Thanet goes big in its approval of greenfield development

Plans for Westwood Village were approved in February (pic Greenacre (Thanet))

Some of our Thanet readers might already be delighted by the decision to approve plans for the 900-home Westwood Village. After all, the substantial loss of farmland combined with potential traffic gridlock should be enough to gladden the stoniest of hearts.
Such joy can surely only be heightened by the news that the scheme is one of the largest to have been approved across the entire country this year.
Planning magazine has listed the largest planning consents to be granted during the first six months of 2019 – and Westwood Village, which lies essentially at the joining point of Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs – comes in at an impressive sixth place.
The plans, from Greenacre (Thanet) Ltd, were approved, with conditions, by Thanet District Council’s planning committee on Tuesday, February 26. The final agreement, incorporating legal provisions, will be concluded by officers.
As well as the 900 homes (of which 30 per cent are scheduled to be ‘affordable’), Westwood Village will include a 4,900 square-metre commercial centre, a local centre and a primary school.
As for what all those new households are going to do for work, answers on a postcard, please…
PS: The largest application to be approved in the Planning survey?
The intriguingly named Margarine Works development in Southall, west London, incorporating more than 2,000 homes, up to 10,076 sq m of flexible office/community space and 2,688 sq m of flexible retail space.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Quinn Estates targets site across the estuary

Plans for North Weald Park were submitted to the local authority in June (pic Quinn Estates)

Many communities across Kent are experiencing the activities of Quinn Estates, so it might be of interest to highlight a scheme the developer is promoting across the estuary in Essex.
A decision is anticipated this spring on proposals for a ‘garden village’ development at the former North Weald Golf Club.
Quinn Estates and Redrow Homes submitted the plans to Epping Forest District Council that include 555 homes, a 70-bed retirement complex and 70-bed nursing care accommodation, as well as sports facilities and schools.
The developer’s brochure describes the scheme, entitled North Weald Park, as:
“A once in a generation opportunity to create a mixed use development with an incredible sporting and education legacy for Essex and Epping Forest District.
“Embodying garden village principles, the development will combine high quality housing with exceptional community, social and economic infrastructure.
“The proposals incorporate the creation of up to 690 new homes with 40% affordable provision and a new business community from a developer with a very strong track record for the delivery of commercial space.
“Through working with Epping Youth Football Club, UKA Karate Club and the Scouts, the development can deliver a legacy of enhanced sporting facilities for the people of Essex.”
The 165-acre scheme also includes a business park, park-and-ride to Epping station, Scouts facility and medical centre, together with “£5m-£10m” improvements to junction of the M11 at Hastingwood.
The planning application was submitted to the local authority in June and it is hoped it will be determined in May.

Monday, April 8, 2019

A million new homes, two development corporations… and a very special friend to make it all happen

Fly away! There won’t be much space left for wildlife in the Thames estuary if mass development proposals come to pass (pic GREAT)

Back in September, we wrote: “If you thought development pressure on Kent could not get any worse, there is some sobering reading from the Thames Estuary Growth Commission.
“This advisory body to the government is urging ‘joint spatial plans’ to be created in both Essex and Kent to support the building of more than a million homes.
“The two counties should take more of London’s housing need, says a commission report.”
And last week (Monday, March 26) the government published its response to the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission report. Unsurprisingly, it is not an attractive read, either in style or substance.
The commission had been announced in the 2016 Budget and was tasked by government to “develop an ambitious vision and delivery plan for north Kent, south Essex and east London up to 2050”.
Sadly, the word ‘ambitious’ rarely spells good news… and, sure enough, a sift through the bureaucratic spiel reveals that the intention to target the estuary for mass housing development shines as bright (or as dark) as ever for this government.
You might recall that the 2050 Vision report, published in June last year, said “a minimum” of one million homes would be needed to support economic growth in the Thames estuary by 2050, equating to 31,250 homes a year.
It also called for greater strategic planning and the creation of development corporations “with planning, and compulsory purchase powers to drive the delivery of homes and jobs aligned to major infrastructure investment”.
Responding, the government has committed to “striking housing deals with groups of local authorities in order to support ambitious and innovative plans for additional homes in high demand areas”.
It says: “Through these deals, we are seeking to support greater collaboration between councils, a more strategic approach to decision-making on housing and infrastructure, more innovation and high-quality design in new homes and creating the right conditions for new private investment.
“We are encouraged by early discussions with authorities in Kent and Medway on how government can support this ambitious plan, and how we can best work together to secure the infrastructure it needs to plan for and deliver more homes.”
We are told the government “supports joint planning arrangements as defined by local partners and stands ready to offer support to places seeking to engage in developing compelling proposals which support housing growth over the longer term.
“These proposals or joint working arrangements should not be limited by the geography of the Estuary and we would encourage cross boundary working.”
Further, the commission “also recognised the importance of housing delivery both in East London and within the wider Estuary”.
It response says government “expects all local authorities to plan for the number of homes required to meet need in their area” and “would encourage cooperation between the London boroughs and neighbouring authorities in Kent and Essex and welcome further engagement with those places, including with groups of London boroughs, in exploring how we might support them to plan for and deliver significant increases in the provision of homes”.
The government is “committed to exploring the potential for at least two new locally-led development corporations in the Thames Estuary”, “subject to suitable housing ambition from local authorities, and we encourage local areas in the Estuary to come forward with such proposals”.
The government response also includes:

