Please sign our petition: don’t let the government deregulate planning

Unpleasant plans are being discussed in the corridors of power

The government has devised some new plans that could pose a huge risk to the countryside and the communities living and working within it.
Ministers want to take decision-making powers away from communities and local councils, handing it over to housing developers and central powers in Westminster.  
Under these new proposals, our ability to shape the future of where we live – a right communities have had for 70 years – could be lost with the stroke of a pen. 
We must resist this, but we don’t have long. 
We have to stand firmly against these proposals before they are taken any further. Please sign our petition to call on government to drop them and invest in a planning system that:

  • Puts people and communities first
  • Provides access to countryside for all
  • Delivers affordable homes for those in need
  • Enables the building of zero-carbon homes as soon as possible
  • Empowers councils and gives local people a voice

We need to shift the scales in favour of communities, not developers, and if enough of us stand together, we can make a real difference. With just a few clicks, you can be part of that. Please sign our petition to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, here:

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Concerns over open space and density scupper scheme for 900 homes at Herne Bay

The site south of Herne Bay had been targeted by Taylor Wimpey (pic Google Earth)

Plans for 900 new homes in Herne Bay have been turned down by councillors despite officers recommending they be approved.
The 136-acre site at Sweechbridge Road had been allocated for development in Canterbury City Council’s Local Plan, but concerns over open space and density saw Taylor Wimpey’s application for hybrid consent refused.
Consent was being sought by the developer for an initial 193 homes of the scheme, together with access works, drainage infrastructure, open space, landscaping and street-lighting.
Outline consent was also sought for up to 707 further homes, up to 27,000 square metres of employment space, a care home, shops, a community centre, a school, open space and infrastructure works.
Planning officers had recommended the scheme be approved, a planning report saying the site “forms the major part of a strategic allocated site for a mixed-use development in the Canterbury District Local Plan”.
It continued: “The application site will provide a significant amount of the homes that are required to meet the district’s need, as well as providing employment opportunities for local people. This application is therefore acceptable in principle.”
However, the proposals were refused at a planning committee meeting on Tuesday, September 1.
A council spokesman said members had concluded the scheme would not provide for “sufficient high-quality open space for active and continual use due to the amount of that space which contains attenuation ponds/features”, making it contrary to national planning policy.
Further, the development “at 40 dwellings per hectare is over-dense and would amount to an overdevelopment of the site given the location of the site”, while its proposed 22.5 per cent affordable-housing provision failed to meet the 30 per cent sought by local planning policy.
Members also found a “lack of sustainable infrastructure such as solar panels and electric vehicle-charging points”, against Local Plan policy, and “highways arrangements proposed would not provide safe movement within and around the proposed development”.

Monday, September 14, 2020

CPRE Kent supports county MPs in attack on ‘inherently unreasonable’ new housing targets

