Fears for coastal environment as wind farm developer looks to run cables through Pegwell Bay

There are concerns for the natural environment of Pegwell Bay if the Vattenfall cable route is approved

Plans to run electricity cables from a wind farm across one of the county’s premier nature reserves are being challenged for the environmental damage they would cause.
Vattenfall Wind Power Ltd has applied to the UK Planning Inspectorate for consent to build an extension to the Thanet Offshore Windfarm, a development that would require cables to take electricity from the offshore turbines to the National Grid.
The onshore part of the proposed cable route would cross Pegwell Bay, part of the Sandwich and Pegwell Bay National Nature Reserve.
However, this is an internationally important site for wildlife. Aside from being a National Nature Reserve, it is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Ramsar site and Special Protection Area (SPA).
Richard Kinzler is chairman of the Pegwell and District Association, an associate member of CPRE Kent, and is deeply critical of the Vattenfall scheme.
“Renewables companies and the government pledge to ‘go green’, but many of their projects are chipping away at our rare habitats across the UK.
“Vattenfall is such a company with its proposed cable route, which will cross Sandwich and Pegwell Bay, cutting through this site of national and international importance for wildlife, with every designation from SSSI to Ramsar.
“All too often the promises are purest greenwash, in this case used to conceal the destruction of coastal saltmarsh and ancient duneland pasture.
“Also consider the populations of many bird and bat species that are experiencing long-term declines, due in part to habitat loss, while it is estimated that many thousands of birds and bats die when they collide with these turbine blades.
“These projects slowly change the landscape by eroding habitat. We believe that alternative routes are the way forward.”
David Morrish, chairman of Thanet CPRE, shares the concerns.
“Despite Vattenfall’s alleged intention to avoid and minimise impacts on environment and ecosystems from its, operations, it is considered by Thanet CPRE that the impact of the proposals on the precious environment of Pegwell Bay area cannot be avoided or mitigated by the proposed routeing.
“Vattenfall should examine and carefully consider and assess alternative potential routes, along with potential compensation and restoration measures. Ideally, the route would avoid Pegwell Bay completely.”
Kent Wildlife Trust manages much of the area and has highlighted that construction and maintenance of the cable route could lead to the permanent loss, degradation and fragmentation of saltmarsh.
This irreplaceable habitat is an ever-decreasing resource in the South East. The saltmarsh at Pegwell is important for many species, including internationally protected breeding and wintering birds.
The trust believes the proposed cable route, which crosses the nature reserve, risks significant adverse impacts on both habitats and species of international importance.
Further, it believes that alternative routes avoiding the designated areas have not been adequately assessed.
Kent Wildlife Trust is not opposed to wind power and is keen to clarify that it is in favour of initiatives to reduce human reliance on fossil-fuel energy generation.
However, it says this must not be at the expense of other aspects of the natural environment.
A spokesman said: “As with many development issues, it is important to consider the location, in this case where and how cables are laid.
“There are potentially significant issues with this particular proposal in this particular location.”
The proposal has been classed as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project so will be determined in a different way from a ‘standard’ planning application.
The trust has consulted with the developer since early last year, working with other stakeholders including the National Trust and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in assessing and responding to preliminary proposals for the development.
There has been some collective success in ensuring the marine environment is protected, but Kent Wildlife Trust continues to oppose the application while keeping open lines of communication with the developer.
Vattenfall has stated publicly “[We] commit to the protection of nature and biodiversity” and “strive to avoid and minimise impacts on environment and ecosystems from [their] operations. Where impacts cannot be fully avoided or mitigated, [Vattenfall] consider potential compensation and restoration measures”.
A decision by the Planning Inspectorate on the application is expected in mid-2019.

  • For more on this application, visit the Planning Inspectorate website here

Monday, December 10, 2018

 

 

 

 

The threat of a colossal solar farm at Cleve Hill: learn more this weekend

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

The threat of a vast solar power station on the North Kent Marshes near Faversham will come into focus at an event on Sunday (December 9).
Richard Knox-Johnston, CPRE Kent vice-president, will join local MP Helen Whately and Andrew Bowles, leader of Swale Borough Council, in giving speeches during the information day, which runs from 10am-2pm.
The event, at Faversham Guildhall, is being hosted by Graveney Rural Environment Action Team (GREAT) and will give you the chance to find out more about the plans by Cleve Hill Solar Park Ltd, which would cover an eyewatering 1,000 acres – potentially the largest development of its kind in the country.
The speeches start from 11am, while the main topics of the day will be:

  • How is this different from a typical solar park?
  • What will be the impact on the environment and wildlife?
  • What do our local politicians think?
  • When will a decision be made?
  • How can you get involved and have your say?
  • The information day is being held at The Guildhall, Market Place, Faversham ME13 7AG, from 10am-2pm on Sunday, December 9.
  •  For more on this story, see here and here 
  •  For more on GREAT, see here 

Our director speaks on county radio about the menace of flytipping

A curse that blights too much of our countryside (pic Brenda Hedley)

Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, spoke at some length on a recent BBC Radio Kent discussion on the ever-ugly and ever-present problem of flytipping in the county.
The proposal by the county council to charge for disposal of builders’ waste at tips is also covered.
Click on the black bar above to listen to the feature.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Lower Thames Crossing… aiding and abetting a killer of thousands

The proposed Lower Thames Crossing will add further strain to Gravesham’s environment

With the prospect of the Lower Thames Crossing between Kent and Essex threatening swathes of countryside on both sides of the river, Alex Hills, chairman of Gravesham CPRE, offers his view on government roads policy while also asking if we’re all doing our bit to tackle air pollution

