A surge in the number of homes marketed for Airbnb-style short-term lets is crippling the residential rentals market, new research shows. The problem is most acute in staycation hotspots, where hundreds of homes previously available to rent to local people have been switched to short-stay holiday rentals. The worsening housing crisis – which is particularly acute in rural areas – has seen thousands of families added to social-housing waiting lists. A steep decline in the number of new social-housing projects completed since 2013 is compounding the problem. That is why CPRE, the countryside charity, is calling for tighter controls on second-home ownership, including higher council tax on second homes and the requirement for short-term lets to have planning permission. Additionally, the definition of ‘affordable’ must be changed in national planning policy, with rents being tied to local incomes rather than market prices. To level up our rural communities, changes to planning law and policy should be committed to in the government’s forthcoming Planning Bill, requiring at least one new genuinely affordable home for every market home built. Alex Macintyre, 37, from Plymouth, was evicted by her landlord because he would make more money listing her flat on Airbnb. “I lived in my last flat for five years until the landlord decided to renovate and do the place up to perfection so he could rent it out on Airbnb,” said Alex. “Plymouth has become a city of holiday lets. Fewer homes available for residents means higher rents, and people being priced out of their local areas in search of a home. That erodes local communities and starves local businesses of workers. The only people who benefit are the landlords.” In many areas, social-housing waiting lists could be drastically reduced or even eliminated if the number of properties advertised for short-term let were available for local families instead, the analysis shows.
• In Cornwall, which saw short-term listings grow 661 per cent in the five years to September 2021, there are some 15,000 families on social-housing waiting lists and the same number of properties being marketed as holiday lets
• In South Lakeland, which saw a 1,231 per cent increase in short-term listings between 2016-20, about half the families in need of social housing could be accommodated in properties exclusively available for holiday rentals
• In Cumbria, a 4 per cent decline in the number of privately-rented properties coincided with a 14 pe cent increase in families on social-housing waiting lists since 2016
• In Devon, short-term lets appear to be worsening an existing housing crisis, with almost 4,000 homes taken out of private rent and 11,000 added to short-term listings since 2016
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “Across our most traditional rural communities, from the beaches of Cornwall to the lakes of Cumbria, homes that used to be rented to local families sit empty for much of the year. “More people are pushed on to social-housing waiting lists, which have been stretched to breaking point by years of underinvestment. Hard-working people are suffering and they will not easily forgive a government that promised to level them up if it leaves them falling through the cracks of a broken system. “It’s clear the government needs to act fast to avert a growing housing crisis. With the cost of living set to hammer people’s finances in the coming year, this is a problem that’s quickly getting out of hand. There simply has to be a government response to the fact that our rural-housing supply is disappearing into an unregulated short-term rentals market that simply didn’t exist six years ago. “Ministers must introduce tighter controls on second-home ownership, including higher council tax on second homes and the requirement for short-term lets to have planning permission.” Separate analysis by CPRE found the demand for social housing was growing almost six times faster than the rate of supply in rural areas. At current rates, the backlog of low-income families needing accommodation would take 121 years to clear. Figures show 8,898 households were added to social-housing waiting lists in 88 rural local authority areas between 2019-20, the last year for which figures are available, with just 1,453 social homes delivered. In total, 176,058 rural families were waiting for accommodation in 2020, up from 167,160 in 2019. Selaine Saxby, Conservative MP for North Devon, said: “We need to make the long-term rental market more sustainable and attractive. We cannot rely on building ever more homes if they are not going to be lived in by local residents. “Our excellent housing associations in North Devon do great work in building modern affordable homes, but they will not be able to keep up with demand if the balance between short-term and long-term private rental markets is not restored.”
Are you enjoying Green Planet, the BBC’s latest natural-history blockbuster (showing now on all working televisions)? Of course, the corporation’s standards in this field are second to none, while it makes a big deal of its record on sustainability, so it’s difficult to understand its involvement in the proposed development of the London Resort theme park, a scheme that would effectively destroy one of the most wildlife-rich sites in the country – the Swanscombe peninsula. Campaigner Chris Rose highlights this apparent quandary in his blog on biodiversity, which will be highlighted during COP CBD15, or the 15th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, taking place in China in May. As he points out, the ongoing loss of biodiversity – the ‘nature emergency’ – is overshadowed by the climate emergency, even though the two are inextricably linked. This, he argues, needs to change, with lip-service to the cause of biodiversity translating into genuine action and policy change. The failure of the theme-park developer, London Resort Company Holdings, to meet deadlines has delayed the Planning Inspectorate’s six-month examination of its application and the process is now anticipated to begin in March (it had been scheduled for September last year), meaning it is likely to be running throughout COP15. The UK government will of course be participating in that conference – it’s time for the big talk to be matched by the action…
You can read Chris Rose’s blog ‘The Cinderella COP And The Extinction Theme Park’ here