CPRE Kent, the countryside charity, is backing a group of the county’s MPs who have written to government powerfully expressing their concerns over increased housing targets.
Kent fares particularly badly in the revised totals proposed in the Changes to the Current Planning System consultation, with almost all its district authorities facing annual housebuilding hikes of up to 125 per cent.
If the figures, based on what has already been described as “another rogue algorithm” and following analysis by Lichfields and Savills development consultancies, are accepted as part of planning policy, Kent will need to build an extra 2,835 homes a year on top of current targets, which are already eye-wateringly high.
In total, the county would be required to build 14,908 homes a year – up from the current figure of 12,045. And even the latter figure is critically flawed as it is based on outdated household-projection statistics from the Office for National Statistics.
The 2014 ONS figures used by the government have been superseded by two further forecasts, in 2016 and 2018, each forecasting a much-reduced figure for necessary new homes.
The MPs’ letter, addressed to Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, has been headed by Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) and signed by 10 other Members.
The burden on Kent does seem particularly unacceptable given that it has already delivered so much housing in recent years.
As the letter, which pulls no punches, says: “The proposals also appear inherently unreasonable, particularly to those local authorities in Kent who have already successfully worked with the Government to build the homes we need. One has to question the propriety of constantly increasing targets with completely unrealistic timescales…”
A report from the UK Centre of Ecology & Hydrology released in July this year showed Kent had already lost more land to urbanisation than any other county between 1990 and 2015.
The report revealed a net increase in urban areas in the county of 33,606 acres, substantially ahead of anywhere else – Essex (27,923 acres), West Yorkshire (27,182) and Surrey (24,711) came the closest.
Mrs Grant’s letter to Mr Jenrick has been signed by Rehman Chisti (Gillingham and Rainham), Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells), Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford), Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet), Damian Green (Ashford), Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey), Gareth Johnson (Dartford), Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) and Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling).
Dover faces the greatest increase of all – a scarcely credible 125 per cent hike on its current target. It could be told to build 1,279 homes a year, almost three times the number to have gone up over the past three years.
Other substantial increases would be imposed on Dartford (85 per cent on top of current target), Tonbridge and Malling (71 per cent), Swale (43 per cent) and Folkestone and Hythe (38 per cent). 
The current situation has echoes of a government consultation three years ago into changing the planning system in a bid to boost the amount of homes being built, notably in the South East.
The proposed change in methodology, laid out in the document Planning for The Right Homes In The Right Places: Consultation Proposals, detailed a total of 3,400 extra dwellings a year – a rise of 8 per cent – on targets across the region.
Staggeringly, two-thirds of these were earmarked for Kent, a county already having to accommodate some of the highest levels of housebuilding in the country.
It appears the inequitable focus on Kent has not disappeared.
The consultation closes at 11.45pm on Thursday, October 1.   

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Our stolen night skies

The orange mushroom cloud of Thanet Earth blights much of the east Kent night sky (pic Craig Solly)

Light pollution is an acknowledged blight on both the rural and the urban environment, but perhaps less known is its detrimental effect on wildlife and even our own health. Vicky Ellis investigates.

We humans seem preconditioned to take rather than give back – perhaps nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to nature and our dark skies.
Dark skies are more than just pretty stars in the sky or moonlit trees on a clear night. As romantic as that sounds, the darkness we inexplicably try so hard to flood out is vital for not just our health and well-being but also the health and well-being of flora and fauna.
As more and more housing is built, along with ancillary infrastructure, the more street lighting, outside lighting, security lighting and garden lighting goes up, with little or no regard for the damage caused to our ecosystems that rely on darkness for their very survival.
Why are dark nights so fundamental? This article hopefully goes some way to explaining how important dark nights are and why they should be protected, embraced and treasured.
The night sky with its wondrous stars and moon are part of our heritage. It belongs to no one and everyone at the same time. There is not one person alive who has right over our night sky and not one person who has the right to rob the joys of the night sky from anyone else. It should be our fundamental right to see, enjoy and benefit from the darkness and the tranquillity it generates.

Health

Over billions of years, life on Earth has evolved to rely on the rhythmic cycle of night and day to govern our physiology. It’s part of nature’s DNA and therefore part of our DNA. Science is now uncovering the deadly effect light pollution has on our flora and fauna, from birds, amphibians, mammals, insects and plants to our own health and well-being.
The process behind these circadian rhythms is initiated by photons signalling via the retina a tiny part of the brain responsible for the secretion of melatonin.
Melatonin begins to increase at dusk and peaks around midnight, relinquishing a cascade of chemical signals responsible for the regulation of sleep and wake cycles, body temperature, metabolism and appetite.
Leptin is one of these hormones. Sometimes referred to as the ‘hunger hormone’, it is released primarily from fat cells and ironically contributes to the regulation of body weight, curbing appetite while we sleep. According to epidemiologist Dr Richard Stevens from the University of Connecticut, who has studied links between ALAN (artificial light at night) and human health, one theory as to why it’s important our appetite is suppressed during the night is because ‘back in the day’ foraging for food when it’s dark would have been a high-risk strategy resulting in the likelihood of us becoming food.
All ALAN, be it computer screens, streetlights shining through windows or indoor and outside lights, interfere with circadian rhythms to varying degrees by interrupting regulation of melatonin. Obesity is one consequence among many and is linked to low levels of leptin.
Other studies have found a strong correlation between low melatonin levels and disrupted circadian cycles with heart disease, diabetes, depression and cancer – particularly breast cancer.
Further studies implicate ALAN as having a negative psychological impact on health. On the other hand, Dacher Keltner, a psychologist from the University of California, claims that observing stars rotating gently above our heads creates a feeling of awe and amazement that can elicit a sense of positivity.