By continuing to build poorly planned new roads, the government is assisting a deadly force that slaughters 40,000 to 50,000 people a year. This serial killer preys on everyone, especially the young and old – and it is air pollution.
The World Health Organisation is calling for drastic action. It is estimated that up to one-third of asthma-related hospital admissions are caused by air pollution.
This year has seen many new studies on other harmful effects, including damage to unborn children, brain damage and even obesity.
The physical cost to the nation runs into many millions of pounds, aside from the mental suffering, which cannot be priced.
Yet, despite this, the government continues to plan schemes such as the Lower Thames Crossing between Gravesham in Kent and Thurrock in Essex, knowing it will not remove the problems of congestion at Dartford.
The new crossing will increase traffic congestion on both sides of the river and on all north-south routes through Kent, resulting in many more deaths through increased air pollution.
There has been much talk about zero-emission electric cars, but there is no such thing as zero-emission.
Electric cars produce pollution through their tyres, the manufacture and disposal of components (especially the battery, which uses rare metals that are open-cast-mined), building the infrastructure required to support them and the production of the electricity to charge the batteries.
We, of course, are part of the problem and also part of the solution.
Government could do so much more – solar panels on industrial buildings, heat-pump installations in new housing estates and improved building standards including better insulation.
There urgently needs to be a sustainable green transport plan.
There are small things we can all do:

  • Ensure our vehicles are well maintained
  • Make one less car journey per week
  • Use energy-efficient products
  • Walk or cycle to school, work or shops

There is no one simple solution to our air quality crisis, but are you at least playing your own small part?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Sevenoaks: the sites that could be taking a housing hit

Are the diggers heading your way?

Planners at Sevenoaks District Council have revealed the Green Belt sites they have identified for major housing development – greenfield sites with no development at present.
They are satisfied there are “exceptional circumstances” to justify changing the Green Belt boundary for these cases, their verdict coming after this summer’s consultation on the district’s draft Local Plan.
If the proposals are approved by cabinet on Thursday (December 6) they will be included in the final consultation on the Plan (the Regulation 19 stage) before it goes to public inquiry in the spring.
The government’s Objectively Assessed Need formula has arrived at a figure of 13,960 properties to be built in Sevenoaks district from 2015-2035. Sites on previously developed land (PDL) are expected to take some 6,000 properties.
At the Draft Plan consultation stage (Regulation 18), 12 ‘exceptional circumstances’ Green Belt sites were proposed for potential development. Of those, the following are being taken forward to consultation:

  • Four Elms Road, Edenbridge (350 units)
  • Sevenoaks Quarry (600 units)
  • East of London Road, Dunton Green (240 units)

In addition, Pedham Place, land in the AONB near Swanley, is identified as a “broad location for development” for 2,500 houses.
At the Planning Advisory Committee meeting on Thursday, November 22, councillors voiced strong objection to the site, but a motion to exclude it was lost by a 5-6 margin.
Further consideration will be given to the release of this site from the Green Belt when the Plan is reviewed in the mid-2020s.
The local authority received 8,500 comments on the draft Plan from some 6,000 representors, including CPRE’s Sevenoaks committee, the majority objecting to the allocation of these ‘exceptional circumstances’ greenfield sites in the Green Belt.
Nigel Britten, the chairman, said: “Justification for making changes to the Green Belt boundary now is justification for making more changes in the future.
“But the Green Belt and the two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are what define the special quality of the Sevenoaks countryside and we will do our utmost to protect it.”
The council received additional site submissions for greenfield Green Belt sites during the draft Plan consultation. The following are considered potentially suitable for inclusion in the Local Plan and will be consulted on alongside the Regulation 19 consultation:

  • South of Redhill Road, New Ash Green
  • Between Hartfield Road and Hever Road, Edenbridge
  • West of Childsbridge Lane and south of the recreation ground, Kemsing
  • North and south of Kemsing station

The Regulation 19 version of the Plan will include the associated Supplementary Planning Documents – Affordable Housing SPD, Development in the Green Belt SPD and Design Review Panel SPD.
The council will ultimately publish the Regulation 19 version on the basis that it considers it to be sound, legally compliant and prepared in accordance with the ‘duty to cooperate’ with neighbouring planning authorities.
Prior to the submission of the Plan for examination, the council will prepare an Issues Paper to demonstrate that an appropriate approach has been taken with regard to density.
It must also show the supply of housing sites is deliverable (for the first five years of the Plan) and developable (years 6-10). Further, it must provide evidence that all non-Green Belt sites have been fully explored before going through a peer review process with the Planning Inspectorate.
It is anticipated public consultation on the pre-submission version of the Plan will take place from Tuesday, December 18, to Sunday, February 3, followed by submission and examination in the spring or summer of next year, with adoption by the end of 2019.

  • For more on this story, see here
  • To read the papers for the cabinet, see here
  • To track the changes being made to the Local Plan, visit Appendix 5 of the Cabinet papers here

Monday, December 3, 2018

We’ve got the power… the future for energy use in this country

The world of energy production is changing rapidly

Fresh from a UK Power Networks roadshow, David Knight, chairman of neighbouring CPRE Essex, offers his thoughts on how our energy needs are being tackled

Early this month I visited a roadshow hosted by UK Power Networks.
This organisation owns and maintain electricity cables and lines across London, the South East and the East of England, “making sure your lights stay on”.
The meeting was well attended and had a good spectrum of guests from local authorities, business and groups representing vulnerable people.
While a private company, UK Power Networks is regulated by government organisation Ofgem and has strict performance targets imposed upon it.
These include customer minutes lost, customer interruptions caused by loss of power, distribution cost by customers and customer satisfaction.
It was pleasing to see all the targets showed improving trends but, as it pointed out, UK Power Networks wants to do better.
Using modern technology, we as an audience were able to vote on the importance of various issues and see instantly the results on-screen.
Here I summarise the events discussed:

Data: its use and protection
With climate change upon us, together with new decarbonised, decentralised and digitised energy systems, there will be a need to gather data that will help predict the effects of extreme occurrences in a bid to ensure that power failures can be dealt with in an efficient and timely manner.
Smart-metering systems will play an essential part in this. They are not just a means of monitoring electricity usage but also an instrument that alerts the supplier when local supply cuts have occurred, helping it understand the demands on the network.
Further, the public are offered the chance to feed power back into the network via solar panels (and in future the power stored in our electric car batteries), helping regulate voltage swings.
Smart meters have been an issue as it would appear the first generation was less than perfect, with issues over communication and different IT suppliers, meaning consumers sometimes had to change their smart boxes when changing electricity suppliers. However, the latest generation has supposedly corrected this problem.
UK Power Networks was aware of concerns about data protection and asked a range of questions on which we could vote.
My position was that information from smart meters need not be intrusive into individual households’ means, but more a way for UK Power Networks to provide them the most economical products to suit their needs… a bit like the ‘white meters’ of old.