A planned housing development that has been refused permission three times goes before a ‘virtual’ appeal inquiry tomorrow (Tuesday, January 11). The scheme, from land agent Gladman Developments, entails the building of 450 properties on farmland at Shottendane Road on the edge of Margate. Thanet District Council is hosting the inquiry, which is being held online, with no in-person meetings. It starts at 10am and could take anything up to a week to complete – if you would like to speak, email email@example.com asking for details of how to take part. Proceedings will be live-streamed to the council’s YouTube channel. Gladman’s third bid to win planning permission for the scheme was refused by Thanet District Council’s planning committee on Wednesday, July 21. The decision followed previous refusals by the committee in April and June. CPRE Kent, through its Thanet committee, has contested the Gladman scheme throughout on a range of issues, particularly viability and the proposed cut in affordable housing from 30 per cent (as set in TDC Local Plan policy) to 10 per cent on the first application and then 15 per cent on the second. And it is the level of affordable housing that has most concerned the planning committee, although loss of farmland, flooding, challenging topography and impact on wildlife have all been cited as further reasons for refusal. As part of its third attempt, Gladman offered 68 properties as affordable housing on an 80 per cent affordable rent and 20 per cent shared-ownership mix. It also claimed it would make almost £5 million in contributions to community and highways infrastructure. However, this was not enough to convince the TDC planning committee, which also looked to agree on reasons for refusal to be cited should the case be taken to appeal by Gladman. Sure enough, the appeal to the Secretary of State came and this will be heard at inquiry this week. CPRE Kent has made an eight-page submission and a representative of our Thanet committee will be speaking tomorrow. Salmestone Ward Residents’ Association and Westgate & Garlinge Action Group have played principal roles in fighting the appeal and over the coming week the scheme’s viability and the level of affordable housing will be highlighted, with new evidence presented and witnesses cross-examined. The inspector has agreed to discuss biodiversity and flooding. There is also the fundamental issue of whether the Shottendane Road site should have been included in the Thanet Local Plan at all. Michael Hand, a planning consultant speaking against the Gladman appeal, believes it has so many flawed aspects that it should not have been. He views it as “a poor and late allocation in the first place” that was only included in the Local Plan to fill a gap left by the loss of another potential site, while documents justifying its inclusion do not appear to have been prepared.
A petition calling for the site to be protected attracted more than 5,500 signatures, while SWRA’s crowd-funder for the appeal costs reached some £3,400 – you can contribute here
They’re not visible to the human eye, but unseen pollutants in the form of female sex hormones are frighteningly common in our waterways… and that is bad news for people and wildlife alike. Vicky Ellis investigates.
We have something sinister wreaking havoc in our waterways that we can’t see or smell and that has a direct effect on our physiology: female sex hormones – natural oestrogens and synthetic chemicals that imitate oestrogens. This invisible pollutant is penetrating all our natural waterways and entering our drinking water supply chain. Research by Brunel University and the University of Exeter has found these pollutants are entering the water via our sewage systems, leading to reduced fish-breeding and feminising of fish and other aquatic organisms. Other studies have found a causational link between hormones in water and an increase in human male infertility, low sperm counts and testicular dysgenesis syndrome (a male reproduction disorder).
What are hormones? Hormones are signalling molecules, otherwise known as chemical messengers, that are present in all multicellular organisms from humans through to fungi. In humans and other animals, hormones are produced in the endocrine gland and carried around the body via the vascular system to all organs and tissues to regulate physiology and behaviour such as development and growth, metabolism, sexual function and reproduction, cognitive function, mood and much more. Hormones influence who we are as people.
So, apart from in nature, where else are hormones used? Humans also use hormones to manipulate nature, such as in animal agriculture to muscle up cattle; in the gym for bodybuilders to bulk up, where they are referred to more commonly as steroids; for contraception; and to help with symptoms of the menopause, along with other pharmaceutical uses.
Animal agriculture Animal agricultures use a synthetic hormone version of oestrogen, testosterone or progesterone, which are utilised to increase growth speed, thus using less feed and saving money. However, in the UK, using hormones for dairy cattle has been banned since 1990 due to animal welfare implications. The UK also has a ban on importing all hormone-treated beef and other meats. However, this may be under review since leaving the EU.
Oral contraception The UK’s first oral contraceptives, using synthetic hormones, became available in 1961 and since then their popularity has grown considerably. From 1962 to 1969 the number of women taking ‘the pill’ grew from an estimated 50,000 to one million, and in 2000 the numbers had risen to more than three million, making the birth-control pill the most popular form of contraception in the UK.
Synthetic hormones Synthetic hormones lack a chemical structure that matches a woman’s biological hormone structure. They are produced by synthesis – oestrogen and progesterone are synthesised from other sources such as pregnant mares (a highly controversial source of extraction). Synthetic hormones have several uses, from the contraceptive pill through to cancer treatments. Diethylstilbestrol is a synthetic oestrogen first synthesised in 1938 and prescribed to many women between 1940 and 1971 for the prevention of miscarriage in the first trimester. Due to unforeseen side-effects, it is no longer prescribed. All the metabolites from this hormone and others are then released into the environment via urine and faeces from users. According to the Daily Mail article ‘Fertility timebomb found in drinking water’, synthetic oestrogens are 50-100 times more potent than natural oestrogens. Hormones are in such wide use now that they pose a serious threat to the natural environment, from soil to water resources, and biological organisms such as fish and humans. However, this is not new news: in 2010 Susanne Goldenberg wrote a report detailing that “more than 80% of the male bass fish in Washington’s major river are exhibiting female traits such as egg production because of a ‘toxic stew’ of pollutants”, while in 2012 The Observer reported on how “Britain faced a £30bn bill to clean up rivers, streams and drinking water supplies contaminated by synthetic hormones from contraceptive pills”. In 2014, the BBC produced an article entitled ‘How drugs are entering UK water systems through urine’ and in 2016 The National Geographic wrote an article with the headline ‘Why are these male fish growing eggs?’. Hormone pollution is not just a UK-wide issue but a global one.