  • a commitment of £1 million to establish a new Thames Estuary Growth Board to “oversee and drive economic growth plans for the area”
  • a commitment of £4.85 million “to support local partners to develop low-cost proposals for enhancing transport services” between Abbey Wood and Ebbsfleet. The response says that any decision on future transport enhancements “would require a detailed evidence base that demonstrates that the scheme would be both technically feasible, offer value for money … and deliver ambitious new housing in the area.”
  • a commitment to create a Cabinet-level “ministerial champion” to act “as an advocate and critical friend for the region within government”.

With friends like that…

Monday, April 1, 2019

  • To read the 2050 Vision report, click here
  • For more on this story, see here

Cleve Hill solar farm: it might not be too late to have your say

The special landscape of Graveney Marshes would be destroyed if the Cleve Hill solar park was approved (pic Vicky Ellis)

If you want to have your say on plans for a 1,000-acre solar farm near Faversham but didn’t make the submissions deadline you might still have a chance.
The deadline to register with the Planning Inspectorate as an Interested Party in relation to the proposed Cleve Hill Solar Park passed on Monday, January 28, but the inspectorate has just announced that the “Examining Authority has used its discretion to accept Additional Submissions from the Applicant and a Late Relevant Representation. These have been published and added to the Examination Library”.
There is no guarantee, but it is difficult to see how any other late representations could justifiably be refused given the other late acceptances.
The developer’s application for a Development Consent Order, made on November 16, was accepted by the inspectorate, meaning an inquiry into the scheme will now be held. CPRE Kent is among 867 groups and individuals to have registered as Interested Parties for this process.
As for the next stage, the inspectorate website says: “Details of the Preliminary Meeting will be announced here shortly.
“The Examining Authority will carry out an Initial Assessment of Principal Issues derived from its reading of the application and the Relevant Representations received and set a date for the Preliminary Meeting.”

  • Should you wish to add your voice to the inquiry, visit the Planning Inspectorate website here
  • For more on the Cleve Hill story, see here, here and here

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Tom Fyans: Why we love brownfield

Tom Fyans, complete with new spectacles, speaks at the CPRE Ashford AGM 

The benefits of brownfield development were extolled by Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive of CPRE, during a flying visit to Ashford.
Tom was giving the speech ‘Why town centre regeneration matters for CPRE, the countryside charity’ before the AGM of CPRE Kent’s Ashford committee at the Picturehouse in Elwick Place on Wednesday last week (March 6).
Before he got going, however, Christine Drury, acting Ashford chair, gave some background to the local situation.
“Green fields were being gobbled up all around Ashford,” she said. “We kept highlighting the availability of brownfield land, but all we were getting was excuses, excuses, excuses. Finberry, Cheeseman’s Green, Chilmington Green… it just went on and on. CPRE Kent was not happy about that.
“Now at last the brownfield is being developed and the town centre regenerated.”
Taking the reins, Tom told how being in the “ivory towers” of London could make such matters seem “very theoretical”. It was good to get out and see regeneration in action.
Sporting a swish new pair of glasses, he warned that he had not yet got used to them and those present might need to excuse some peculiar body language. We can but hope he had such issues sorted out before a meeting with housing minister Kit Malthouse the following Monday.
Such pressing matters aside, he revealed the last time he had been in Kent was to take part in a debate in Faversham for radio’s The Moral Maze during which a young student had argued for development in the Green Belt.
Lacking, he said, a connection to the environment, she had been happy with the idea of a dystopian landscape stretching from Faversham to London.
“It was a sobering experience,” he said. “These are young people we need to connect to and highlight the importance of the environment to our well-being. It was a motivator for me.”
He then gave “five reasons we like brownfield”:

  • It entails recycling of land: In contrast to the success of the Deposit Return Scheme for drinks bottles and cans, we don’t recycle enough land. This was counterintuitive as land was finite.
  • Brownfield can make a massive contribution to housing delivery: A CPRE report showed that 132,000 houses (three years’ supply) could be built on brownfield in the South East, and a million homes across the country. Government had ridiculed CPRE, saying the national figure was just 200,000 homes, but was now coming round to accepting it. CPRE was getting through to government.
  • It’s quicker to build on brownfield: Six months quicker, in fact, and at a greater density. This was a better use of urban land.
  • The creation of vibrant places in which to live: Closer to existing infrastructure, brownfield development could make “a much better offer of a place to live”.
  • It helps us keep our beautiful countryside for our health and well-being, especially given land-use pressures.

“So what is CPRE doing about it?” said Tom.
“We produced the report, State of Brownfield 2018, although the government should be doing this. Brownfield registers are the result of CPRE campaigning and we want to see them used as a tool for bringing sites forward, with greenfield land being held back while brownfield is available.
“We need to involve communities more, and there are pilot schemes in London and Lancashire. We can help identify smaller sites and build a picture at national level.”
Turning to politics and planning, members heard that the aforementioned meeting with Mr Malthouse was about how we build the government’s desired 300,000 homes a year and help them go in the right places.
“There’s a need to rebuild trust in the planning system,” Tom continued. “There has to be a Local Plan-led system – without one, you can’t control development.
“The need to show a five-year housing supply creates its own pressure, with Gladman at the worst end of things. Help to Buy, meanwhile, is stoking huge profits for developers and not helping get people on the housing ladder.
“A clearer definition of affordability is necessary, while at the moment demand is being met by high-end housing, not affordable homes.”
Design is an often-neglected aspect of housing development, but poor design is one of the reasons people object to proposals.
Looking at things optimistically, Tom said Mr Malthouse was a big fan of design principles based on the local vernacular, while Roger Scruton, chair of the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful commission, was a friend of CPRE. “There’s room here for the government to listen,” he said.
Wrapping up with a look at the position of CPRE across the country, the deputy chief executive said the situation was healthier “in this part of the country” but elsewhere proving more of a struggle, with fewer people involved… something that wasn’t improving.
“We’re not getting new people – we’re too reliant on legacies – which means we can’t plan for the future.
“There’s a need to broaden our appeal and compete with other, bigger organisations, with a concentration on fundraising. A lot of work is going on in relation to brand and how we communicate.
“We should be warmer as we’re sometimes seen as aggressive and angry – and indeed we are angry at some developments!
“We have to help people connect better with the countryside and nature. We all need to understand more the connection between rural and urban, with an appeal to both.”
And a final word?
“We will continue with our cutting-edge campaigning. We’re quite critical of the government at the moment.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Otterpool Park: planning application submitted

Being destroyed soon: land earmarked for Otterpool Park

Plans for a vast new town near Hythe have moved a step forward with the submission of a planning application for Otterpool Park to Folkestone & Hythe District Council.
The scheme, devised by the local authority itself (when named Shepway District Council) entails the building of 8,500 homes.
A statement on the Folkestone & Hythe District Council website says: “Like all planning applications, it will be subject to the usual validation period. All documents will then be available to view to allow further opportunities for feedback.
“The Leader of the Council, Cllr David Monk, said the much-anticipated planning application was a major milestone in the ambitions for a new Garden Town.”

For more on this story, see here and here

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Government chooses not to take over Thanet Local Plan: was this the ‘easy way out’?