World of energy
It was made clear that we are and will become more responsible for the production and use of energy in the future.
For instance, we will need to charge our electric cars, sell our surplus electricity back to the National Grid or to others and store energy via battery packs.
Regarding supplies for cars, at present there are two types of charging sources:

  • Low current, long charging time
  • High-current fast chargers

The former effectively involves plugging your car into the domestic supply system every home has, while the latter requires connection from the National Grid via a substation.
There are apparently plans in motion to put a network of these National Grid appliances down the ‘spine’ of the UK.
My view is that all new homes should include a connection to its own domestic supply but with easy access to a fast-charging system. The building industry should bear the cost of this.

Helping customers in vulnerable circumstances
It was good to be informed that UK Power Networks was working in partnership to help customers in vulnerable circumstances.
Using the Priority Services Register (PSR), which already has 1.6 million homes on its data base, it not only targets these groups in the event of power cuts but has provided energy advice and practical measures to more than 300,000 customers to address the underlying causes of fuel poverty.
Nevertheless, with ever-increasing energy costs, more clearly needs to be done.

In conclusion, this was an informative and worthwhile event. The world must move away from fossil-fuel production and, with the sensible and controlled use of modern technology, we can all help this cause and in doing so reduce our costs.
We must, though, bear in mind that information technology, while the norm for younger generations, is more difficult to grasp for other sections of society.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018  

Read the full reports from our district chairmen

Christine Drury… no longer CPRE Kent chairman but carrying on the fine work as Ashford chairman

In the Autumn/Winter edition of Kent Voice, we carried reports from our district and committee chairmen from around the county.
They were comprehensive and entailed a lot of work on their part, but space restrictions meant we couldn’t bring you them in their entirety, so here they are…

Ashford – Christine Drury
Ashford has a five-year housing land supply. That was the advice of the Local Plan inspectors at the end of June. In Ashford’s case it is six years as the borough council carries a 20 per cent buffer for non-delivery against previous high housing targets as a growth area. At more than 1,400 dwellings per year, the target is still high. Will developers build, and could they sell that many? The next hurdle will be when the government publishes the first housing delivery results in November. This is a new test in the revised National Planning Policy Framework published in July.
Three appeals by Gladman Developments Ltd were withdrawn at the time the inspectors’ advice was published, less than a week before the Brabourne Lees appeal was to be reconvened, before the Charing appeal was due to report and as Biddenden was in preparation. It was a relief to see those three appeals abandoned, but the much larger one in the countryside beyond Kennington remains a threat. None of these sites are in the Local Plan. Gladman’s predatory business model causes a great deal of anger and stress for communities and cost for councils.
Outline planning applications are being submitted for sites that are in the Plan.  The one dubbed Large Burton Farm will be difficult to absorb next to Kennington on the edge of Ashford unless it is very well designed and phased. Local engagement is proving difficult when so many people find it so wrong.
Where sites are smaller, they can be cumulatively disproportionate for villages. Rural Means Rural is campaigning strongly on precisely this point. The inspectors listened and the modifications requested reflect that they can only be effective if we are all vigilant in monitoring what is being proposed and whether it is in character in terms of its scale and design. Cumulative effect must also be considered.
CPRE Kent is advocating that the highly successful green corridors plan for urban Ashford be adapted for rural areas, too. It is needed because this Local Plan includes more development in and around the borough’s villages. In urban areas the corridor is the Stour riverbank and floodable areas alongside the river. It is a popular non-motorised route with commuters and children cycling to school, forming part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network (Route 18).
Charing and Hamstreet are two villages that appear to score well on sustainability criteria as they each have a railway station, school and doctors’ surgery, together with a modest high street. However, they both have sensitive drainage and run-off risks that are not being recognised.
Construction of junction 10A on the M20 is proceeding to plan, although it should have been built 14 years ago. The ‘shaving away’ of trees to make way for the bulldozers and pile-drivers was a visual shock, but planting and time will heal after the junction opens in the summer. The new junction will help realise more brownfield housing development on the old Ashford railway works.

Canterbury – Barrie Gore
Canterbury City Council has bought a former student block for conversion to social housing. It has also announced it will build more social housing elsewhere. So, although rather late, these are welcome steps to redress the imbalance between private and genuinely affordable housing. We don’t yet know if housing associations will be involved.
The council has applied for a judicial review of the decision by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (James Brokenshire – how apt) to overrule the refusal of planning permission for housing at Strode Farm, Herne. We don’t yet have the grounds for the review but, as the site was allocated for housing in the Local Plan, we are intrigued, especially as the council has announced an AQMA [Air Quality Management Area] for Herne as other massive developments along the Thanet Way and at Sturry will cause serious traffic and air pollution problems in the village. We have supported the determined and excellent Herne and Broomfield Parish Council throughout. We are all disappointed at the minister’s decision and welcome the review.
The long-threatened application for an enormous development in the Kent Downs AONB at Highland Court Farm, Bridge, has now been lodged. It is for a large leisure complex for tourists and includes upmarket housing, proposed new grounds for Canterbury football and rugby clubs, plus tennis courts and other holiday facilities. There has been a growing trend to win support for unsuitable developments from sports and health organisations by offering them new facilities.   We, together with the Kent Downs joint advisory committee, the Barham Downs Action Group and many others, will be opposing the application. It is another glaring example of attacks by developers on valuable open spaces in the countryside. The government is doing nothing to stop this, leaving under-funded local authorities to cope as best they can.
There are increasing attempts by applicants to deface conservation areas in the city by applying for unsuitable advertising material and shop fronts despite the protection given, but sadly not always applied, by the Local Plan. Unfortunately, the councillor who was appointed Canterbury’s heritage champion wears two hats as he is also on the planning committee, when most of us believe he should only be involved in heritage issues and not be part of planning decisions.
Although years too late, the council is in the process of preparing a draft heritage strategy for public consultation. The consultation process has been good, but still no draft has appeared, so it seems we have little or no protection for our heritage assets even though we are a cathedral city with three World Heritage Sites.
Gradually the threat to public health from air pollution seem to be appearing in the council’s consciousness, although we still do not have enough monitors, sited where pollution and traffic jams are greatest, to provide technical information in everyday terms to residents, many of whom are subjected daily to diesel particulates and petrol fumes.
Particulate Matter 2.5 remains in the body for ever, unlike the larger particulates, which can eventually be discharged. Even the government now accepts that 40,000 deaths a year are caused, or contributed to, by traffic pollution. Why, then, isn’t a moratorium ordered to prevent large developments in already overcrowded and polluted areas? Contrast this with steps taken nationally to reduce road deaths, which are less than one-tenth of deaths attributable to pollution. Although there is, at last, some tinkering with travel methods, we need something more drastic than that.
On the subject of air pollution, two residents have issued a judicial review in respect of a 4,000-dwelling development in south Canterbury – the Mountfield Park site – most of which would be on high-quality agricultural land. The main ground is that the air would become even more polluted in the city, as well as within the development itself. There was a two-day hearing in the Court of Appeal and judgement has been reserved. Meanwhile, the development has been put on hold.   We and many others supported this review, but we wonder, with government emphasis on more and more houses, whether the court may be minded to allow the original decision to stand.
[Note: A judicial review is not a re-run of the merits of the original planning decision, but a challenge to the lawfulness of that decision]  