Oestrogen in water courses and how they got there Back in 1999, the Environment Agency produced a report entitled ‘Fate and behaviour of steroid oestrogens in rivers: A scoping study’. This was a 94-page research report focusing exclusively on three oestrogen compounds: two natural oestrogens – oestrone and 17β oestradiol – and one synthetic hormone, ethynyl-oestradiol. This research, financed by Defra and the Natural Environment Research Council, concluded that half of all male fish in our rivers were changing sex because of pollution by these three hormones. Natural hormones are generally inactive, or if active only at high doses due to the body’s ability to metabolise them rapidly. Synthetic hormones are more stable and remain within the body long enough to be utilised as contraceptives. This increased stability results in up to 80 per cent being excreted in conjugated form. According to the report, all three hormones are excreted in a relatively stable and inactive form, so an adverse effect on the watercourses would seem unlikely. Therefore, something must occur to destabilise these hormones in the sewage treatment works. It was discovered that large quantities of active, unconjugated oestrogens were indeed present in treated sewage. The same principle would apply to animal agriculture. Only the animal excretes on to the ground and the hormones then seep into water courses and may even be spread during muck-spreading.
The effects on fish and other organisms Vitellogenin (a protein found in the blood stream synthesised by female fish to produce egg yolk) is used as a biomarker and has been observed to be produced by both male and juvenile females, with increased levels in mature females along polluted stretches of rivers, with some fish being reported as hermaphrodites. The danger with steroids, in comparison with other pollutants, is that the nature of sex hormones is such that even at low levels they can still have a profound effect on an organism’s physical development. Synthetic oestrogen, found to be present in all lowland rivers in the UK, led to male fish developing female characteristics, with 50 per cent producing eggs in their testes; one in 10 were sterile and a quarter had damaged sperm, according to the company Pure Water People. The Independent reported that all rivers, including the Lea in Hertfordshire, which supplies London with drinking water, and the Avon in Bristol, had male fish that had become feminised. According to Adeel et al, as well as disrupting fish physiology, polluting oestrogens also negatively affect the development in both domestic animals and wildlife, and treatment of oestrogen was found to have affected root and shoot development, flowering and germination in flora. Lab rats and mice when exposed to oestrogen, were found to be adversely affected by increased sexual behaviour, greater weight of the placenta, increased litter numbers and size of pups for gestational age in mice, higher abortion rates and changes of maternal behaviour in rats and advanced puberty. In humans, women in Spain exposed to exogenous oestrogens were found to have an increased risk of breast cancer. In China, urinary phytoestrogen levels were associated with idiopathic infertility in men. Obesity has also been cited as an adverse effect, so could drinking water be inadvertently contributing to obesity?
How many oestrogen pollutants are in our drinking water? Pure Water People claims it is hard to quantify how much oestrogen is present in drinking water as it’s difficult to measure at low concentrations. The American Chemical Society says that the contraception pill accounts for less than 1 per cent of the oestrogens found in the nation’s drinking water, concluding that hormones enter drinking water from other sources. However, 1 per cent of a massive data set amounts to quite a considerable percentage; furthermore, oestrogen has been found to be harmful at even very low doses.
Solutions to a man-made pollutant problem So now we have created this problem for us and the natural environment, how can we best solve it? Researchers are looking to neutralise these oestrogens in several ways before they enter the environment. One such idea is to use activated carbons in much the same way as a domestic water filter works. The active carbon hoovers up the oestrogens, allowing pure water to flow through. Another method being tested is the use of ozone gas as a means to treat wastewater. Ozone works by splitting the molecules into less active biproducts. However, the downside and consequence of this method is that ozone can create toxic by-products such as bromate, which is considered carcinogenic, so then a further treatment would be required to remove this carcinogen. Both these methods work small-scale but would take some thinking to scale up for use in industrial-sized sewage plants. Some water treatment plants such as that at Bewl Water have the facilities for ozonisation followed by active carbon treatment. Switzerland’s recently introduced regulations aim to lower hormones in the environment by upgrading sewage plants and it is using ozone and/or activated carbon. However, researchers estimate the costs of running the water treatment plants will increase, along with energy consumption. Another viable alternative is peroxide. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Brunel University have worked together and claim this method is “promising”. They used a concentrated type of hydrogen peroxide alongside bespoke catalysts that act similarly to enzymes to accelerate the chemical reaction and denature synthetic oestrogens in water, urine and wastewater. They also tested this cleaned water by placing feminised male fish in a tank and found the male fish made less vitellogenin. The most recent paper on the subject, ‘Water treatment: Removing hormones with sunlight’, published in 2021 by the KIT institute, acknowledges the issues surrounding scalability with the other methods and has come up with the idea of utilising photocatalysis, transforming the hormones into benign oxidation products and consequently reducing the concentration of oestradiol by some 98 per cent by filtering 60-600 litres of water per square meter of membrane in one hour. This would make this method more easily scalable but is still not without its challenges. So, you can rest assured there are scientists who recognise the seriousness of this invisible pollutant and are working hard on a solution to help not just us but the natural environment. If hormones in our water teaches us one thing, it’s how intrinsically linked we are to the health of the natural environment around us and that how we treat this natural environment can directly impact on our own health. A lesson, perhaps, to take note.