Blinded by the light: this illumination on a retirement estate near Faversham can be seen for miles around (pic Vicky Ellis)

Ecology

Nocturnal animals, which sleep during the day and come out at night, have their natural rhythm drastically disrupted when their night-time environment is destroyed by ALAN. Predators use light to hunt, while prey species utilise darkness to stay safe and other fauna use night-time features to navigate. When affecting ecology, ALAN is sometimes referred to as ‘ecological light pollution’ and can affect nature down to the tiniest organism. Spiders, for instance, will seek out light sources to spin their webs as insects are attracted to the light, so it makes sense to exploit this to their advantage. The same can be said of bats feeding on moths.
However, this disruption in predator-prey balance can result in crashes in prey populations, as we are witnessing now with insects, especially flying insects. While it is unlikely that ALAN is the sole driver of our insect population crash, it is a contributing factor.
ALAN is just one more avoidable man-made negative that affects nature’s natural balance. Nocturnal insects such as moths navigate at night. ALAN can severely inhibit this ability to navigate, interfering with reproductive success. Artificial light sends moths into a frenzy around the light source, which often results in them either being picked off by predators or dying from exhaustion. Flowers that bloom at night rely on moths for pollination. If there is no other night-time pollinator not affected by light pollution, the plant will be unable to reproduce, drastically altering the local ecosystem with sometimes disastrous consequences.
Many will have heard birds singing at night in an illuminated tree, something that makes us feel uncomfortable because we know it is not right.
Other fauna negatively affected include frogs that use a light-dependent compass to find their way at night, using this light to find their way to breeding ponds. Studies have shown ALAN to also cause developmental deformities such as retinal damage, impeded juvenile development, premature metamorphosis, reduced sperm production and genetic mutation.
Frogs croak at night under cover of darkness during their mating season. ALAN can disrupt this, interfering in successful reproduction and negatively affecting population numbers.
Light and glare from ALAN can have a devastating effect on wetlands, home to amphibians such as frogs and toads and migratory birds. Migratory birds often navigate at night using the moon and stars. ALAN can trick these birds into deviating from their migratory routes, sometimes with fatal consequences. Irresponsibly-lit tall buildings in cities around the world draw these doomed birds, which then collide with them.
Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) in America states that brightly-lit tower blocks in Toronto could be responsible for tens of thousands of bird fatalities a year.
The volume of flora and fauna negatively affected by ALAN is so far-reaching that it would be impossible to list each species, but they range across the spectrum to include such animals as turtle hatchlings, some of which turn the wrong way at night. Instead of heading for the moonlit ocean, tragically they are drawn to the bright lights of towns and roads.

Whether in town or country, many can’t escape the light pollution of Thanet Earth (pic Craig Solly)

Crime and safety

We often hear people panic at the mere suggestion streetlights are turned off after hours, citing safety as a primary reason. Others are that streetlights make people ‘feel’ safer and that the accident rate might increase ‘tenfold’ if street lighting is removed, either in towns or on dual carriageways, and crime rates will soar. It may come as a surprise, but these perceptions are not backed by science or fact, and in some cases, it is quite the opposite: street lighting can do more harm than good when it comes to crime and safety.
Many people reside in the countryside with no street lighting for miles and manage to survive quite adequately, avoiding being run over, burgled or attacked, while cars do not suddenly lose control when no streetlight is on.
A number of studies make the same findings, but two major papers draw similar conclusions:
The first study found, in summary, the following results:

  • Switch-off (permanently turning off streetlights) was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions or crime
  • Part-night lighting (for example streetlights switched off between midnight and 6am) was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions or crime
  • Replacing conventional yellow lighting with white light was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions and was associated with a reduction in crime, though estimates were imprecise
  • Dimming of conventional yellow light or white light was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions and was associated with a reduction in crime, though estimates were imprecise