Dartford and Gravesham – Alex Hills
The first phase of the consultation on the Green Belt boundary review has ended and we are waiting on the response from Gravesham Borough Council. CPRE Kent was part of the Gravesham Rural Residents Group (GRRG), which ran a very effective campaign using social media, public meetings (the council had refused to hold any) and hard facts to galvanise support for the Green Belt. Special thanks to Richard Knox-Johnston for some brilliant speeches.
The complete lack of any thought to sustainability or air quality in the government’s housing target came up at all the public meetings. Kent’s health services, transport infrastructure, water supply, social care and much else are all struggling now – there is no way they can cope with the ridiculous housing targets the government is pushing.
The controlling Conservative group in Gravesham has been in a state of flux after the leader and deputy leader were rejected as candidates for May’s council elections. This has resulted in 10 councillors quitting the party, although not all were going to stand in May anyway. I have made clear that CPRE Kent and GRRG are non-political and thus neither organisation would comment on what was happening. Time will tell how this will affect the fight to protect the Green Belt.
There has been encouraging progress on improving NMU (non-motorised user) routes and establishing new ones in the area. There is a growing trend for dual-use NMU routes, which I have grave concerns over as many are not wide enough and there is a lack of understanding by many on how to behave on them:

  • Dog-walkers, please keep your dogs on a short lead
  • Walkers, please keep to one side
  • Cyclists, please be aware pedestrians may not be able to hear you coming and may not be expecting you to be travelling so fast
  • All users need to be aware that people with a range of disabilities use the routes

We need more journeys to be done via walking and cycling as this improves people’s physical and mental health, reduces congestion and cuts pollution. For this to happen, walking and cycling must be made safer.

Dover – Derek Wanstall
There are still discussions relating to Operation Stack, although a recent backlog of lorries parked along the left side of the road into Dover kept traffic moving smoothly. However, when lorries come from the Jubilee roundabout at Whitfield they can cause drivers annoyance when joining the entrance into the docks.
Port alterations are progressing and can now be viewed. Visiting cruise ships have been quite frequent, but it seems visitors do not stay in Dover, preferring destinations such as Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral and London.
On August 29 a well-attended area meeting was held, with Farthingloe and Western Heights dominating the agenda, which I attended along with Christine Drury. Three residents from Western Heights also attended and brought some updated information on the land owned by China Gateway and the bridge over the moat on Military Hill, as well as details on a proposed open day. Attempts will be made to hold a meeting for residents in the Maxton area, close to Farthingloe.
Work at Connaught Barracks seems to be progressing at last, unlike at Eastry hospital, where developers seem to be still dragging their feet.
Developers have started putting in planning applications where property demolition is required to gain access to neighbouring land. However, some good news is that Greenlight Developers had an application for a care home and 48 properties turned down by Dover District Council due to highway issues. We await an appeal.
With so much development in the Deal area and with more approved, traffic jams have become more frequent at peak times, causing long queues towards Dover and on the A256 to Sandwich. Residents now need to leave 10-15 minutes earlier to get to work or appointments on time, with parking spaces in Deal being at a premium. This highlights how infrastructure must be considered alongside new developments.

Maidstone – Henny Shotter
Maidstone Borough Council has withdrawn £10,000 funding for the Kent Downs AONB but has allocated a similar figure for the creation of a new ‘Greensand’ AONB. Although it is desirable to protect the Greensand Ridge, such a move throws up the question as to where the next ‘lot of houses’ will go.
Councillor Patrick Garten (North Downs ward) wrote in his newsletter: “In order to deal with the increasing housing demand, members across the political spectrum expressed a preference for a garden village or town for achieving the housing need. The council should take an active role as master planner for new communities.”
I wonder whether these decisions by MBC are strategically connected and will have an impact on other districts.
The head of planning at MBC said during the inquiry into the last Local Plan that development in front of the AONB should not be a problem as “the whole of Maidstone is in front of the AONB”.
I am concerned the creation of a new AONB will undermine the status of the Kent Downs AONB. The Kent Downs are important not only because of their AONB status but because the downs aquifer stores, as far as I know, 75 per cent of our water supplies.
The immediate area in front of the AONB is not only a traffic corridor (A20/M20/ High Speed Rail Link), it also includes the line of springs that are the source of the Rivers Len and Stour.
Recent developments in Lenham are on the spring line and it seems that groundwater and surface water is joining the Upper Stour, which can lead to flooding elsewhere. The county council’s flood-management management team and the internal drainage board are both reportedly concerned.
Major development at the foot of the downs would increase traffic across the downs and could lead to urbanisation along these routes.
An example of such potential urbanisation is a planned large development in the AONB immediately north of the Kent Showground. It was raised at the Local Plan hearings in November 2016 but taken no further.
The site, which is partly brownfield, is still being heavily promoted. There was a presentation in July, where much support was shown alongside the objections.
It includes several thousand houses plus claimed benefits in road improvements, school space, open space and so on.

