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Dover AONB homes stopped by Supreme Court

Words: Laura Edgar
CPRE challenged the approval of a development in the Kent Downs / Shutterstock_121315348

The Supreme Court has upheld a decision by the Court of Appeal against plans to build 521 homes in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The application also included a 90-apartment retirement village for land in Farthingloe, and 31 homes and a hotel and conference centre at Western Heights.

Those who supported the application, which was submitted by China Gateway International Limited, said it would bring a much-needed boost to the local economy, while organisations including the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) were opposed.

CPRE Kent said the proposals would “irreparably damage this nationally protected landscape”.

Planning officers at the Dover District Council initially put forward proposals reducing the number of houses to 365, recognising the harm to the AONB posed by the application. They recommended that the plans should be approved.

In June 2013, Dover District Council planning committee carried a motion to follow this recommendation, but with the original number of homes.

An updated planners’ report, contrary to their earlier report, noted that the section 106 agreement did not require the developer to provide the hotel but instead served “to provide the opportunity for a quality hotel to come forward”. This was executed in April 2015.

CPRE Kent sought a judicial review of the decision to approve this development, but was unsuccessful at the first try in the High Court.

The Court of Appeal allowed the subsequent appeal and quashed the permission in September 2016, on the grounds that the planning committee did not give legally adequate reasons for approving the application. The Court of Appeal noted that the planning committee had gone against officer advice.

The council chose to challenge this in the Supreme Court. It was not in dispute that the council had breached a specific requirement under the Town and Country Planning (Environment Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011 to provide a statement on the main reasons it based its decision. The issue considered was whether the Court of Appeal was right to quash the decision on that basis.

Lord Carnwath, with agreement from Lady Hale, Lord Wilson, Lady Black and Lord Lloyd-Jones, upheld the decision by the Court of Appeal.

Emma Marrington, senior rural policy campaigner at CPRE, said the decision sends a “powerful message to councils” about how they exercise their duty to protect “our most cherished landscapes”.

Hilary Newport, director of CPRE Kent, said: “This level of harm to the AONB cannot be justified and the judges at the Court of Appeal last year, and now at the Supreme Court, agreed with us. This case is not just important to the people of Dover but for the principles of planning law; AONBs merit the highest possible level of protection.”

The full case – Dover District Council (Appellant) v CPRE Kent (Respondent)/CPRE Kent (Respondent) v China Gateway International Limited (Appellant) – can be found on the Supreme Court website (pdf).

Image credit | Shutterstock