think the new scheme better , but everybody outside the planning office and the harbour company think the current alterations are major : really an alternative scheme . They then wonder what happens the next time  a ‘minor amendment’ comes up. The terminology actually makes people think it won’t be looked at properly.

In fact , to be fair to Shepway and the developers ,  a minor amendment under  Second 73 of 1990 Planning Act has some of the same safeguards , including ‘calling in’ by ward councilors  as well as public participation , as an orthodox planning application . Perhaps it needs to be explained more why therefore there is a difference at all , which mystifies people . One difference is that S.73s can only be challenged on the amendments and not on the remainder . So technically unchanged things such as the 8% affordable housing and the road access cannot be challenged again . But AS A RESULT OF PLANNING AND LICENSING MEETING OF 3 APRIL SHEPWAY OFFICERS NOW HAVE TO SEEK LEGAL ADVICE ON WHETHER THE APPLICATION SHOULD HAVE BEEN TREATED AS AN ORTHODOX PLANNING APPLICATION .THE FINAL DECISION WILL THEN BE MADE AS EITHER A SECTION 70 TRADITIONAL PLANNING APPLICATION OR A SECTION 73 AMENDMENT

 

I did get the impression that the critical comments of various speakers on the actual amendments were cutting limited ice , except perhaps on some of the excessive heights . But of course in order to get the attractive seafront crescents, which have fewer flats per floor than roads of terraced buildings, you have to go up further.in height . Roger de Haan and his advisors honestly thought it was an improvement and are probably right .Therefore I would not be surprised if the scheme gets through with few alterations in the end . Perhaps a few tops of blocks can be reduced slightly by mixing in terraces, or the harbour-masters house is saved altogether. But reduced heights mean reduced profits. People need to suggest where the lost units could be placed if they weren’t valuable penthouses??? In all honesty this is mostly a good scheme and far better than most developers

 

Late concessions were that heights were reduced , very late , in the vicinity of the Burstin , and that it is promised that the Harbour-masters’ House , which some councilors thought would make a good café or pub , will be saved unless and until the developers come up with an acceptable scheme  for what they are going to put in instead. It was again stated that flats would not be above The Leas .and the beach would be fully public.

 

Where the seafront developers and Shepway went wrong was in pushing the idea that this was all minor stuff that didn’t need fuss or public meetings . Good or bad , and Go Folkestone think it is 90% Good , there are major alterations that needed to go through democratic control. And more importantly, in future, if the Harbour Company has second ideas , like extra floors on blocks of flats or harbour alterations ( hypothetically) , it has to understand that in a world where other people get put through the planning mill for a large conservatory , they will have to be open to public scrutiny and proper council control .They actually have been this time , but the worry was that if this was approved easily it would establish a precedent that the seafront developer could alter things every few months with just a bit of officer control..