It concluded that turning off streetlights resulted in “little evidence of harmful effects… on road collisions or crime in England and Wales” and “found no evidence for an increase in collisions where street lighting was reduced at night”.
The second study of reviewed literature concluded: “In the light of these findings it can be considered highly unlikely that the Cambridgeshire part-night lighting scheme will cause an increase in crime.”
What are the figures for rural crime, where few or no streetlights occur, as opposed to towns, often heavily peppered with streetlights?
According to statistics from the Office for National Statistics 2018-19 crime and justice bulletin, the rate of violence against any one individual was 20.2 per 1,000 population in mainly rural areas compared with 29.5 per 1,000 population in mainly urban areas.
For sexual offences the rural figure was 2.2 per 1,000 against 2.8 per 1,000 urban areas and the rate for recorded crime was also lower in rural areas than urban areas, for example robbery, domestic burglary and vehicle offences. The figures here were 4.3 per 1,000 population (rural) versus 9.5 per 1,000 in urban areas.
There is of course more reason for these figures than just a lack of streetlighting in rural areas, but these figures may tell us that streetlighting does not seem to have any influence on keeping people safe at night.

Pollution

It has been found that ALAN can increase atmospheric pollution negatively, affecting the air we breathe. A recent study presented by Harald Stark from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that ALAN destroyed nitrate radicals and in so doing prevented the natural night-time reduction of atmospheric smog produced by fumes generated from cars and factories.
Every night the nitrate radical NO3, which is destroyed by sunlight, builds up during the night, neutralising some of the nitrogen oxides (NOx), which pollute the air during daylight hours, leading to increased levels of ozone (O3), which can cause breathing difficulties.
Further research, cited by Kelly Beatty in her article Night Lights Worsen Smog, claims to show that this clean-up is inhibited due to nitrate radicals being destroyed by vertical night-time light-glow spillage emanating from outside lighting on the ground.
Astronomers who study the night sky are particularly sensitive to even the lowest levels of light pollution. Indeed, skyglow can destroy their chances of studying the night sky completely.

… and this is what we’re missing (pic Bob Mizon)

How can we reduce the impact of ALAN?

Of course, the one preferred default is no light at all. However, the type of bulb you use can have a huge impact on how many insects are attracted, especially winged insects.
It is recommended that we use warm-coloured LED bulbs for outside lighting and avoid white LED sources. A study by Michael Justin from the University of North Carolina found incandescent light bulbs were attracted the highest number of insects, followed by CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps), halogen globes and cool-coloured (such as blue) LEDs.
The second-best light was the ‘bug light’ and surprisingly the winner, with the fewest insects attracted, was the warm LED bulb.
We can use light fittings that angle the light down where it is needed and do not allow the light to flood out across fields and into the night sky. As pretty as that lantern is, it’s not night-friendly. Further, lighting need be kept on only when necessary – we can turn it off once in bed or when our visitors have left. These are only small gestures in the great scheme of things, but if everyone did this it would collectively make a huge difference. Who knows, we might even get back our night sky and nature can begin to slowly mend.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Can we allow this popular cliff-top walk to be ruined by bungalow estate?

Pegwell Bay and the surrounding area attracts walkers from far and wide (pic Vicky Ellis)

The walk from Pegwell village along the cliff-top towards Pegwell Bay is enjoyed by locals, visitors and ramblers alike – but its setting will be ruined if a bungalow estate at the start of the footpath is granted permission.
A developer is looking to build the six bungalows on the edge of the village, which would of course itself suffer from the plans should they be approved by Thanet District Council.
Pegwell and District Association – a member of CPRE Kent – is objecting strongly to the application and inviting all concerned by the proposal to make representation by Thursday, September 17.
The application number is OL/TH/20/0564
The association is objecting to the application on the following grounds:

  • The planned scheme is totally incompatible with the rural nature of Pegwell village and its cliff-top setting – a designated conservation area.
  • The application seeks to widen the public footpath TR15 to create access to the proposed development. This is wholly inappropriate for this popular track that forms part of the England Coast Path and the Contra Trail, which is extremely popular with local people, walkers and visitors alike.
  • The loss of hedgerow that would be entailed in the planned widening of the footpath noted above is not acceptable. Hedgerows are a scarce feature in Thanet and home to a tremendous amount of wildlife.
  • The building of the bungalows would result in the loss of high-quality agricultural land, although note the observation below on an earlier planning application (OL/TH/20/0876).
  • The proposed development abuts the Thanet Coast Special Area of Conservation and is unacceptably close to Sandwich and Pegwell Bay NNR –Kent’s largest National Nature Reserve – and the Thanet Coast Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
  • The planned road entrance would be an obvious safety hazard to road- users and pedestrians alike.
  • The proposed access route would necessitate the loss of hedgerow between the site and Pegwell Road – see observation on hedgerows above.

If you would like to make a representation, visit https://planning.thanet.gov.uk/online-applications and search OL/TH/20/0564

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

£34 million on a new station that will increase journey time from Thanet to London: a ‘robust business case’… apparently

This is what a (£34 million) white elephant looks like

Sometimes a planning decision leaves you struggling for words – and that by Kent County Council’s planning committee to approve a parkway station that will increase journey times from Thanet to London certainly hits the spot.
Councillors decided by eight votes to five to approve the £34 million Thanet Parkway project, choosing to put aside a Department for Transport statement from 2018 that its panel was “concerned that accommodating an additional stop at Thanet Parkway would add two minutes to the journey on the line between Ashford and Ramsgate”.
The county council argument has been that the station will in fact cut journey times to London by three minutes – yes, you read that correctly: three minutes – although it is by no means clear how even that laughably small reductionwill be achieved.
Extraordinarily, Thanet now has eight railway stations.
The committee made its decision in a virtual public meeting on Wednesday, September 2.   
It is telling that committee members representing Thanet all voted against the scheme regardless of their party affiliation – but what do they know?
Clearly the statement by Sharon Thompson, the county council’s head of planning applications, that “We are confident the business case is robust” carried more weight, despite a lack of supporting evidence.   
KentOnline reported how committee vice-chairman Dick Pascoe dismissed the idea that Thanet would be oversupplied with train stations by talking about Chinese restaurants: “A Chinese restaurant wanted to open in a Kent area where there were several Chinese restaurants and we did not say no,” he apparently said.
How £34 million for a scheme that will increase journey times represents a robust business case is something you might like to ponder over your evening Horlicks. As for the Chinese restaurants thing, perhaps it’s best not to think about it.
For more on this baffling decision, click here    

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Thanet Parkway railway station: is this the most expensive white elephant we’ve spotted for a while?

Early impressions of a Thanet Parkway station

Just weeks after the announcement that Kent County Council was facing the biggest financial crisis in its history, its officers are recommending that a £34 million Thanet Parkway railway station be approved.
The officers claim the development of the station will enable journey times from Thanet to London to be cut by three minutes… and yes, that is put forward as a positive.
KCC planning committee is to decide on the scheme during a virtual public meeting on Wednesday, September 2, from 10am.
Just to clarify a little background to that impending decision: a cost of £34 million (the initial estimate was £11 million), the loss of some 23 acres of high-quality farmland, no permanent station staff and no commercial bus services… all for a saving of three minutes’ journey time.
And even that alleged saving is very much up for debate. A damning Department for Transport statement from 2018 said its panel was “concerned that accommodating an additional stop at Thanet Parkway would add two minutes to the journey on the line between Ashford and Ramsgate.”
So the time-saving from Thanet to London is, in truth, down to one minute, while the journey from Ramsgate to Ashford, for example, would actually take longer!
Then factor in the added driving time for travellers using the Parkway rather than existing stations such as Margate and Ramsgate (and the resulting congestion) and it’s difficult to see any benefit to this scheme at all.
South East Local Enterprise Partnership has granted £14 million towards it, the government £12m and Thanet District Council some £2m. That leaves some £6m for the county council to pay.
It is reported that KCC could have to make up to £130 million savings… Thanet Parkway station might be a very good place to start.