Far from splashing around in the hot tub, David Morrish examines Sustainable Drainage Systems, an increasingly important element of urban design and an important tool in the battle against climate-change events
When training as a civil engineer, I helped supervise drainage works at Telford new town, where all fresh development was on a plateau 100 metres above the River Severn. Before a house or a factory was built, a network of surface-water sewers and balancing lakes or storage systems had to be built to ensure that during storm conditions the flow of surface-water run-off into the Severn Gorge would be controlled. Even with such control measures in place, the final culvert taking water down to the discharge was two metres wide – enough for me to drive my dumper truck through. My interest in drainage was recently rekindled by some highway and environmental works incorporating a Sustainable Drainage System (SuDS) carried out near our home in Westgate by Kent Highways with the support of local groups. The result has been the transformation of a barren dog-walking field into an oasis of greenery. I have recently embarked on a personal journey into how drainage design and sustainability is, or should be, approached in an era of increasing climate-change events. Often the willingness to integrate a sustainable system into a design has been held up by site constraints or ‘stakeholder pressure’, ie developer reluctance. Yet there are simple ways to approach a drainage design differently and provide many benefits without increasing financial cost or build complexity. A rainwater pipe, for example, can discharge into a small, vegetated planter, with clean stone and a partial pipe on the outfall. This will now provide advantages on all four principles enshrined in The SuDS manual (published in 2007 by the Construction Industry Research and Information Association) with relatively little space used and minimal construction and maintenance costs. A conventional system of pipes and chambers at the side of an access road could be enhanced with swales (shallow, wide, vegetated hollows that store or carry run-off and remove pollutants), filter strips or tree pits. A swale and headwall system can be run shallow and flat, solving problems on sites with tight vertical levels and providing a range of benefits. Green roofs have advanced significantly and can now be installed as intensive or extensive systems on pitched roofs and provide significant biodiverse living spaces as well as perform their standard function of slowing and filtering rainwater. With the addition of blue roof systems, which provide initial temporary rainfall storage before gradually releasing it, they can become a complete surface-water solution. Space does not need to be at a premium when considering a green or blue solution. Rain gardens have progressed to compact engineered trenches that can be fitted along the back of footways for water conveyance. Tree planters are a more advanced variant of this system and can offer additional benefits of urban cooling and water absorption and retention as well as those normally offered by a planted rain garden. The 2012 version of the National Planning Policy Framework created a policy requirement for SuDS and this was strengthened in 2018, with the consequence that all Local Plans must have a SuDS policy – indeed, it is a requirement for all major development via the NPPF regardless of the Local Plan policy position. Some 90 per cent of all developments now incorporate SuDS and that figure is increasing. Kent County Council is the Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA) here and as such the statutory consultee in the planning process to require and oversee the provision of SuDS for major development. KCC prepared a Drainage and Planning Policy Statement in September 2015, containing guidance on how to integrate SuDs into the masterplans of large and small developments. Surface-water drainage design should be developed in line with KCC Drainage and Planning Policy Statement (June 2017), while it should use a 40 per cent climate-change allowance as required by the Environment Agency. Despite the legislation and volumes of advice, there often remains the vexed issue of maintaining systems that involve multi-authority support but not necessarily funding. The UK has not, historically, put alot of focus on sustainable design. Underground infrastructure and existing buildings would often be deemed unsuitable had they been built today under current regulations. Even if all new developments were fully sustainable, they would only account for some 20 per cent of the UK’s surface water from developed areas. Retrofitting sustainable drainage may become inevitable if we are to meet future environmental targets, in the same way that we will have to install new heating systems in existing houses. Starting from the example of small housing estates and in response to the experience of flash flooding of the past 20 years, the whole process of surface-water drainage is being rethought to address the problems of run-off caused by high-intensity storms and lack of capacity in conventional surface-water sewers. SuDS principles are not reliant on specific local conditions but rather are part of an interconnecting system where water flows slowly from where it falls to a soakage area or discharge point through a series of features that help to treat, store, re-use, convey and actually celebrate water. An important concept for the SuDS designer to follow is the ‘treatment train’. By passing water through several stages of treatment, sediment and other pollutants should be removed more effectively and maintenance costs reduced as this minimises the risk of downstream drainage features becoming clogged. Designers are also extending that treatment train to create green corridors and links, add opportunities for engagement and education and to match delivery of SuDS to phasing of development. Some politicians and the Association of SuDS Authorities now recognise that a substantial change is needed in flood-risk management, utilising natural flood management and starting from small-scale interventions, including tree-planting (roots allow more water infiltration into the ground and evaporation through the leaves) and enhancement with swales, filter strips or tree pits. This should also reduce the role of hard engineering. The policies of KCC in the past six years have meant that more land must be provided to accommodate run-off on new development sites; consequently, developers are being encouraged to create more green space as part of their masterplanning. A recent proposal for 450 houses near Margate included almost a third of the 20-hectare site dedicated to a combination of green play space and retained tree cover with sustainable drainage, retaining all surface water on-site. Greater recognition of SUDS principles in planning will mean that in new developments a greater proportion of land will have to be allocated for blue green infrastructure.