Medway – Hilary Newport
Publication of the next draft of the Medway Local Plan is expected in December, followed by a final stage of consultation prior to submission for examination in March. It remains to be seen whether Medway will maintain its commitment to delivering homes at Lodge Hill, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and home to one of the largest populations of nightingales in the UK.

Sevenoaks – Nigel Britten
My last report said “a technical exercise has indicated that the district needs 12,400 new dwellings over the next 20 years”. The government then introduced a new formula, adding almost 1,600 to that impossible figure and increasing the so-called ‘housing need’ to 13,960 over that period.
The draft Sevenoaks Local Plan says this is the number of dwellings for which the district must find room in an area that is 93 per cent Green Belt and two-thirds AONB.
Once all the brownfield sites have been redeveloped, including some in the Green Belt, the only place to build would be in the Green Belt. The Plan proposes 12 major ‘exceptional circumstances’ sites, from fewer than a hundred dwellings per site to 2,500, all requiring changes to the Green Belt boundary. Public opposition has been fierce.
The Local Plan consultation, including 19 policies and more than 100 development sites, has been the focus of the committee’s work. It is not for us to make the choices now facing the council; our job is to protect the countryside, not to choose between the unacceptable, so we have not supported any of the 12 sites for housing. National policy says clearly that Green Belt and AONB protection can override the requirement to meet the full ‘housing need’. We want the council to test that to the limit.

Shepway – Graham Horner
Otterpool Park Garden Town grinds through a design phase and we are promised a planning application by the end of the year. There are still no clear answers to questions of sustainability:

  • Where will the water come from and where will it drain?
  • How can the roads cope with 30,000 new residents?
  • Where will all these people work?

Outline permission for 150 dwellings and a hotel at Princes Parade, Hythe, was granted by Folkestone & Hythe District Council’s planning and licencing committee in August. The plans include an ugly leisure centre on open ground that offers valuable unstructured recreational space and is vital to the setting of the Royal Military Canal.
We are supporting campaigners considering a legal challenge.A ‘listening exercise’ by Highways England to gather views on lorry parks didn’t tell us more than we already knew and probably didn’t tell HE officials more than they knew (or should have known three years ago).
The good news is that the prospect of a mega lorry park does seem to be receding and facilities for overnight parking, not just in Kent, seem to be higher up HE’s agenda.

Swale – Peter Blandon
Swale Borough Council is in the process of developing its next Local Plan. The idea seems to be the development of separate ‘garden villages’, rather than incremental development over a wide area – it is apparently better to really upset a relatively small number of people rather than slightly upset a large number.
The housing requirement is likely to be more than 1,000 dwelling per annum, and this raises issues of infrastructure. The report for the council from Peter Brett Associates contains ‘An Important Reminder for Developers and Landowners’. In a larger font than the rest of the report, it is stated:
“We can expect that each home built in Swale on strategic sites will be likely to need between £30,000-£50,000-worth of supporting infrastructure spend. In the absence of a master developer or similar structure, this is likely to be collected by either CIL [Community Infrastructure Levy] or S106 [agreement between local authority and developer with an obligation concerning use of the land or developer contribution towards infrastructure and facilities].
“Without this infrastructure spend, no planning permissions can be granted, meaning that there is no development opportunity.
“It is important to bear in mind that CIL and S106 are ultimately paid out of land values. This means that land with residential planning permission may be worth much less than landowners currently anticipate. It is critically important that this point is well understood by landowners, so that they do not have unrealistic expectations about the value of their land.
“Equally, developers should be careful to ensure that these costs are factored into their bids for land. The council will be unsympathetic to claims that development on greenfield sites is unviable.”
While we can support these sentiments, exactly how unsympathetic the council will be when the inevitable requests from developers come in asking to be relieved of requirements to provide a certain level of CIL funding, or to reduce the number of affordable/small houses in a development, remains to be seen.
Two applications for sites in the Local Plan are under consideration. A site at Teynham for 130 dwellings brought this response from the parish council:
“Teynham is identified in the current Local Plan as a ‘sustainable location for development for its good range of local services, facilities and rail link’. Having had our rail services halved, our medical surgery facilities halved, the loss of Sure Start children’s facilities, no tangible improvement in bus public transport and no evidence that schooling facilities are to be improved to meet the forthcoming influx of new residents, we question what is now left that is ‘sustainable’.”
At the same time, the council’s head of environmental protection is recommending refusal on air-quality grounds.
The plan for Cleve Hill solar farm is expected to be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate by the end of October. Swale Borough Council does not seem to have involved itself with the application.
A development in Newington High Street, an AQMA [Air Quality Management Area], has been completed. The original permission required non-opening front windows to reduce pollution and noise inside. An application in February to allow opening front windows was refused. The buildings have been completed and have opening front windows. The houses are now on sale.

Thanet – David Morrish
“August is that last flicker of fun and heat before everything fades and dies…” the  line from author Rasmenia Massoud was particularly apposite for my report after a glorious sun-kissed summer on Thanet’s gorgeous coastline.
But the clouds are gathering and, urged on by the government’s Chief Planner, Thanet District Council has lumbered into action by deciding to publish and be damned its latest daft [sic] Local Plan.
Thankfully, the council listened to common sense (and CPRE Thanet) and opted for a six-week final consultation stretching into October, thankfully, we hope, encapsulating September’s publication of population forecasts just to ensure there is a substantial basis for the likely initial challenge to the predicted household forecasts.
The consultation will also, most importantly and very belatedly, be the first official opportunity for the public to comment on the county council’s long-awaited transport study. Why has it not been published until now?
This complicated process appears to have been already predetermined, hence the planning application (a lovely case study of the county council acting as advocate, judge and jury in considering its own application) for the latest Thanet White Elephant: Thanet Parkway station.
Thanet CPRE has duly opposed this scheme despite its supporting documents and the expectation is a planning decision by November.
Our committee is still very keen, active and meeting monthly – it is hoped that in the run-up to the Local Plan Examination in Public we may attract more members as many do not appear enamoured with ‘local planning’ in Thanet.

