High Court dismisses effort to overturn Kent leisure centre consent

The High Court has upheld a Kent council's consent for a leisure centre on a seafront site, after a judge dismissed claims that officers had not properly informed committee members about flood risk and heritage impacts.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

Hythe District Council owns the Hythe seafront site for the mixed-use scheme, which proposes up to 150 new homes and 1,270 square metres of commercial space as well as a 3,000 square metre leisure centre.

The council's planning committee granted outline and full planning permissions for different parts of the development in July last year.

Local objector, Elaine Martin, argued that the flood risk posed by the site on Princes Parade had been underestimated by the council.

Insufficient weight, she also claimed, had been given to the harm that would be caused to the nearby Royal Military Canal (RMC), a scheduled historic monument of national importance.

But senior judge, Mr Justice Dove said the council's planning committee had been properly informed that the development marked "a significant departure" from the development plan.

Flood risks from waves overtopping sea defences during storms had been properly assessed, he concluded, as had the harm to the RMC which was built as part of England's defences during the Napoleonic wars.

In a detailed report to the committee, planning officers said the project would cause "less than substantial" harm to the significance of the RMC.

However, public access to the monument would be improved and the development would bring "very substantial public benefits", particularly the construction of the much-needed new leisure centre.

The report praised the leisure centre's "high quality, contemporary design" and noted that much of the site would be left open for public recreation.

Risks of waves overtopping the existing sea wall would be minimised by, amongst other things, broadening the promenade and building a one metre-high 'splash' wall.

The report stated that the development would be "safe from flood risks during its lifetime" and concluded overall that the benefits of the proposal outweighed any disadvantages.

In rejecting Martin's challenge to the permissions, the judge said the officers' "lengthy and detailed" report "could have been more crisply and clearly expressed".

But it addressed the flooding and heritage issues in depth and "properly equipped (the committee members) to exercise their own independent judgment".

Councillors were advised that the development represented a significant departure from the development plan but were entitled to exercise their planning judgment in its favour, the judge said.

The judge observed: "The policies of the development plan seek to reconcile numerous interests and it would be difficult to find any project of any significance that was wholly in accord with every relevant policy in the development plan.

"To be in accordance with the development plan it suffices that the proposal accords with the development plan considered as a whole. It does not have to accord with each and every policy."

The committee was not required to take a "tick-box" approach and was entitled to accord more weight to some policies than others.

The judge added: "These are issues of planning judgment and it is clear (from) reading the committee report as a whole that this approach is reflected in the officers' analysis."

Councillors were in no way misled by the report and Mr Justice Dove concluded: "This application for judicial review must be dismissed."

R on the Application of Martin v Folkestone and Hythe District Council. Case Number: CO/3409/2019


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