  • To read more about the (very expensive) Thanet Parkway white elephant, click here

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Wind farm plan stopped in its tracks

Alok Sharma refused a Development Consent Order for the Thanet Extension Offshore Wind Farm (pic Vattenfall)

Proposals for a new wind farm off the east Kent coast have been blocked.
Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has refused a Development Consent Order for Vattenfall’s scheme for the 34-turbine Thanet Extension Offshore Wind Farm.
The developer said the new wind farm, which would have incorporated larger turbines than those already sited around much of the county’s coast, could have more than doubled the capacity of the existing 100-turbine Thanet Offshore Wind Farm.
The refusal, announced in June, centred on a potentially negative effect on the development of ports, as well as the new wind farm causing a maritime navigation risk.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Last chance to save Forty Acres: can you help in battle to ward off developer planning to build over a treasured stretch of countryside?

Forty Acres: Developer Wates has applied for planning consent to build 250 properties here

Campaigners have launched a crowdfunding appeal to fund legal representation at a planning appeal and Local Plan inquiry. Trudy Dean takes up the story…

Forty Acres is a beautiful open area of gently rising farmland to the south of the A20 London Road in the parish of East Malling and Larkfield.
Confusingly running to almost 60 acres, it lies between and separates the historic settlements of West Malling, East Malling, Larkfield and Leybourne from the new village of Kings Hill.
It is crossed by two well-used Public Rights of Way, MR 119 and 120, between the villages and serves commuters to West Malling station, shoppers and walkers. They also feed into one of the few areas of nationally designated Quiet Lanes prioritising walkers, riders and cyclists immediately to the south. 
Forty Acres fields have been cultivated for grain for as long as anyone can remember and were part of the extensive estates of the nearby 11th-century Malling Abbey built by Bishop Gundulf for Benedictine nuns.
In 2016, Forty Acres was included within a parcel of land proposed to extend the Metropolitan Green Belt eastward in the Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council Draft Local Plan, due to begin its final stage of examination before inspectors in October. 
Extending the Green Belt would not only protect the setting of West Malling with its Conservation Area but also prevent the joining up of East and West Malling with Leybourne and Larkfield to the north and Kings Hill to the south. The network of rural lanes and footpaths would be protected as well as the setting of many listed buildings.
The developer Wates has applied for planning consent to build 250 houses on Forty Acres and now appealed against the borough council’s failure to decide the application within six weeks.
The surrounding parishes of East Malling and Larkfield, Leybourne and West Malling are crowdfunding to raise the £60,000 estimated to be needed for legal representation at the appeal and Local Plan inquiry.  
We are using the team of lawyers who last year successfully fought off Bellway’s plans to build on fields up against the walls of Malling Abbey.
This is probably the last chance we shall have to defend this open space.
Please help if you can.

  • If you would like to contribute to the fund to help save Forty Acres, click here

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

  • CPRE Kent is fighting an almost overwhelming number of development proposals across the county – BUT WE CAN’T DO IT WITHOUT YOUR SUPPORT. If you would like to join us in our efforts to keep Kent beautiful, please click here

Petition asks for green buffer zone between Mersham and proposed customs clearance site

The proposed buffer zone is the last green field between Mersham and the planned customs clearance site

Ashford residents are being asked to sign a petition calling for an area of countryside at Mersham to be protected from development.
The land, east of Highfield Lane, is the last green field between Mersham and the proposed customs clearance and lorry-holding area, and The Village Alliance is urging Ashford Borough Council to keep it as a green buffer zone.
This could be done through its Strategic Gap in Perpetuity policy, which protects ancient settlements and countryside from encroachment.
The petition is attached here for you to print and sign.
Once signed, it can be passed to neighbours and friends. If you include your email address, you will be kept informed of progress with the campaign.
Signed petition forms can be left at Mersham Village Stores, The Royal Oak or the Farriers Arms by Sunday, August 30.
If you need your form collecting, or any further information, phone 07732 382624. You can also send your signed petition (scanned if necessary), including your address, by email to thevillageallianceTVA@gmail.com

‘Landmark’ planning reforms: will they really benefit the Kent countryside?