Thanet… what next?

Heard the one about Thanet District Council’s Local Plan?
Of course you have.
Well, there’s more…
This comitragic tale has been well covered (see herehere, herehere and here), so it will suffice for now to say that it is back in the news.
Eventually approved in July last year, the draft Plan is now in the phase leading up to the Examination in Public, scheduled to begin in April.
Despite this, the council has been slated by James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, over its lack of progress and failure to deliver new housing. Mr Brokenshire has, however, stopped short of direct intervention, saying only that the situation would be “closely monitored”.
Mr Brokenshire’s predecessor, Sajid Javid, had threatened to take over production of the isle’s Local Plan, along with those of Castle Point in Essex and Wirral in north-west England.
Writing to Bob Bayford, leader of the council, he said: “Thanet have consistently failed to bring forward a Local Plan in accordance with its Local Development Scheme as legally required.
“Based on Thanet’s revised Local Development Scheme, it is unlikely that Local Plan production would be accelerated by my department taking over.
“In my judgement, given the authority’s track record of persistent failure in plan-making, the intervention I have decided upon will provide more certainty and is the best way of ensuring that a Local Plan will be produced.
“I am also, for the avoidance of doubt, now putting on public record my concerns about the low level of housing supply and delivery in Thanet.
“I expect planning decision-takers to have regard to these concerns as a material consideration when deciding local planning applications.”
Critically, at least as far as the local authority is concerned, Mr Brokenshire concludes: “I have decided not to prepare the Thanet Local Plan. However, I will continue to closely monitor your Local Plan progress.
“I appreciate the constructive way Thanet District Council have engaged in this process so far and I trust that you and your officers will continue to engage positively.”
Commenting on a situation in which no one seems very happy, David Morrish, chairman of Thanet CPRE, said: “The government’s Housing Delivery Test 2018 shows that from the years 2016-18 Thanet had a new-homes delivery rate of just 44% of target.
“The only thing the table demonstrates is that the calculation of housing for Thanet is completely ridiculous and that a housing projection of around 8,000 – back where we started in 2014 – is what the Thanet requirement should be. Such a target could be accomplished without using valuable Grade 1A agricultural land.
“When will Mr Brokenshire realise that a flawed model is being applied that is of no help to anyone whatsoever?
“The government targets are derived using an algorithm to develop targets for each council based on government policies but take no account of the deprivation and lack of jobs and employment prospects in an area.
“The houses that have been built in Thanet are in large part attributable to development at Westwood Cross. It is rumoured persistently that this is being earmarked for social-housing tenants moving in from London, yet Thanet people find it next to impossible to find social housing themselves.
“If nothing else, Thanet council needs to clarify the situation to help calm local disquiet.
“Also, Thanet has the highest proportion of empty homes in Kent but makes no attempt to bring some of them into use to house its homeless.
“I think it is probable that Mr Brokenshire’s Chief Planner realised, after taking a close look at the shambles of Thanet’s poorly-thought-out planning regime that has placed all the power in developers’ hands, that it is not something  anyone with any sense would want to take direct responsibility for sorting out.
“Instead, he has taken the easy way out by letting the two Local Plan inspectors carry on with their invidious task of inspecting in detail the existing mess of the draft Local Plan, neatly wrapped up in 4,000 pages of planning speak on the Thanet council website.
“This inspection begins in Ramsgate in April, with public hearings in May, while  another, separate, quartet of inspectors based in Margate are already grappling with 5,000-plus pages of evidence relating to Manston airport, with public hearings in March and a conclusion in July.
“Never, as far as we are aware, will the two sets of inspectors meet formally, and by the middle of this year two different ministers – Mr Brokenshire and Chris Ayling, Secretary of State for Transport, will be given the two different reports upon which to make their own individual decisions.
“It would test the patience of a saint and the genius of an Einstein to unravel this muddle.
“What is certain about this farrago is that the only winners will be the developers, who will continue to receive licences to build wherever they want in Thanet at the current leisurely speed, further increasing pressure on strained public services and with the community having as much certainty of the public costs being paid for by developers – as happens elsewhere in Kent – as a philosophy student at McDonald’s has of paying off their student loan.”