Green and blue infrastructure strategy The four important ‘pillars’ of sustainable drainage are set out in the 400 pages of The SuDS manual. More importantly, greater attention should be placed on the principle that designers of new sites should aim to “create and sustain better places for people and nature” as part of green and blue infrastructure is the green space and water environment essential to the quality of our lives and ecosystem. It is referred to as ‘infrastructure’ as it is as important as other types of infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals. It is taken to mean all green space and water of public and natural value. Looking deeper into the benefits of sustainable drainage, systems promoting green or blue infrastructure can also provide other significant advantages. Green planning-based SuDS are widely considered to offer:
Enhanced biodiversity (with targets for biodiversity net gain)
Increased amenity value and creation of a pleasant and interactive space
Carbon reduction, embodied energy and footprint offset (looking forward to net-zero 2050)
Life-cycle cost savings
Nutrient and water demand balance in areas with sensitive soils and aquifers
Additional resilience against climate change
Physical and mental-health benefits for occupants
Reduced impact on an area in the event of system failure
More local authorities, as part of their Local Plan preparation, are addressing the concept of designing around the need to manage water and encourage more green areas, using the SuDS treatment train requirements and creating green corridors and links, adding opportunities for engagement and education and matching delivery of SuDS to phasing of development. By doing so, they are facing up to climate-change priorities by focusing on four priority action areas:
1. Effective water management and flood-risk reduction – developing natural flood-management programmes and drainage solutions
2. Building green and blue infrastructure into physical development and housing – creating vibrant, healthy and inspiring places where people want to live, work and invest
3. Enhancing green and blue corridors and networks – improving air quality, reducing carbon emissions and creating a greener, even more attractive localities
4. Recognition that green and blue infrastructure is the green space and water environment essential to the quality of our lives and ecosystems
Conclusion I have concluded that SuDS principles are important design tools that might not initially have been obvious to non-professionals. Further, green and blue strategies arising from SuDS might be key to ensuring local planning authorities carry out their planning and drainage roles to deliver ambitious, climate-friendly and sustainable development and play a part in accelerating climate action to meet the UK’s and UN’s sustainable development goals. Moreover, green and blue strategies can help enhance biodiversity and nature’s recovery by providing fit-for-purpose contributions towards nature in all developments. It is to be hoped that CPRE members and branches can play their part, firstly by engaging in consultation on masterplans to encourage a more enlightened approach to climate change as an essential part of planning to be considered at every stage of Local Plan development. Secondly, we should be encouraging recognition of green and blue infrastructure as just as important as other types of public infrastructure. This should include all green space and water of public and natural value, with recognition of SuDS principles meaning that in new developments more land will have to be allocated for it. Finally, in the longer term, such engagement might help encourage more volunteers to get involved in the creation and maintenance of such systems that are so vital for us all.
What is sustainable drainage all about?
SuDS are drainage systems that are environmentally beneficial, causing minimal or no long-term detrimental damage. They are often regarded as a sequence of management practices, control structures and strategies designed to drain surface-water efficiently and sustainably while minimising pollution and managing the impact on the quality of local water bodies. The Association of SuDS Authorities defines the purpose of sustainable drainage planning as the delivery of systems that contribute to sustainable development and improvement of the places and spaces in which we live, work and play. Although the principles have been recognised for many years, pressure to deal with climate change and the increasing incidence of flash flooding, with all the economic, social and political concerns it entails, has caused drainage authorities to rethink their approach to disposal of surface-water run-off rather than simply passing it downstream. Detailed techniques to manage surface-water that take account of water quantity (flooding), water quality (pollution), biodiversity (wildlife) and amenity are collectively referred to as Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS). SuDS are intended to mimic nature and typically manage rainfall close to where it falls. Systems can be designed to transport surface-water and slow run-off, ideally attenuating it even before it enters watercourses. They provide areas to store water in natural contours and can be used to allow water to soak (infiltrate) into the ground or evaporate from surface-water or be lost or transpired from vegetation. The Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) has produced a SuDS manual, which is used throughout the UK. There are four main categories covered by SuDS design, referred to as ‘the four pillars of SuDS’:
Toadstools, brackets, puffballs, earthballs, earthstars… they come in an astonishing range of shapes, sizes and colours, but their importance to the natural world often goes unheralded. Tricia Moxey sets the record straight.
As nature’s recyclers, fungi are everywhere, largely invisible but busy decomposing organic materials so they can grow and reproduce. Feeding by secreting enzymes from their fine penetrating threads or hyphae, assorted fungi break down the complex molecules found in fallen leaves, branches, standing dead wood, fur and dung. Some are parasitic on living plants or animals. Assorted fungi provide food for a varied range of animals. Many reproduce in the autumn, forming beautiful and colourful fruiting bodies of varied forms: toadstools, brackets, puffballs, earthballs, earthstars, earthtongues and spindles. Some of these can be confidently identified by these fruiting bodies, even from a photograph, but other species require close examination by those with skills in microscopy and laboratory analysis. Certain species are more commonly noticed than others, for example the fly agaric and sulphur tuft. Some even glow in the dark such as the honey fungus – possibly the origin of many ghostly tales! Fungi play a crucial role in the functioning of all Kent’s ecosystems as their combined activities underpin and shape the nature of habitats occupied by other organisms. Vast numbers of fungal species are present in the upper portion of a healthy soil, many unidentified, where their actions release nutrients for reuse by plants or to feed innumerable soil bacteria. Their hyphae help to retain moisture and reduce erosion by binding the mineral particles together. They ensure that soils store carbon derived from dead organic matter and maintain the ideal conditions for a thriving underground microbiome.
