Published: 12:56, 27 June 2019
| Updated: 16:11, 01 July 2019
Protesters have been left dismayed after being told a vote to scrap a controversial seafront housing scheme is not 'legally binding'.
It was a bittersweet night for campaigners against the Princes Parade development, after councillors voted 15/14 to stop homes and a leisure centre being built on green space.
But gallery erupted into chaos after council leader David Monk (Con), threw a spanner in the works, asking legal teams if the decision was legal.
The packed audience gasped and shouted following their short lived joy, when monitoring officer Amandeep Khroud confirmed: "The resolution that has just been passed would not be binding on the executive.
"Decisions on making and withdrawing planning applications are matters for the executive, as are decisions on where to site any new leisure facility."
It's the latest blow for those against the development, after years of protests against the scheme, which they believes is ecologically risky and financial not viable.
New faces on the district council had hoped to ‘deliver their commitment’ to stop homes, shops, a hotel and a new leisure centre with a swimming pool being built on the well-used coastal road by tabling a motion last night's full council meeting, and consider developing Martello Lakes as an alternative site.
The motion was tabled by Cllr Tim Prater (Lib Dem) and seconded by Cllr Lesley Whybrow (Green). To table a motion at council means to begin consideration of a new or existing proposal.
Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) granted itself outline planning permission for its own scheme in August last year at a meeting which saw more than 200 people march around the Civic Centre beforehand.
There were more than 700 formal objections, as well as 6,000 signatures against the loss of green space and natural habitat.
The group, known as Save Princes Parade (SPP), have since gone on to fundraise for a costly Judicial Review, which would involve hauling the authority up before the High Court who review the lawfulness of decisions made by public bodies.
While FHDC claims developing the old landfill site will bring economic benefits, campaigners say the business and economic plan is flawed and the development is too close to the Royal Military Canal, a Scheduled Monument.
At last night's meeting, Cllr Prater set out the reasons for the debate, including that Cllr Jim Martin, who is a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, had projected a loss of £15m overall, with even 'more on a bad day'.
Cllr Martin said: "Too much of local people's money has already been wasted on this ill conceived scheme which can never be recovered. I fully appreciate the council have to generate income from development, but there is no profit in this scheme, only loss."
Cllr Terry Mullard (UKIP) said: "I cannot see why there is a suggestion of a swimming pool complex there.
"You have a very big swimming pool just 10 yards away called the English Channel."
Cllr Doug Wade (Green) raised concerns about the land, which is a former rubbish tip, including asbestos queries and the cost of remediation works: "It's a ludicrous idea that you simply dig into a toxic dump and hope that you're going to be lucky.
"Councillors would never be forgiven by the people of Seabrook, Hythe and Sandgate."
Cllr Michelle Dorrell (Lab) added: "This is being webcast. People are watching you. People have lost their positions as councillors over this, so you know it's contentious. You know people vote with their feet, because that's what they did, and that's why me, just a nail technician is standing here today.
"Our actions have consequences and those consequences will be long lasting."
The Conservatives lost overall control of the district council in last month's election, with six Green councillors elected alongside two Liberal Democrats and six Labour. The Tories have teamed up with two Ukip councillors and Independent David Wimble to form an administration with a majority of one.
But not all were in favour of the motion.
Cllr Monk expressed his views, saying: "All the time we let the NIMBYs win, we don't get homes and we've got to have homes."
Cllr Susan Carey called the project 'attractive', and likened the facilities to Folkestone's Harbour Arm: "I think it's a really great project, and I think when it's built people will say 'wow'."
Cllr Tony Hills added another view: "I see this building as an opportunity to strenghten our sea defences. Unfortunately change is going to have to happen one way or another."
The motion also added that it wants the authority to bring forward plans no later than November 2019 to open a new swimming pool and leisure centre at Martello Lakes instead.
Cllr Prater added: "You wouldn't build tower blocks in Dover Castle. You wouldn't put a hole in Hadrian's Wall and you shouldn't build houses in front of a canal at Princes Parade.
"When you're in a hole stop digging, and that goes double if your hole is in an ex-rubbish tip by the sea and a scheduled ancient monument.
"This is a council, not a casino."
In response to Mrs Khroud's comments, Cllr Prater added: "I want that confirmed that was a perfectly legal vote and that although it is said that it is not binding on this administration, it morally is."
SPP previously asked James Brokenshire, leading minister for housing, communities and local government, to ‘call in’ the planning application but the Secretary of State considered that the matter was not nationally significant to require government intervention.