Monday, February 25, 2019

Your chance to hear CPRE deputy chief exec speak in Kent

Tom Fyans: coming to Ashford (pic BBC)

Tom Fyans, CPRE deputy chief executive, will be speaking at an open meeting in Kent next month (March).
Tom, who is also national director of campaigns and policy, is giving his talk ‘Why town centre regeneration matters for CPRE, the countryside charity’ at the AGM of the Ashford committee of CPRE Kent on Wednesday, March 6.
The meeting is being held in the function room of Ashford Picturehouse in Elwick Place (TN23 1AE).
As well as learning about the regeneration of Ashford town centre, this is also a chance to look inside the town’s new cinema complex, which hosts six screens, a restaurant, cafe and bar, as well as a spacious foyer and outdoor and indoor seating.
The function room is at the top of the stairs or lift.
For the AGM you can have tea or coffee and biscuits from 11.45am, with the meeting due to run from midday to 1.30pm.
If you’re able to stay a little later, you can buy hot snacks at the foyer counter.
There is ample parking at Elwick Place (£2.20 for two hours).
All are welcome for this event – you do not need to belong to CPRE – but do please let us know in advance if you’re coming: phone Sandra Dunn on 07771 640133 or email sandradunn@sky.com

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Sorry day for Princes Parade as government declines to call in development scheme

The scheme proposed by Folkestone and Hythe District Council will impact on the Royal Military Canal, a scheduled historic monument

There has been disappointing news concerning Princes Parade in Hythe.
The decision by Folkestone and Hythe District Council to award itself planning permission to build on land it owns at the site will not be called in by the government.
In August, the council’s planning committee approved an application for up to 150 houses and associated buildings including a leisure centre, hotel and café or restaurant.
In response to that approval, campaign group Save Princes Parade asked the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to call it in.
However, yesterday’s (Tuesday, February 12) letter to the council from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government says:
“The Secretary of State has carefully considered this case against the call-in policy, as set out in the Written Ministerial Statement by Nick Boles on 26 October 2012.
“The policy makes it clear that the power to call in a case will only be used very selectively.
“The Government is committed to give more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues, and believes planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible.
“In deciding whether to call in this application, the Secretary of State has considered his policy on calling in planning applications.
“This policy gives examples of the types of issues which may lead him to conclude, in his opinion that the application should be called in. The Secretary of State has decided not to call in this application.
“The reason for this decision is that, having regard to the policy on call in, the application does not involve issues of more than local importance justifying the Secretary of State’s intervention.”

  • For more on this story, see here and  here
  • Visit the Save Princes Parade website here

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Relief and delight as massive scheme for Kent Downs AONB is turned down

No mistaking the message! (pic Barham Downs Action Group)

Planners’ rejection of plans for a huge development in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has been warmly welcomed by CPRE Kent.
The proposals, put forward by developer Quinn Estates and landowner Highland Investment Company, targeted 300 acres of protected countryside at Highland Court Farm near Bridge.
They entailed 175 holiday homes, a stadium for Canterbury City Football Club, six rugby pitches, a business park extension, “innovation centre”, food and drink units and a “leisure hub”.
Last night (Tuesday, February 5) Canterbury City Council planning committee chose unanimously to decline planning permission for the scheme, which had already been recommended for refusal in a planning officer’s report listing 12 grounds as to why it should be turned down.
The project had been opposed by CPRE Kent, Natural England, Kent Wildlife Trust, Dover District Council, Barham Downs Action Group and several parish councils.
Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said the decision was unquestionably the correct one: “We’re surprised that anyone could believe such an appalling scheme in an AONB [Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty] might ever be considered acceptable.
“We’re thrilled that Canterbury City Council’s planning committee rejected the plans so decisively and so comprehensively.”
Barrie Gore is chairman of CPRE Kent’s Canterbury committee. “It’s wonderful that a beautiful part of the countryside has been preserved, hopefully forever,” he said.
“The scheme was refused on grounds that I would have thought unassailable. So many who worked so hard to save this lovely part of the AONB, Highland Court House and the Highland Court Conservation Area from further development have had their efforts rewarded.
“The planning officer’s report was a very good one and summed up both sides of the debate extremely well.
“It was interesting that one of the councillors had calculated that only 14 per cent of the site comprised sporting facilities – much of the rest was simply for high-end holiday homes.”
CPRE Kent had opposed the project since its announcement. Speaking on KMTV in October 2017, vice-president Richard Knox-Johnston highlighted national planning strategy going back to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 designating areas of land not available for development.
“So this land is not available for any development on it,” he had said. “If we don’t protect these AONBs, in due course we won’t have any left. There have to be very special reasons as to why you would want to do any building on that sort of site.”
He stressed the value and attractiveness of Highland Court Farm, noting how the North Downs Way, public footpaths, a cycle path and bridleway all passed through the site.
He was scathing about the developer’s claim that the project would bring tourists into the county: “That’s a supposition that he makes. There’s no financial plan or structure to support this, and any business would have done that properly beforehand to show how it can be done.”

