In 2013, Dover District Council resolved to approve developer China Gateway International's plans for 521 new homes and a 90-resident retirement village at Farthlingoe, to the west of the town. Proposals for 31 homes, a hotel and a conference centre on a prominent hill, known as the Western Heights, were also approved. The plans were opposed by the Kent branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) which took legal action against the approvals. A High Court challenge against the plans was rejected by the High Court in December 2015. But in September last year, CPRE Kent emerged victorious after two Court of Appeal judges sent the would-be developers back to the drawing board. The Supreme Court then granted permission for Dover District Council and China Gateway International to appeal against the Court of Appeal judgment. Today, the Supreme Court finally overturned the planning permission, ruling that the council failed in its fundamental duty to give adequate reasons for its decision.
Lord Carnwath said that planners had warned the council that binding agreements should be reached with the developers to ensure that the project brought economic benefits to the area and that the hotel and conference centre were actually built.
An officers' report described the harm to the AONB from the development as "significant", but expressed the view that the public interest was "finely balanced" in favour of the project.
The judge noted that, at a planning committee meeting in June 2013, three members stated that harm to the AONB could be "minimised" by "effective screening" of the development from the surrounding area. This was contrary to the officers' report, which stated that screening would be "largely ineffective", the judge said.
The committee met again in December 2013, this time with an updated officers' report that pointed out that there was no agreement in place that would guarantee the hotel and conference centre's construction. But, following the signing of a section 106 agreement, planning permission was formally granted in April 2015.
In unanimously dismissing the council's appeal, the Supreme Court noted that the council did not dispute that it had breached a specific obligation to give reasons imposed by the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011.
Lord Carnwath said the essence of the council's duty was to provide sufficient information so that members of the public would be left with "no room for genuine doubt" as to the reasons why permission was granted.