That recommendation was made following a six day public inquiry held in October and November 2021. The order will enable a mixed used development comprising residential, commercial and retail uses and a leisure centre. The seafront Princes Parade promenade will also be redeveloped and widened.
There were 172 objections outstanding at the commencement of the inquiry. The principal objector group, Save Princes Parade (SPP), participated fully in the inquiry and was represented by counsel, and numerous other objectors also gave evidence at the inquiry.
The Secretary of State had to be satisfied that, as identified in case law, the order met two tests. The ‘necessity test’ asks whether the closure of the highway is necessary to implement the proposed development in accordance with the planning permission. The ‘merits’ test, which considers where the public interest lies, asks whether the advantages to be conferred would outweigh any disadvantages or losses likely to arise to the public as a result. In this instance, the issues relevant to the merits test included: seafront parking, including parking for the disabled; highway safety; seafront highway amenity; the setting of the Royal Military Canal, including noise and air pollution; and, traffic congestion.
The Inspector found that the necessity test was met. He concluded that, if the existing highway was left where it was, some of the proposed buildings, the supporting infrastructure, and the proposed promenade could not be built in accordance with the planning permission. This would also mean that relevant planning conditions could not be complied with.
The Inspector also concluded that the merits test was satisfied. He found that the number of proposed car parking spaces was materially higher than the maximum car parking demand recorded in a parking survey and that no convincing evidence had been provided that parking demand would ever be materially higher than this. The number of replacement car parking spaces was therefore sufficient to meet peak demand. The proposed spaces would also be of a better quality than the existing spaces. In addition, as some spaces would remain on Princes Parade, visitors could still park along the seafront if they wished. The Inspector also concluded that parking for the disabled would be improved as a result of the order.
The Inspector found that the replacement highway would be safer than the existing Princes Parade and that the safety of cyclists would also be improved by the dedicated cycle lane along the new promenade. He concluded that the amenity provided by the views of the sea when driving along Princes Parade was merely an incidental benefit of the highway right, but that this could still be enjoyed along the part of Princes Parade unaffected by the order. The Inspector also concluded that there was no convincing evidence that there would be a material diversion of traffic from the replacement road.
The Inspector found that the impact of noise, air and light pollution on the setting of the Royal Military Canal had to be considered in the context of the baseline of the permitted development. He concluded that any harm would be minor and at the lower end of ‘less than substantial harm’ as defined by the National Planning Policy Framework. Princes Parade itself was an undesignated heritage asset but the Inspector concluded that the order would lead to a design closer to its original Victorian form.
The Inspector concluded that the advantages of the order would outweigh the disadvantages likely to arise to the public such that the order would therefore be in the public interest and should be made. The harm to the significance of the Royal Military Canal’s setting, and the small loss of tranquillity to the footpaths and bridleways that run alongside it, were minor harms and these harms, in addition to the slight loss of convenience of parking for some users due to the reduced number of car parking spaces directly adjacent to the sea front, were outweighed by the many benefits of making the order, such as safer and more varied car parking opportunities, improved car parking for the disabled, improved cycle routes, and improved highway safety. There would also be many benefits from the planning permission, such as the new leisure centre, the provision of housing, and economic benefits.
The Inspector, and the Secretary of State, also had to consider an application made by the applicant for a partial award of costs. The Inspector recommended that a partial award be made in respect of advising on and preparing evidence to deal with irrelevant points in SPP’s statement of case and advising on, preparing to deal with, and dealing at the inquiry with, irrelevant points made in some of SPP’s proofs of evidence. The Secretary of State agreed and accepted the recommendation that an award of partial costs on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour be made.
Richard Honey QC acted for the successful applicant, Folkestone & Hythe District Council, instructed by Buckles solicitors.