Hythe Protest: Don’t Build On Historic Land!

Campaigners Lined Up Along Prince’s Parade, Hythe; Photo by James Willmott, used with permission

Last Sunday, hundreds of people took to the streets to protest at the plans to develop Prince’s Parade, near Hythe. This unique strip of land forms the setting for the Royal Military Canal which borders it to the north, while to the south is the English Channel.

It’s one of the few spots in the district which remains as open green space on the coast and allows visitors to understand the relationship between the canal as military defence against Napoleonic invasion, for which it was constructed. In modern times, the biggest threat it faces is from Folkestone & Hythe District Council who have planning permission to build 150 houses and a pool on this narrow land which remains valuable as a public amenity. 

Ignored the will of the people

In spite of hundreds of objections from residents and statutory consultees alike, the council have thus far chosen to ignore the will of the people, riding roughshod over a vote at a full council meeting which should have resulted in the plan being abandoned.

It’s almost as if the people are a minor inconvenience – an unwelcome wasp or bee to be swatted away. They are far too busy looking after the interests of developers and contractors to whom huge sums of money will be given. Dutch company BAM have already pocketed at least £2.5 million for their initial investigation works at Prince’s Parade.

The land was once an unregulated dump. I’ve heard all kinds of stories of munitions, plastic used as wrappings for the fuel rods for Dungeness power station (luckily before they were enriched) and even an elephant from the nearby Lympne Animal Park!

The 489-page report lists the presence of heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic and cyanide. Both white and brown asbestos are present, along with ground gas, strong hydrocarbon odours and, to cap it all, some of the boreholes collapsed as the drill went down so no readings could be taken.

Development is a high risk

As a local couple with their two young children said to me at the protest, “The council must be insane to think that building on Prince’s Parade is a good idea!” It’s clear to everyone except those who stand to gain from this development, that it is high risk financially, potentially lethal chemically, and utterly foolhardy to excavate this area, building on unstable ground that has been used as landfill for 40 years and which is liable to flooding regardless of sea level rise.

The deeper issue here is that decisions are not based in any way on public opinion nor it would seem on common sense! They are based on a planning system which is biased in favour of development.

“…unless…adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits…there is a presumption in favour of sustainable development.”

“…there is nothing in the Act…or in the Framework which indicates that…a very localised group of residents should be able to prevent planning permission being granted simply because they do not want it.”

Excludes local residents

This is set to get worse with the proposed government reforms. The new Bill will seek to exclude local residents from commenting at all on planning applications. As long as the application is in accord with an agreed overall plan for some part of the district council area, then the application will be fast-tracked without further public consultation.

Even with the current planning laws, statutory consultees such as Historic England, who have consistently objected to the scheme at Prince’s Parade, are effectively ignored. Objections to a plan must be “material” and “factors on the ground” must be taken into consideration. Objectors have tried to raise material arguments, such as works being done in the birds’ nesting season. But, with regard to Prince’s Parade, decision-making is still on the side of the developers.  

Protest On Prince’s Parade, Hythe; photo by James Willmott, used with permission

No hope if the Reform Bill gets passed

What hope will there be for heritage assets, wild spaces or even agricultural land if the reform bill gets passed? The bill is designed to make the process less bureaucratic. That is just another way of saying they want to “let the brakes off” and create a frenzy of profiteering from housing.

The government says the aim is to get more houses built, which has been problematic historically. They point to planning regulations as the cause but on closer inspection that simply is not the full story. After all, there is a need for stringent planning regulation – it should (although it often fails) to protect buyers from ill-planned and harmful developments.

It is necessary to ensure that areas that are important to communities do not suffer from wholesale destruction, to be replaced by tarmac and concrete.

Backlash from some MPs

Recently the government faced a backlash from a number of MPs, including former Prime Minister Theresa May, over the use of an inaccurate algorithm to assess housing need. Former Environment Secretary, Theresa Villiers, commented, “We need radical change to the proposal if we’re to ensure that this algorithm doesn’t lead to unacceptable overdevelopment.”

The new reforms will force councils to accept housing developments in zones designated for growth and this has prompted a number of Kent MPs to object. And it seems that at least some Conservatives are realising that this reform could see them lose their seats.

The party attacks its own base by forcing unwanted housing on southern counties. Ashford MP Damian Green proclaimed, “As far as I’m concerned, this is a developers’ charter… I think Boris needs to be looking at the Blue Wall because he may find it crumbles.”

Not from our local MP

There isn’t so much hope in the Folkestone and Hythe District as my recent email to MP Damian Collins reveals he is in favour of the reforms and seems to be less than pragmatic in his position. 

So where does this leave us?

Singin’ the Blues on Prince’s Parade, Hythe; photo by James Willmott used with permission

Well, it was a beautiful day on Sunday apart from the shadow that the BAM plans  have cast over Prince’s Parade. But you don’t have to look too far to see the storm clouds rising not over the English Channel but from within this country.

Our demonstration is not the end of a long road of campaigning. It is only the beginning as the approaching storm rolls in, pulling in with it politicians of all colours and people from across the land. And it’s a battle for the land, one that everyone has to start paying attention to.

What do we have without our wild spaces, amazing heritage and wildlife? Certainly not the green and pleasant land we expect in Great Britain.