The historical county list of fungi noted the names of some 3,300 species. This should come as no surprise as Kent has the largest amount of ancient woodland in England, as well as other plant-rich habitats, where fungal species outnumber green plants. This means that there are many locations in the county with special assemblages of fungi, some common, some less so. The richer areas are the mixed coniferous and broadleaved woodlands, historic parks and fragments of unimproved chalk grasslands, but an unexpected fungal fruiting body can suddenly appear in a garden, churchyard or roadside verge, too. The association of certain fungi with specific trees has been known for some years, but recent research shows that 80 per cent of trees and other plants share and trade food via the symbiotic or mycorrhizal fungal networks that connect their roots. The term the ‘wood wide web’ has now become widely accepted as it describes the vital interconnectivity between trees and other plants to supply synthesised food materials via the associated fungi in exchange for water and minerals. Acute pressures from pollution and built development threaten many sensitive habitats with the potential loss of species, including fungi. The methodology for biodiversity offsetting has yet to take any fungal associations into account, a serious omission. Information about the role of fungi in underpinning all ecological systems and the need for their protection must be highlighted so that this can be better understood and integrated into policy decisions, especially around the development of new woodlands, changing farming practices and urban design for green spaces, where such plantings also require the support of mycorrhizal fungi. Although largely hidden from view, fungi also have a significant role to play in the proposed natural mitigation strategies to deal with climate change… and in these times few things matter more than that.
A decision relating to a legal challenge by CPRE Kent is disheartening for those seeking to protect our natural environment, writes Hilary Newport
Supreme Court ruling confirms cost risks faced by people who challenge planning decisions… this was a headline in one of the most widely read professional planning journals. It’s not the sort of story that attracts much attention outside the planning profession, but it is one that could have severe repercussions for environmental protection. If you – or any would-be developer – make an application for planning permission that is turned down, you have the right to appeal that decision. However, in UK law, there is no third-party right of appeal once a planning decision is made (we think there ought to be, but that is a story for another day). If you believe that a grant of planning permission is just plain wrong, the only recourse you have to challenge it is to take it to the courts and ask for permission to have the decision independently scrutinised – in other words, a Judicial Review (JR). Permission for a JR won’t be granted if you simply don’t like the fact that planning permission was granted; to successfully take a decision to JR you must be able to demonstrate that the decision, or the manner in which it was taken, was flawed. We used this principle when in 2017 we challenged the grant of planning permission for more than 600 homes in the Kent Downs AONB at Farthingloe, near Dover. Although we were unsuccessful at the JR stage, we believed so strongly that the decision process in this case was flawed that we took the case to the next step of the legal process, the Court of Appeal, where eminent judges agreed that a planning decision that would clearly cause substantial harm to a protected landscape must be accompanied by substantial reasons to justify that harm and, since these were lacking, they quashed the permission. The local authority then appealed the case to the Supreme Court, where we were again successful. Embarking on a JR process is daunting, and expensive; it’s something that we would never take on lightly, but where such important principles are at stake we will do all we can to uphold them. One of the reasons we felt able to take on the challenge was the Aarhus Convention: it establishes the right of the public and organisations to challenge legal decisions that cause harm to the environment and, in doing so, it places a cap on their financial liability for legal costs should their challenge fail. Another such example was our challenge to the legality of Maidstone Borough Council’s decision to include in its Local Plan in 2017 a policy that allocated a greenfield site near J8 of the M20 for warehousing. That site and another nearby had already been the subject of planning appeals brought by applicants wishing to build there; in both cases, the appeals were soundly dismissed by independent inspectors who drew specific attention to the harm that would be caused to the important landscape qualities of the area. So when a large part of one of these sites was subsequently allocated in the 2017 Local Plan we took the difficult decision to challenge the inclusion of that policy; nothing had changed to make the landscape less special, and the harm to the landscape would have been no less significant. Unfortunately, this time the courts did not agree and judged that the policy was sound. We were protected under the Aarhus Convention, which capped our legal liability to the defendants, but the judge ruled that we should pay the costs not only of the first defendant – in this case the Secretary of State – but also the second defendant, Maidstone Borough Council, and an interested party (the site promoter). Under normal circumstances a claimant would expect only to pay the costs of the principal defendant, and our legal team believed this was fundamentally unfair – so much so that they took on an appeal against the costs order at their own risk, first to the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court. It is highly unusual for the Supreme Court to take on a costs appeal such as this, and the fact that it agreed to do so means the court believed it raised a principle worthy of examination. If we had won this case, it would have made a real difference to increasing access to justice for claimants on environmental grounds, removing some of the uncertainty about costs. In the end, though, the Supreme Court decided that such a matter is, in fact, properly dealt with by the Court of Appeal. Sometimes, it is necessary to take legal action to protect the environment. We will continue to choose carefully the cases we fight and we don’t expect to appear in the Supreme Court as often as we have in recent years! We won’t win every battle, but we also won’t give up on our determination to protect Kent’s landscapes by whichever legal routes remain open to us.