CPRE Kent, the countryside charity, has given a cool response to “once-in-a-generation reforms” to the country’s planning system proposed by the government today (Thursday, August 6).
Described as “landmark reforms to speed up and modernise the planning system and get the country building”, the changes proposed in the Planning for the Future White Paper are unlikely to benefit our countryside, John Wotton, chairman of CPRE Kent, said. 
Mr Wotton was responding to a statement from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick saying “an overhaul of the country’s outdated planning system that will deliver the high-quality, sustainable homes communities need will be at the heart of the most significant reforms to housing policy in decades”.
According to the statement, core reforms will mean:

  • Local communities will be consulted from the very beginning of the planning process. By harnessing the latest technology through online maps and data, the whole system will be made more accessible
  • Valued green spaces will be protected for future generations by allowing for more building on brownfield land and all new streets to be tree-lined
  • Much-needed homes will be built quicker by ensuring local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months – down from the current seven years
  • Every area is to have a Local Plan in place – currently only 50 per cent of local areas have a plan to build more homes
  • The planning process is to be overhauled and replaced with a clearer, rules-based system. Currently around a third of planning cases that go to appeal are overturned at appeal
  • A new simpler national levy to replace the current system of developer contributions, which often causes delay
  • The creation of a fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities
  • All new homes are to be ‘zero carbon ready’, with no new homes delivered under the new system needed to be retrofitted as we achieve our commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050

One of the more contentious aspects of the proposals is the concept of zonal planning, with land designated in one of three categories: growth, renewal or protection.
It is also stated that “valued green spaces and Green Belt will continue to be protected for future generations, with the reforms allowing for more building on brownfield land”, while “local community agreement will be at the centre of the proposals”.
However, Mr Wotton said: “We find hard to see how the planning reform proposals, unveiled by the government this morning, will benefit the Kent countryside.
“The policy driving the proposals, of building more homes, more quickly, appears to override the safeguards in the present system ensuring that local communities’ needs are taken into account and that harm to the environment and landscape from building new homes is prevented.
“If local authorities are to lose their ability to approve the details of new developments, by what means can the views of local communities continue to have real force?
“We support the efficient provision of sufficient sustainable, affordable homes in Kent, in the places where they are most needed and where they will not harm the countryside, especially our much-valued Green Belt and two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and we support, as a general principle, the use of brownfield sites first.
“We are concerned that a standard infrastructure levy for housing developments, in place of Section 106 Agreements, will hand over the responsibility for the provision of both the additional infrastructure required as a result of new development and the provision of affordable housing from developers to local authorities, who may not have the resources to make these things happen.
“We will be studying these proposals in detail, in conjunction with the wider CPRE network and will participate actively in the coming public debate.”
Echoing Mr Wotton’s concerns, Tom Fyans, CPRE’s deputy chief executive, said: “The key acid test for the planning reforms is community involvement and on first reading, it’s still not clear how this will work under a zoning system.
“Although we welcome the government’s commitment to all areas having a Local Plan in place, we also need robust legal guarantees that the public are consulted regarding new development.
“Red lines on a map are not going to build trust in the planning system. As things stand, the government seems to have conflated digitalising planning with democratic planning – they’re not the same thing. 
“The government’s aim to deliver carbon-neutral new homes by 2050 is pitiful and represents 34 lost years given that the Code for Sustainable Homes aimed to achieve the same thing by 2016 and was dropped by government.
“If this government is serious about tackling the climate emergency, it needs to be much, much more ambitious on new-build. 
“On affordable homes, our concern is how this approach might play out in the countryside. In many rural areas, house prices are often more than 10 times average earnings, and so the 30 per cent discount won’t cut it. Local authorities should be able to provide the sorts of homes needed in their area – homes that local people can afford. 
“We have long advocated for a genuinely brownfield-first approach and on this aspect, the government seems to have listened. But if a brownfield-first approach is to work, local authorities need to be able to prioritise the building of those sites and reject unnecessary losses of greenfield land.” 

