“…and for this relief, much thanks”, as Shakespeare might have said. The plans for a ‘world-class’ theme park on the post-industrial landscape of the Swanscombe peninsula have been withdrawn, just before the formal public examination was due to begin.
For a whole decade the proposals have been discussed and amended and discussed again, but it is more recently that it has become clear just how important the site has become for wildlife and nature as heavy industries turned away from the site.
Indeed, Natural England recognised this in November 2021 when it granted the site its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest for the plants, geology, birds and invertebrates the site houses. It is the complex and fragile inter-linkages of these species that make the site so special, and it is one of only two UK sites where the critically endangered distinguished jumping spider can be found (the other is on the far side of the Thames on the West Thurrock Marshes).
Support for the site’s promotion began to dwindle with the departure of the BBC and ITV as backers in February. Today we have learned that the promoters have withdrawn the application, providing welcome respite from the threat of development on this sensitive site for the time being. But – along with the community groups and other environmental NGOs who have worked tirelessly to get this far – we will continue to stand firm to protect this special area from any further proposals for inappropriate development.
Most of the people visiting this site will know of the many and varied benefits of enjoying the countryside. However, it’s not easy to convert that experience to hard facts. We can start to address that problem by watching this fascinating lecture from Professor Jules Pretty on the health and welfare advantages of engaging with nature… you won’t regret it!
Click here to catch up or watch again on this timely and relevant conversation with the Director of Catriona Riddell & Associates, covering the Planning Bill and what it might contain, what it means for Local Plans, and Green Belt protection.
The Guildford judgment referred to in the webinar can be found here
Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech (Tuesday, May 11) confirmed the government’s intention to push on with radical reforms of England’s planning system over the next year. While no new substantive details were released regarding the reforms, the rhetoric accompanying the announcement was disheartening enough. The stated purpose of the Planning Bill is to “create a simpler, faster and more modern planning system to replace the current one that dates back to 1947”. This focus upon speed, and the notion a complicated planning system is the cause of a lack of housing building, was repeated throughout yesterday’s media release. Kent is already suffering the consequence of a planning system that prioritises how quickly and how many ‘units’ are granted above almost everything else. If a council is not meeting its centrally-set government housing targets, there is an automatic presumption further housing development will be permitted. This often trumps local concerns regarding the environment or whether there is sufficient infrastructure. Kent is also already suffering the consequence of an increasingly deregulated planning system, which often leads to new houses in wholly unsustainable locations. This includes ever-expanding permitted development rights for new residential use and other new light-touch routes to gaining permission such as the permission-in-principle route. While CPRE Kent agrees that more genuinely affordable houses in the right places are required, we absolutely reject the notion that it is a lack of speed or the complexity of the current planning system that is providing a barrier to housebuilding. With councils approving nine in 10 planning applications and research by the Local Government Association finding that over the last decade more than 1.1 million homes have been granted planning permission in England than have been built, the evidence simply does not support that argument. It is our view the government should focus on improving the current system, including using its powers to ensure developers actually build the permissions granted by councils rather than rewarding them with more permissions. We are becoming increasingly concerned the Planning Bill will prove to be a developer’s charter that diminishes the views and role of local communities, ultimately at the expense of Kent’s countryside.
The Coming Home report made headlines when it was published in February. It set out the Church of England initiative to use land to create affordable housing. The Church owns considerable amounts of recyclable brownfield land in cities and towns and is developing a strategy to release it for affordable housing, especially for younger people and families. This links with CPRE’s campaign on brownfield and could encourage synergy locally on the use of brownfield. To share more widely the Church’s plans, Canon Chris Beales presented a talk to CPRE focusing largely on the Coming Home report. Chris describes himself as a social entrepreneur working in housing and education and on issues of faith and economy locally, nationally and internationally. He pioneered government work with faith communities. He has written and published two books and contributed to other books and magazines. He is an Anglican minister, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Visiting Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University. He was one of the Commissioners of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Housing, Church & Community.
To view Canon Chris Beales’s presentation, click here
CPRE Protect Kent is cautiously optimistic about the news that Ebbsfleet is to become a garden city. This development, if done correctly, will bring much needed housing to an area which is brownfield land and well connected with direct access to high speed trains.
We now look to the Chancellor George Osborne to follow up his words with practical steps to ensure that this land does at last get developed. This is now an important opportunity to get on and deliver homes that are affordable and a place where families want to live.
Planning permission for this site was first given in 2007 and so far only about 150 homes have been built out of a planning permission for 6250 homes. Up to now this has been a prime example of ‘land banking’ – where a large developer obtains planning permission and then holds the land as an asset, without pressing on to deliver the homes that are so needed.