Tonbridge and Malling – Mike Taylor
Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council’s Planning and Transportation Advisory Board is the body charged with drafting the Local Plan, and I am a member. On July 24 the PTAB met with the sole task of recommending the draft Local Plan to cabinet and full council in September. Thirteen members of the board were present, as were 18 non-member councillors and some 50 members of the public, one of whom videoed proceedings.
There was two and half hours of intense debate, with strong opposition to much of the Plan, culminating at 10pm with the chairman asking for agreement to recommend the Plan but, instead of the normal chorus of “Agreed”, there was a deathly hush. He then asked for a show of hands, which was all a bit confused, but resulted in the chairman declaring 5-5 with three abstentions. His casting vote carried the recommendation.
Many members voiced concerns about the vote but were assured it was correct.
However, analysis of the video showed one board member leaving before the vote. A month later, the council agreed there was a “miscount” and declared the recommendation refused. It then decided it didn’t matter anyway – the PTAB is only an “advisory board” – and so our vote would be noted but would not prevent the non-recommendation going to the cabinet and full council.
On September 12, the full council agreed the draft Local Plan with a 39-6 vote.
Democracy is alive and well at Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council…

Tunbridge Wells – Liz Akenhead
We have objected (mostly successfully) to several planning applications that have come forward on unallocated sites in the High Weald AONB. These sites are vulnerable to speculative applications for development because the borough council cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land. We continue to await publication of the draft Local Plan, which now seems to be scheduled for early next year.
Until a new Local Plan is adopted, and perhaps even after that if the government keeps moving the goalposts, our countryside will remain vulnerable to speculative applications.
Rumours abound as to how much housing will be proposed for each settlement, though we understand parish councillors and neighbourhood plan steering groups have been given some indications confidentially. The council is reviewing the Green Belt and we fear a considerable amount of building in the Green Belt and AONB will be proposed.
A recent paper on park-and-ride, produced as part of the evidence base for the new Local Plan, seems to show that a new park-and-ride service will neither give value for money nor resolve the traffic problems in Tunbridge Wells, yet alarmingly it seems the council may still want to press ahead with the proposals, some of which will needlessly cover green fields with tarmac.

Environment – Graham Warren
The recurring theme for most of the summer (while keeping our fingers crossed for an end to the drought) was Brexit and what it could mean for the future management and protection of Kent’s increasingly vulnerable environment.
We learn that the roles played by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice – bodies that have powers to enforce compliance with environmental legislation – will, post-Brexit, be taken up in the UK by a new body, the Environmental Enforcement and Audit Office (EEAO), heralded by the government as a “world-leading body to protect the environment”.
Unfortunately, its remit will be confined to monitoring and advice only ─ a watchdog that will simply watch. A poor legacy, this, for a nation that was the first to put climate change on the UN agenda and the first G7 member to phase out coal-based power, last year generating more than half of our energy from renewable sources.
As if that wasn’t enough bad news, we now have government proposals to review the legislation controlling shale gas exploration and development, effectively moving planning control from local authorities to central government and denying local communities any means of making representation (a move CPRE Kent has challenged with a 175,000-signature petition).
This action reflects a determination by the government to force through the permitting of invasive development of fossil fuels, ignoring the implications for our commitment to the Paris Agreement in the increasingly urgent programme for climate-change control.
But now some good news and congratulations to Surrey CPRE for the victory at the Battle of Leith Hill ─ another shale-gas exploration site where Kent provided technical support in opposing permission. The oil company has been seen off and has withdrawn its application.

Historic Buildings – John Wotton
Kent Historic Buildings Committee was pleased to partner Kent School of Architecture again this year for the Gravett Award for Architectural Drawing, named in honour of Kenneth Gravett, an author on historic buildings in Kent and a former chairman of the committee. The judging panel was again chaired by Ptolemy Dean and the award was made to Jake Obichere.
The committee has participated in a campaign to save from demolition Hextable Heritage Centre, the former botany laboratory of Swanley Horticultural College, the first institution in England to admit women horticultural students. Swanley was taken over by Wye College after the Second World War and the botany laboratory is the only surviving college building.
The committee visited Queen Court at Ospringe, an outstanding Wealden hall house with fine barns and outbuildings, largely unmodernised and with much deferred maintenance required to the structure and fabric. The house is empty after the ending of an agricultural tenancy and it is possible that development will be proposed on the site. The committee will monitor the situation.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Blue Boys Inn at Matfield… we’re moving towards the end game (for now!)

The Blue Boys Inn… work is under way although it would appear that not all planning conditions have been fulfilled

Coming soon… burgers and chips

The latest chapter in the long and colourful tale of the Blue Boys Inn at Kippings Cross, Matfield, appears to be winding to its conclusion.
After any number of planning applications, proposals and exchanges of views about its future, the Grade II-listed building is being transformed into a Burger King take-away.
Whatever your views on such an outcome, it does at least mean the inn’s dilapidated state is being addressed, even if the demolition of its oldest part cannot be reversed and some aspects of the redevelopment are less than satisfactory.
At one point, demolition of the entire inn was on the table, but now the new outlet will be built into the remaining structure, ensuring some element of its historical significance.
CPRE Kent’s Tunbridge Wells and historic buildings committees had been watching, with growing concern, the situation unfold, last year writing to the chief executive of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in a bid to halt the building’s decline.
You can read about this here and here, but Lady Akenhead, chairman of the Tunbridge Wells CPRE committee, brings us up to date with proceedings.
“Both the Tunbridge Wells and historic buildings committees objected to the details of recent applications connected with the approved plan to turn the Blue Boys into a fast-food take-away, now to be occupied by Burger King,” she said.
“Following our objections, some amended details were submitted that satisfied the council’s conservation officer regarding the listed building and advertisement applications.
“Some of the applications still await approval, presumably while the applicant seeks a solution that will satisfy the council concerning the various points raised.
“Meanwhile, construction of the extension to the Blue Boys continues apace, although the details concerning contamination and landscaping whose approval was required prior to commencement of the development under the planning permissions granted in 2016 have not yet been approved!
“The planning officer records having visited the site on three occasions in September and October this year but appears to have made no effort to enforce the landscaping condition, merely appending it again to the delegated approval he has granted for the recent listed-building application.”
Not wholly desirable, by any stretch, but the fact the Blue Boys Inn still exists at all (even if as a burger joint) is thanks in to small part to the work of CPRE Kent’s Tunbridge Wells and historic buildings committees. Well done!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Missed the AGM? There’s always next year…