  • For more on this story (and a link to Mr Knox-Johnston discussing the project on KMTV), see here

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Green Belt: the development pressure ramps up again

What future for our Green Belt? This countryside is in Sevenoaks district (pic Susan Pittman)

The scale of the attack on the Metropolitan Green Belt is increasing.
Data collected by eight CPRE branches in and around the capital show that 56 of 66 local authorities are targeting Green Belt land for residential development.
The third report from the London Green Belt Council, entitled ‘Safe Under Us?’ – Two Years On, says the number of homes planned for the MGB has increased by 64 per cent in two years, with some 202,700 homes now proposed, up from 159,300 last year and 123,500 in 2016.
Predictably, there also has been a hike in the number of sites threatened, the current figure of 519 comparing with 403 in 2017 and 203 in 2016.
Most residential proposals were in advanced Local Plans, with further homes counted through planning applications.
Hertfordshire had the greatest number of homes proposed for the Green Belt (70,787), followed by Essex (67,826) and Surrey (29,381).
There is no room complacency in Kent, however, where a relatively low figure reflects the fact that many local authorities in the county are in the early stages of developing their Local Plans.
At district level, the local authorities planning the largest number of homes on Green Belt land are Thurrock (29,635), Dacorum (14,360) and East Hertfordshire (13,450).
The LGBC report highlights the 4,934 hectares of brownfield land in the 66 local-authority areas that could accommodate more than 260,000 new homes; it also notes that the percentage of genuinely affordable housing within London Green Belt residential developments is less than 10 per cent.
Richard Knox-Johnston, who is both chairman of the LGBC and CPRE Kent vice-president, said: “This year’s data shows a further dramatic increase in threats to the London Metropolitan Green Belt. Having predicted that this would be the case, we fully expect a further increase in 2019, despite reassurances from government that the Green Belt is to be properly protected.
“Government at all levels, supported by developers, claim that development in the Green Belt will provide more affordable housing, especially for young people but, as this report shows, this is not the case. Young people are being cruelly misled.
“Unless the government takes urgent action, we believe that the threats will continue to increase. Councils are being pressurised by government to set targets which are much higher than the likely need and are, on occasions, forced to accept even higher housing numbers to accommodate growth from neighbouring authorities.
“There appears to be no lessening of pressure on the Metropolitan Green Belt for housing, despite its importance for farming, recreation, climate change, flooding and a major role in health and welfare, especially for those suffering from mental health symptoms, as described in the government’s 25-year environment plan – A Green Future.”
Mr Knox-Johnston concluded: “Action is needed more urgently than ever if we are to avoid irreparable damage to the integrity of London’s Green Belt. The Government should be taking steps to reduce the pressure on councils to build on Green Belt land by focusing on brownfield land and genuine housing need and restricting the ability of councils to de-designate Green Belt land.”