  • Read Planning for the Future here
  • You can also read the document and learn more about the consultation here 
  • Read the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government press statement here
  • Read more on planning reform here and here

Thursday, August 6, 2020

London Green Belt Council welcomes proposed countryside protections but fears for local democracy

The London Green Belt Council, of which CPRE Kent is an associate member, has described government proposals for reform of the planning system as “a mixed bag”.
It applauds the provision of some countryside protection in the Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty but is disheartened by the threat to local democracy and restriction of community involvement in the planning process.
Responding to today’s (Thursday, August 6) publication of Planning for the Future by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), Andy Smith, secretary of the London Green Belt Council, said: “We welcome the government’s pledge to protect Green Belt and AONB countryside from development, but we are disappointed that ministers have missed this opportunity to strengthen local democracy and have instead opted for policies that circumvent local communities.
“We are also concerned about potential reductions in building standards resulting from the government’s intention to ‘fast-track’ developments at the expense of quality and the environment.”
The LGBC will be participating in the government’s consultation on the White Paper and is urging communities throughout London and the South East to “have their say, and to bring pressure to bear on ministers to ‘think again’ about planning”.
Mr Smith adds: “The priority for any reforms to the planning system in England should be to increase public participation and to improve the quality and environmental sustainability of new developments.
“While the White Paper’s reaffirmation of the important role of the Green Belt is very welcome, there is a danger that the current proposals from ministers will lead to a massive reduction in local democracy and accountability, which will harm the environment and will benefit only the developers and their profits.”

  • For more on Planning for the Future, see here

You have eight days to help fund Manston airport judicial review bid

Manston: the site has been contentious for years

A growing number of groups are bidding to fund a judicial review of the decision to grant a Development Consent Order for the reopening of Manston airport as a freight hub.
The decision was made in the name of Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, against the Examining Authority’s recommendation that the DCO be refused due to conservation of habitats and species regulations.
Almost 850 groups and individuals have already pledged more than £57,000 to the CrowdJustice campaign to fund the judicial review. There are just eight days left to contribute – if you would like to help fund the bid, click here

  • For more on the decision to grant the DCO, click here

Friday, August 6, 2020

Lower Thames Crossing consultation: time (really is!) running out to make your voice heard

At a minute to midnight on Wednesday, August 12, the consultation clock stops!

Time is almost up!
You have until 11.59pm tomorrow (Wednesday, August 12) to take part in Highways England’s consultation on further design revisions to the proposed Lower Thames Crossing.
CPRE Kent has made a response running to more than 5,000 words and, while you might not wish to go to quite such lengths, it would be useful to make your voice heard.
There are many issues with the project – not least regarding air pollution and climate change – but did you also know the following?
The A2 was widened both ways at great expense to four lanes. With the proposed refinements, the A2 coastbound would reduce from four lanes to two just east of the Gravesend East junction and also London-bound from four lanes to two before the Thong Lane bridge. It’s not easy to find the detail in the consultation document, but it’s there!
These pinch points would cause serious congestion – and should be reconsidered in the light of the recent decision permitting the operation of Manston airport, which will result in large vehicles carrying air-freight containers along the A2.
Any congestion on the A2 will result in vehicles rat-running at speed through the narrow lanes of surrounding areas such as Meopham, Sole Street and Cobham. This, we suggest, would appear contrary to the LTC Project Objective to “improve safety”.
There is very much more that can be said about a scheme likely to bring little benefit to Kent, but you can learn more here

  • You can join the Highways England consultation here

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Truth about impact of the Lower Thames Crossing on local roads revealed at public meeting

Consultation on LTC design revisions is ending on Wednesday (August 12)

There was a healthy turn-out to a meeting from people keen to see copies of the latest Lower Thames Crossing design consultation.
The event, organised by the Gravesham committee of CPRE Kent and Meopham residents, gave all the chance to ask questions about the revised design proposals. It had been set up in view of Highways England’s belief that the documents being displayed only in Rochester Library was sufficient south of the river.
None of the many visitors at the meeting, held at Meopham Cricket Pavilion on Friday, July 31, realised that the junction of the tunnel access road and A2 would result in the A2 being reduced to two lanes in each direction at this point.
This pinch point is likely to cause huge congestion on the A2 and as a result greatly increase traffic on local roads such as the A227.

  • You can read more on the latest consultation here

Monday, August 10, 2020