Fore more on the fight to protect land around junction 8 of the M20, see here and here
CPRE Kent last year lost two of its most gifted and passionate supporters – here we pay tribute to men who helped make our organisation what it is today
TIM READER Tim was one of those increasingly rare countrymen who stayed true to his home turf, spending almost his entire life within a few hundred yards of the family farm of Uptons, between Yalding and Laddingford. His interest in all aspects of country life and the environment proved invaluable to CPRE Kent, where he was an active member of both the Maidstone district and environment committees for many years. His knowledge of farming was particularly appreciated. Born in 1946, Tim’s love of the outdoors began early, with school holidays spent helping on the farm, which had such animals as horses, bullocks and dairy cows, while hops were still picked by hand. After school, he studied agriculture at Hadlow College. Six months travelling and working on farms in Canada broadened his experience before returning to join father Jack and cousin Peter at Uptons. He accumulated huge knowledge and experience as the fruit and hop industries developed through the 1960s, 70s and 80s, with increasing mechanisation, pest control and developments in cold storage and packaging. Sadly, in the late 1980s, structural changes in first the hop industry and then fruit led to the farm becoming unviable. This, combined with ill-health, saw Tim retire from active farming after almost 30 years in the job he loved. He later became a volunteer member of the Upper Medway Drainage Board and served on Yalding Parish Council, where he kept watch on development proposals. Tim leaves behind wife Ann, to whom he was married for 43 years.
GRAHAM WARREN With the passing of Graham Warren, CPRE Kent has lost not only one of its most knowledgeable members a but a true gentleman. Graham’s experience and understanding of the water industry was immeasurable and we were blessed to be able to draw on his vast reservoir of expertise. Whether it was working as the resident geologist during Channel Tunnel site investigations in the mid-1960s; sharing his skills as a hydrologist in countries such as Iran, Greece and Zambia (where he was principal hydrologist and head of the country’s hydrological survey); or Kent area water resources manager with the Environment Agency, Graham enjoyed a stellar career in his chosen profession. Just a week after retiring from the EA, Graham was at Ashford Wool Growers, where he bumped into Hilary Moorby, then CPRE Kent chair, who persuaded him to bring his talents to us. His contribution was immense, writing influential papers on Kent’s water crisis, appearing as an expert witness on both hydrology and geology at planning inquiries and taking on a fracking brief that covered much of southern England. And he was never going to escape the job of chairing our environment committee! Graham leaves wife Patricia, who he married in 1964, having met her at a jazz club four years earlier, and son Simon. Graham’s advice was telling in the protection of so much of Kent, but for a moment of reflection, you might like to walk in West Wood, Lyminge, the destruction of which by a proposed ‘holiday village’ he helped thwart. There could perhaps be no finer tribute.
One of the Kent countryside’s greatest champions was honoured in the summer through the unveiling of a new memorial. Cyril Chettoe was chairman of the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural Kent – a forerunner to CPRE Kent – and a memorial in the form of a tablet on a stone with trees planted around it had been placed at Hubbards Hill on the Greensand Way overlooking Weald village after his death in 1963. With the passing of the years, the stone became almost hidden by surrounding undergrowth and the Sevenoaks committee took on the task of creating a more permanent memorial. With the help of Weald Parish Council, undergrowth was cleared, a new plaque was erected and on Wednesday, July 7, a ceremony took place where John Wotton, chairman of CPRE Kent, unveiled it. Nigel Britten, chairman of Sevenoaks CPRE, described how the right solution had been found, for which he thanked Dr Susan Pittman, the committee’s secretary, who had designed the memorial. He then introduced the CPRE Kent chairman, who paid warm tribute to Cyril: “He was a dedicated supporter of CPRE, chaired the Kent branch and is credited with its revival. Whether he was one of our founding members in 1929, when he was in his mid-30s, is not recorded in our archives, but if he was living in Kent at the time it is quite likely that he was. “He evidently had broad historical and environmental interests, as the list of his activities on the memorial demonstrates, reflecting the range of considerations we have to bear in mind when we seek to protect the countryside. “These include landscape and natural beauty, archaeology, the historic built environment, care for our country towns and rural villages, the natural environment and biodiversity, housing, infrastructure, sustainable transport and combatting climate change. “Cyril Chettoe concerned himself with many of these issues, through the organisations he supported, in particular CPRE Kent. “If he is to be credited with our revival under his active chairmanship, then we indeed have cause to be grateful and I hope that, if he were to see CPRE Kent at work now, he would be gratified and feel that his efforts were worthwhile.” Cyril was a busy man and, aside from being heavily involved in CPRK, was also founder of the Sevenoaks and District Civic Society (later to become the Sevenoaks Society) and chairman from 1945 until he died. David Green, the present chairman, was present at the ceremony and also paid tribute. A civil engineer by trade, with special talents in bridge-building, Cyril had worked for both the Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Health, while he was involved in the routeing of the Sevenoaks bypass, which you might know better as the A21. It was perhaps in the 1950s that his contribution to planning in his hometown of Sevenoaks was most marked as he battled to ensure protection of its most historically and architecturally valuable buildings. While that town has special reason to celebrate Cyril Chettoe and his work, his love of Kent – its countryside and built environment alike – gives us all reason to be grateful.