  • To read ‘Safe Under Us?’ – Two Years On, click here: Safe Under Us

    Monday, February 4, 2019

Eyes to the skies, the Star Count starts tomorrow

You can play your part in monitoring light pollution

This year’s Star Count (see here) goes live tomorrow (Saturday, February 2).
Organised by CPRE, it gives you the chance to become ‘citizen scientists’ by taking part in a cosmic census helping to map our dark skies.
The nationwide Star Count, supported by the British Astronomical Association, runs for the first three weeks of February (until Saturday, February 23). Wherever you are, you’re being asked to count the number of stars you can see with the naked eye within the constellation of Orion.
As well as promoting dark skies and engaging people in the wonders of stargazing, CPRE aims to highlight the blight that light pollution is causing our dark skies and its impact on people and nature.
Not only does light pollution prevent people from enjoying the beauty of a starry sky, it can disrupt wildlife behaviour and affect people’s sleeping patterns, impacting on physical and mental health and well-being.
Emma Marrington, dark skies campaigner at CPRE, said: “A dark sky filled with stars is one of the most magical sights our countryside has to offer and for thousands of years our night sky has been a source of information, fascination and inspiration.
“Increasingly, however, too many people are denied the opportunity to experience this truly natural wonder.
“We want as many people as possible, from right across the country, to get out and get involved with Star Count 2019.
“How many stars you will see ultimately depends upon the level of light pollution in your area, but by counting stars and helping us to map our dark skies, together we can fight back against light pollution and reclaim the night sky.”
Bob Mizon, UK coordinator of the British Astronomical Association Commission for Dark Skies, added: “Star counts are not only fun things to do in themselves but also help to form the national picture of the changing state of our night skies.
“As lighting in the UK undergoes the sweeping change to LEDs, it is really important that we know whether or not they are helping to counter the light pollution that has veiled the starry skies for most Britons for the last few decades.”
CPRE will use the results from Star Count 2019 to create a new map showing how light pollution is affecting the nation’s views of the night sky.
Our Night Blight maps, based on satellite data, showed that just 22 per cent of England is untouched by light pollution and that more than half of our darkest skies are over National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Through the Star Count, we will be able to provide more detailed and up-to-date information on the impact light pollution is having on people’s experience of dark skies.
With this information, CPRE will work with local and national government to ensure that appropriate lighting is used only where it’s needed – helping to reduce carbon emissions, save money and protect and enhance our dark skies.

  • To find out how to take part in Star Count 2019, see here
  • To see where your nearest dark skies are, see our NightBlight maps here

Friday, February 1, 2019

Count the stars and see how lucky we are (or otherwise)

Light pollution from Thanet Earth… believe it or not, it’s even worse than this now (pic Craig Solly)

Sometimes television or film shows us night skies that are quite simply jaw-dropping. They portray millions of stars, together forming a spectacle that in places turns an otherwise black sky white.
Others might be more fortunate enough to take holidays in places that allow them to be dazzled directly in person.
One thing is certain, though, and that is that such experiences cannot be enjoyed to such a degree in our corner of the world. Partly this is down to geography, but of course the main culprit denying us views of the stars is light pollution.
And light pollution doesn’t get much worse than in east Kent, where the glasshouse complex of Thanet Earth has been recorded as the second-worst offender in the country, only the Tata Steel plant in Rotherham emitting more nocturnal light.
With the expansion of Thanet Earth, the problem has of course worsened, so by now it could potentially be the worst light polluter in the land.
Either way, the extraordinary orange glow over the site can be seen from miles around, most strikingly when there is low cloud. At times, the sky appears to be on fire… this is light pollution on an epic scale.
More generally, CPRE is next month (February) highlighting the issue nationally by bringing back the Star Count.
We are all being asked to count the number of stars we can see with the naked eye within the constellation of Orion, which is only visible in winter.
The national Star Count will take place during the darkest skies from Saturday, February 2, to Saturday, February 23, giving families the chance to join in during half-term, although the darkest skies are predicted for February 2-9. Supported by the British Astronomical Association, the results from Star Count 2019 will help CPRE create a new map showing how light pollution affects the nation’s views of the night sky and raise awareness of light pollution.
This year’s count will be a small trial event, with a view to expanding it into a larger engagement piece next year. You can find out how to take part at www.cpre.org.uk/starcount
Please do join us and encourage your friends and family to do the same – we all love the stars.