The Government is convinced that planning is the cause of the lack of housing but this is not the case. There are many sites in Kent where planning permission has been given where development has yet to begin. This is putting greater pressure on the countryside with both Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Green Belt being especially vulnerable. CPRE Protect Kent has long been campaigning to unlock chunks of land which, like this one, have been left undeveloped despite having planning permission for many years. We look forward to seeing more detail about this development proposal, and exactly what it can provide for those in need of housing in northern Kent.
Our precious countryside is under ever increasing strain from development. Across England our natural environments are being constantly chipped away by housebuilding, roads, solar farms and a variety of other developments. Once this countryside is gone, it’s gone forever! Because of this, we want you to stand up and be counted, and sign our Charter to save our countryside. Continue reading →
The problems of rat running traffic, inconsiderate driving and danger to walkers, cyclists and equestrians on our rural lanes are all too familiar in Kent. CPRE has long been campaigning for lower speed limits on rural lanes and for better provision to be made for non-motorised road users.
We do not normally favour road closures, but in the case of Cornford Lane, an ancient lane on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, whose character and safety are being destroyed by through traffic, an experimental Traffic Regulation Order and a barrier half way along it to prevent its use as a through route by motor vehicles appears to be the best solution. See the website of the Friends of Cornford Lane www.cornfordlane.co.uk for further details and to add your voice to their petition.
CPRE Protect Kent is disappointed with the announcement given by the Chairman of the Airports Commission today. The initial recommendation to focus the options for additional runway capacity at Heathrow or Gatwick is extremely disappointing, since we believe that there is sufficient capacity in the system.
During the consultation CPRE Protect Kent examined aviation trends throughout the UK. We found that the upward trend is diminishing, meaning that there will be fewer aircraft flying in the future. With the rise of technological innovations such as online video conferencing and increased fuel prices, we believe that passenger numbers will slowly begin to level off. This fact, combined with statistics for the current spare runway capacity of a number of airports in the south east, showed that we are unlikely to realistically need any more runway space. Stansted is only operating at around 50% capacity, whilst Gatwick also has significant runway space available. With declining aviation runway use, we believe that there is simply no requirement to build more runway space and that the countryside can be protected through more efficient use of existing capacity and the use of fewer, quieter planes.
CPRE Protect Kent welcomes the fact that the Thames Estuary airports have been dropped dismissed from the shortlisted options. We are also pleased that the creation of an Independent Noise Authority has recommended. We hope that this authority will reduce noise, rather than simply enabling more planes to fly.
CPRE Protect Kent is glad that Sir Howard Davies has listened to the objections to a Thames Estuary airport and not shortlisted that option. However, we are extremely disappointed that the possibility of a new hub airport at Cliffe has not been dismissed altogether and we hope that the further investigation of environmental impacts will do just that. We are also disappointed that he has failed to acknowledge the large amount of spare runway capacity currently available for use in the south east. Surely we should be making better use of existing south east airports before building any new runway capacity.
Technological innovations are making frequent flying for business less necessary. The forecast of fewer aircraft flying in the future should show the Airports Commission that there simply is no need to build new aviation capacity in the south east of England.
Developers only appear to care about their profits! So who really cares what is built near you? All too often councils only seem to care about their party being re-elected or hanging on power. So who cares if your children cannot get into their local school because they are oversubscribed due to excessive house building? So who cares if your journey to work takes longer because the transport system cannot cope with the mass of people living in the area? Civil servants, it frequently seems, are simply promoted to their level of incompetence. This frequently means that if a senior civil servant gets things wrong they either rise up the food chain or the mess they have caused gets covered up. So who cares if in years to come there are food shortages because we have more people than the country can feed? Continue reading →
The decision given by the Secretary of State for Transport that Option B for a new Lower Thames Crossing will be abandoned was not entirely unexpected by CPRE Protect Kent. This option had always had very limited support from any parties involved and would have scuppered plans to build the new Paramount Theme Park—investment which North Kent is crying out for on a largely brownfield site. When the announcement was made, we were encouraged to hear that the Government were committed to postponing their final decision until the impacts of high speed tolling had been fully examined. We have always said that the proposals to build a new Lower Thames crossing are premature, due to the many different factors which may well see a reduction in the amount of traffic currently using the crossing. High speed tolls will play a significant part in freeing the crossing of its bottleneck, whilst the London Gateway port will allow a large proportion of road freight to be transported to Essex, and beyond, by sea, reducing the number of HGV’s on Kent’s roads.
Whilst this initial battle has been won, both options A and C are still alive and on the proposals table with Government. We believe that both of these options are jumping the gun, and we hope that once the many bottleneck relieving features are implemented and taken account of the Government will drop these road building plans.
There are a number of draft local plans flying around Kent at the moment, and coming directly after the Canterbury District consultation, we now have Swale Borough Councils stab at setting the agenda for the next 20 years! Continue reading →
Does the UK want energy rather than food? I don’t think so, but that is effectively what we are committing ourselves to with every large new solar farm that is given permission on ‘Best and Most Versatile’ agricultural land. Continue reading →