Well, that was a year! It was of course tough on many for any number of reasons, but the Covid-19 pandemic has continued to dominate proceedings and our thoughts go to those who suffered personal loss.Through it all, CPRE Kent has been here fighting to keep our county special and we thank everyone who has been alongside us to give their support. Now, though, it’s time to share time with our loved ones and perhaps even take a well-earned breather… Happy Christmas!
They came from Cliffe, they came from Eccles, they came from Tunbridge Wells, they came from Folkestone, they came from Thanet… north, south, east and west, they came from across the county to join Kent’s Day of Action. More than 1,000 people gathered on Sunday, November 28, for the Save Kent’s Green Spaces protest organised by Dave Lovell. All were expressing their anger and upset over the loss of so much countryside to development. The turnout of more than 30 groups on a bitingly cold day was an extraordinary result, especially given the short notice of the event. Mr Lovell, who had been so involved with the Save Capel group, said: “At least 30 groups came out, some of them joining up together. Most sent us photos and many of these have placed in a digital photo album.” Highlighting the staggering onslaught facing Kent in the coming years, Mr Lovell said: “We’ve estimated that 17,000 acres are under threat of widespread development – an area larger than Manhattan Island – but we know that’s nowhere near the true figure and that is scary. “The figures don’t cover just housing – they include solar farms, for example. And there’s the concern that those solar farms are the thin end of the wedge, paving the way for housing that will theoretically get its power from them. They can be a trigger for further development, which is happening around Capel [near Tunbridge Wells].” Sadly, many reading this will concur wholeheartedly with Mr Lovell’s view that “there is a huge scale of destruction coming like nothing we’ve seen before”. “This counting of the destruction of countryside is not being done by councils – no one is actually counting how much is being lost,” he added. He was understandably delighted that so many people came out: “It was a fantastic response. Anyone can put ‘likes’ or emojis on social media – it’s much harder to get feet on the ground. “When we started this, we had no idea what the response would be. But on the day itself we were sitting in the pub after our walk and the phones were going ballistic as the pictures came in. Then we had an idea of what we had achieved.”
Residents have until midnight Sunday (December 12) to comment on Maidstone’s plan for 17,746 houses in the borough, 82 per cent of which are to be on greenfield sites. CPRE Kent is dismayed Maidstone Borough Council is persisting with a spatial strategy prioritising allocation of greenfield sites ahead of brownfield sites. This includes 5,000 houses in Lenham Heath and 2,000 houses at Lidsing on greenfield sites under the guise of ‘garden settlements’. The council openly accepts the strategy is based on a clear political desire for garden settlements, which seems to be being put above all other considerations. This is despite its own consultants telling it that this is the least sustainable option and will have a significant negative effect with respect to climate change. We think this is wrong and have made this known in our response. The consultation ends on Sunday, December 12, at 23.59 and we would strongly urge residents to make their opinions known if they have not already done so.
• CPRE Kent’s detailed comments on the Local Plan can befound here
• The council’s consultation document can be found here
Well, who doesn’t like a Christmas party? Last year, of course, we at CPRE Kent – like so many others – were not able to meet friends and colleagues for a festive gathering due to Covid-19 restrictions, so this year’s event seemed all the more uplifting. Our Christmas lunch at The Wagon & Horses near Charing on Friday last week (December 3) was a joy as members, supporters and staff joined to eat a sumptuous meal and – if they were ultra-lucky – take home gifts from the raffle. Let’s hope we can all do it again next year – seeya there!
This year’s AGM was notable perhaps as much as anything for the fact that members were able to join us in person at Lenham Community Centre.
After holding last year’s event in virtual form, using Zoom technology, it was good to get back to our regular venue and catch up with CPRE Kent friends, as well as deal with the more formal matters.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic meant some chose not to join us, so a YouTube link was set up for them to follow proceedings, vote and ask questions – 21 people used that option. With 24 signing in at Lenham, along with five staff members, we hit the half-century on the nail – a wholly creditable effort given still-trying circumstances.
County director Hilary Newport delivered her annual report, chairman John Wotton gave his take on affairs and Lee Dance, head of water resources at South East Water, gave a speech entitled Can Nature Based Solutions help with our Water Challenges?.
As ever, a delightful lunch and cheery conversation rounded off another wholly successful AGM.
We will publish the AGM minutes on this website in due course.
Residents from Istead Rise and Meopham took part in Sunday’s Kent Day of Action to protest against building in the Green Belt. They met in the fields either side of Norwood Lane in Meopham, which are under threat of development, to send a clear message that they will do their best to defend the Green Belt in next year’s Local Plan consultation. Alex Hills, CPRE Kent’s Gravesham chairman, said: “Having so many people turn up at short notice sent a clear message to the government and the local council that now is not the time for rhetoric – we want to see you are serious about protecting the Green Belt. “Food-supply shortages have shown that we need the Green Belt, which is the county’s larder, more than ever.” Many residents expressed concern that there is not the water or basic infrastructure to support the amount of development proposed for Gravesham.