  • To see where your nearest dark skies are, see our NightBlight maps here

 

Monday, January 21, 2019

How demand for second homes in Thanet highlights flawed housing policy

The much-heralded revival of Margate has helped increase demand for second homes in Thanet

The ridiculous housebuilding targets imposed by Whitehall on our local authorities have been well charted, but few places highlight some of the inherent issues as much as Thanet.
Always something of a law unto itself, the district suffers a low-income, low-skills economy, with socio-economic stats that compare to the worst in the country, let alone the South East.
Alongside this, however, are property prices that, while still low in a regional context, are in truth eye-wateringly high. Many local people are not able to even consider buying a home.
This, of course, is presented by the government as a central tenet of its increased housing targets; it is saying house prices are too high for local people so we must build more.
It’s a simplistic argument that might be better suited to a school playground than the national political arena: houses are not tins of baked beans and simply putting up more of them is not going to bring a fall in prices.
A range of variable factors determines house prices.
Of course, in Kent one of those is proximity to London (another law unto itself, indeed almost another country in some regards).
Much of this county (widely regarded as the poor sister of the South East) has similar issues to Thanet, if to a lesser degree, in that local wages are never going to compete with those of London.
Even allowing for workers who commute to the capital for employment, too many Kent residents are priced out of housing by incoming Londoners. Building more houses isn’t going to affect prices if they’re simply going to be bought by people from the capital.
In Thanet, the situation is exacerbated by the number of properties bought as second homes.
Staggeringly, HM Revenues and Customs figures reveal that in 2017-18 more than a quarter (28 per cent) of residential properties bought in Thanet were procured as second homes.
The second-highest figure came from Canterbury, at 24 per cent, followed by Dover and Folkestone & Hythe (each 22 per cent). The least-affected district was Tonbridge & Malling at 15 per cent.
Increased stamp duty was expected to reduce the demand for second homes, but instead Kent saw a rise of 16 per cent in their purchase from 1916-17.
Most South East local authorities will struggle to meet their housebuilding targets, which in itself will herald a tranche of other issues, but it is clear that housing policy and its attendant methodology are missing the target when it comes to providing local homes for local people.
Second-home purchase is just one factor in that mismatch.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Draft Environment Bill contains ‘significant unanswered questions’

The hen harrier has suffered appalling levels of persecution in this country – will the Environment Bill afford it greater protection? (pic Steve Ashton)

“The draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill sets out how we will maintain environmental standards as we leave the EU and build on the vision of the 25 Year Environment Plan.”
These underwhelming words from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announcing last month’s (December 2018) publication of draft clauses for the first Environment Bill in some 20 years belie the importance of the eventual document.
This future for our natural environment once this country has departed the EU has exercised the thoughts of many – for example, CPRE Kent’s Graham Warren – but we are perhaps now some way closer to understanding quite what might lie in store.
Introducing the draft clauses, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, writes: “We have ambitions to be the home of the boldest possible environmental policies, and to set an example of excellent and effective leadership at home and abroad.
“As we leave the EU, this new environmental law marks an unprecedented step forward – helping to safeguard our commitment to environmental protection for generations to come.”
What does CPRE make of it? While not dismissing the draft Bill out of hand, it is fair to say it is not quite so convinced as it gives what it calls “a cautious welcome” to the announcement.
“While the ambition is there, detail and clear targets are evidently lacking,” says a statement on the CPRE national website.
It continues: “The core elements published in the draft clauses include:

  • Environmental principles to help protect the environment
  • The establishment of a governance body – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – to uphold environmental legislation.
  • A commitment to making it a legal requirement for the government to have a plan for improving the environment.”

Tom Fyans, CPRE director of campaigns and policy, said: “Environmental principles are crucial to the way law is created, from planning and land-use policy to air quality and biodiversity targets, yet the draft Bill offers only the weak requirement that ministers ‘have regard to’ or ‘consider’ them.
“While the proposed Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) has some useful legal powers, there are significant unanswered questions regarding its relationship with the planning system, when decisions are in breach of environmental law, and how it will engage with climate change – the greatest threat to the countryside.
“We are also seriously concerned that the OEP will lack the true independence required to hold the government to account.
“We are pleased that the 25 Year Environment Plan will be placed on a statutory footing, with requirements to report to Parliament on the government’s progress to improve the environment.
“But even here there is much more work required on the future environmental priorities – for example, examining how targets are set for improvements in air and water quality, soil health and waste and resource use.”
This, of course, should not be the end of the matter and CPRE says it “looks forward to having many opportunities in the coming year to engage with Defra officials and through Parliamentary processes to ensure the Bill is improved and is able to deliver the admirable ambitions of the government.”

Friday, January 11, 2019