Director Hilary Newport, left, presents outgoing chairman Christine Drury with flowers

… and new chairman John Wotton

President Graham Clarke was as entertaining as ever

Seventy-four members enjoyed (we hope!) this year’s CPRE Kent AGM.
Held at Lenham Community Centre on Friday (November 9), perhaps the most significant feature of the day was the end of Christine Drury’s five-year term as chair.
Having got matters under way, the time soon came for her to hand over the reins to new chairman John Wotton, who is already chair of the Kent Historic Buildings Committee.
The tributes to Christine were warm and generous, and she was presented with gifts and flowers by director Hilary Newport.
CPRE Kent president Graham Clarke, meanwhile, was in fine fettle as he rattled out two humorous poems – Let it Be, an impassioned plea not to ruin the unique treasure of Dungeness, and Horatio, a whimsical look at one of our finest seamen.
It’s a bit of a cliché to say it has been a busy year for CPRE Kent – but it has been, and Hilary gave a report on what has in truth been a taxing 12 months.
Guest speaker was Damian Green, MP for Ashford, who, among other things, spoke of his dislike for land agent Gladman (the only company with which he had “flatly refused” to speak) and the unfortunate role of some ratepayers in contributing to CPRE Kent funds through Dover District Council’s Farthingloe planning decision and the subsequent legal action.
John Wotton gave a powerful debut speech as chairman, while there was of course the standard fare of an AGM as Michael Moore ran through the accounts, honorary officers and board members were elected and ploughman’s lunches were feasted upon.

  • We will publish the AGM minutes on this website in due course.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The killing of nature: Ecosystems and Biodiversity Demise, by Geoff Meaden

Countryside lovers and naturalists alike in this county feel the decline of wildlife as much as anyone. Kentish plover once bred on the coastline between Dungeness and Greatstone, but urban sprawl put paid to this country’s only substantial population of the species (pic David Mairs)

In the Autumn-Winter 2018 edition of Kent Voice we published the first, edited, part of Geoff Meaden’s article on ecosystems and biodiversity demise.
Here, as promised, is the entire, expanded piece in which he not only highlights the pressures on our natural heritage but considers a range of approaches to reversing the trend of environmental loss 

Surely no one reading this will be unaware that, at any scale from local to international, and in any place from the tropics to the subarctic, most natural ecosystems face rapid degradation and that biodiversity losses continue unabated.
Although our TV screens continually relay this demise of nature, still it continues as an apparently unstoppable certainty.
With all this information, plus imploring from conservation organisations, why do humans seem hell-bent on bringing about biological extinction for the planet?
After a look at some relevant factors on a wider scale, I hope here to open a small window on possible causes for the demise and suggest solutions at the local level.
As a 10-year-old in 1952 I remember going to Saturday-morning pictures to see a film called Where No Vultures Fly. It showed Africa in all its natural glory, but even then the unsustainable destruction of wildlife was recognised and the film demonstrated that wildlife parks would soon be necessary if biodiversity was to be maintained.
In the 66 years since the film was released, Africa’s human population has risen from a quarter of a billion to one and a quarter billion – a fivefold increase. And it has changed from having largely undegraded natural environments to a continent that is almost completely human-dominated.
What has happened in Africa has been replicated in Central and South America, as well as in much of Asia, while no continent has been without severe environmental damage.
As a measure of this damage, the weight of all larger land mammals on Earth now comprises 33 per cent Homo sapiens, 66 per cent our pets and livestock (domesticated animals) and just 1 per cent are wild animals (see Table 1).
The latest State of Nature report for the UK (2016) shows that abundance of 2,500 terrestrial and freshwater species has fallen by about 20 per cent over the last 40 years, but for the 213 species with highest conservation priority abundance the decline is close to 65 per cent.
Our planet is now almost completely anthropocentric, with the world’s human population continuing to grow at some 80 million a year. The planet has finite resources, making this growth totally unsustainable; if nothing changes we are on course for massive biological extinctions.

Table 1 Changes in weight distribution of all larger land mammals on the planet

Category of land mammals

(by per cent)

Time
10000BC 5000BC 1900AD 2008AD
 Wild >99 99 15 1
Domesticated 0 <1 70 66
Homo sapiens <1 <1 15 33

 

This reversal of Earth from being a ‘nature-bountiful’ planet would seem to imply the problems are not being tackled.
This is far from true.
There is no end of environmental organisations ranging from local to international; from broad-based to specific; from large to small membership; from being talking shops to action- or activity-based; and from public to charity or private organisations.
Some of these organisations have memberships measured in hundreds of thousands and financial accounts that turn over millions of pounds annually. So what is going wrong?
Why are numerous animals on the verge of extinction? Why doesn’t rainforest destruction decrease? Why are coral reefs almost a thing of the past? Why is Britain one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world? Why is no one apparently really listening to what David Attenborough and others are constantly saying?
These questions are far too complex to answer at an international or national scale, so here I examine some causes of biodiversity and ecosystems demise, mainly at a local level, before postulating some ideas for reversing this process.
In Kent we are blessed with a relatively wide range of natural biomes. These include extensive coastal plains, chalk downs, clay vales, river floodplains and areas reclaimed from the sea, each giving rise to a range of vegetative biomes such as marshland, natural grassland, mixed deciduous woodland and heathland.
Into these vegetation zones variations in the physical structure of the land help to create a random assortment of micro-habitats. Moreover, we have had imposed centuries of human development, which has led to a panoply of additional vegetative environments that include hedgerows, copses, planted woodland and coppiced woodland, plus an assortment of farmland types (essentially arable and grazing land).
The potential for biodiversity variation could be great, and indeed it once was. But where and why has much of Kent’s nature gone? It might be useful to address what I see as important points contributing to local, and to some extent national, ecosystems and biodiversity demise:

  1. Pressures from population growth
    This is easily the most important longer-term reason for the demise of nature. In Kent we have seen particularly high population growth over recent decades, the convenience of accessibility to London being a primary factor. The population here is now growing by some 15,000 per annum compared with ‘only’ 8,000 per annum in the late 1990s. Many in the population are well placed to enjoy a comparatively good lifestyle, which almost inevitably has negative impacts on the environment in terms of ‘environmental consumption’, for example through building homes and utilising wilder areas for leisure pursuits.
  2. Habitat loss and fragmentation
    For many centuries the main cause of habitat loss was its conversion to productive farming land. The compatibility of this ‘new land’ with the requirements of nature has declined with the degree of applied technology and we now have what is to a large degree a monoculture where ‘nature’ is virtually excluded. Population growth also leads to increased housing demand, plus demand for infrastructure, retail and employment. Although some of this demand is met from brownfield sites, most is not. Natural habitats are inevitably gnawed at and increasingly the size and connectivity of individual units of wild space is eroded. Kent is particularly hard hit because the density of human constructs is already high, so the obstacles to achieving larger and more integrated biological units are almost insurmountable.
  3. Pollution
    Most of us are aware of the vast range of insecticides, herbicides, fertilisers and assorted chemicals deposited on our rural environment (plus back gardens). These chemicals are mainly aimed at increasing food production for humans and little attention is given to the negative consequences for biodiversity. A walk through any Kentish orchard in spring reveals almost a complete lack of pollinators, doubtless caused by too many chemicals. Of probably greater overall concern is the leaching of pollutants into waterways, where they are concentrated into relatively narrow channels and often added to by discharges from sewage plants. In Kent this is a particular problem because rainfall is low and sub-face geology encourages water infiltration; thus there are frequently low water levels.
  4. A failure to appreciate or react to the problems
    We can make a fair assumption that, despite the variety of environmental information constantly streamed from a range of media, too many of us give insufficient thought to what is happening to the natural world. Even if we do think about this, how many of us take the trouble to take part in nature-conserving activities? While it is true that there are many conservation volunteers and practitioners, as a proportion of those that are really needed to ‘make a difference’, the number of practitioners is too few and conservation groups are coping inadequately with the decline of nature. Perhaps the basis of this lies in the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest: we are each individually programmed for self-preservation and too many of us go through life ‘fighting for ourselves’. So, perhaps rather simplistically, our individual actions are geared mainly towards making life better for ourselves. Too many of us care insufficiently for our surroundings, be they built constructs or nature. Human nature prevaricates against achieving the necessary behavioural change.
  5. Too much public access to ‘nature’
    We must recognise that people want to ‘see and visit nature’. Hence we are invited to visit a wide variety of attractions, and local councils and conservation groups promote new cycle paths or species habitats as places to visit. But in many cases this has gone too far and there are now few places in Kent from where the public are barred on the basis of nature protection. Just as humans need refuges of peace and quiet, I am quite certain that many species require the same. Human disturbance is a major factor behind species decline.
  6. Disease and alien invasions
    The position of Kent in relation to the Eurasian landmass means this county is particularly vulnerable to invasive species. The basic causes of invasions are the four Ts of trade, travel, tourism and transport, plus, more recently, climate change. Of course, species have always migrated by various means and there is some difficulty in identifying what constitutes a native species. Nevertheless, even a cursory examination shows invasion rates are accelerating, with at least 12 species of tree having become vulnerable to extinction from increased disease invasions in the past two decades. In some cases such invasions may cause little harm to ecosystems or biodiversity, either because the invader can easily integrate within a specific ecosystem or because it fails to compete with existing organisms. At the other extreme, invasions can wreak havoc, especially regarding fungal infections or viruses. In Kent we have seen decimation of amphibians through fungal infections; in many areas toads and frogs seem to have disappeared. The acceleration of climate change will surely exacerbate both disease and species invasions.
  7. A concentration on economic growth and development
    You only have to read local-government corporate plans, or witness the power and influence of big business, to realise economic growth and development are the primary goals society seeks. While of course we need jobs as a source of income and satisfaction, the primacy of the economy and its promotion means that social and environmental considerations usually take second place. Ultimately, economic growth and development depend on land and other resources being exploited, which on balance is a negative for nature. There seems little appreciation by many in the business community that the exploitation of nature is eventually unsustainable. I suspect ‘ecosystem services’ are something foreign to the business community.
  8. Lack of centralised cohesive policies
    As mentioned in my introduction, there is any number of groups, bodies, organisations, charities and government departments involved in one way or another with ecosystems or biodiversity research, observation or ‘management’. Although most of these groups are doubtless doing great work, no single organisation has both an overall vision and the means necessary to effectively say ‘Enough!’. With the severity of nature’s decline, why hasn’t central government given impetus to the Department for the Environment to project a necessary ‘office for the promotion of healthy ecosystems’?

I, and many others, fear the real threat of biological extinctions is now so great that it is putting our fundamental life-support systems at risk. A central plan of action must be established so management controls can be identified, rationalised and then implemented.

Even this brief look at some of the factors leading to the accelerating demise of ecosystems and biodiversity reveals society has a huge challenge, and this must be addressed urgently. It is essential we convey the fact that humans are part of an integrated biology living on a tiny planet where the continued existence of life relies on a changing but balanced living environment. And it is this environment that supplies us with the essential ecosystems services without which life is impossible. We must never ignore or forget this.
Saving ecosystems and biodiversity will mean making sacrifices and taking decisions that to date have proved a challenge too far. The challenge is not easy and in Kent it will certainly not be solved by citizens or groups acting alone. There will need to be worldwide efforts, plus the implementation of remedies at European and national levels. A main purpose of this piece is to consider realistically what local people and groups might best do. I now offer some possibilities that could be taken up according to prevailing conditions and personal circumstances.

  1. Giving protection to a wider area
    Several groups and informed experts have emphasised that it is essential some quantified level of strictly protected status is given to a significant proportion of both the terrestrial and marine areas. The recommended proportion varies from expert to expert and is dependent on the scale being examined. Edward Wilson, probably the world’s leading conservation ecologist, suggests that 50 per cent of the land on our planet needs “sacrosanct conservation”, ie this amount of land is set aside solely for nature conservation. At a more local scale, Kent Wildlife Trust has a target that 30 per cent of Kent “is managed to create a healthy place for wildlife to flourish”. Even 30 per cent of Kent is probably a highly ambitious target, but this is likely to be needed if all varied ecosystems are to be maintained and indeed improved. We must take the necessary responsibility to ensure this target is achieved.
  2. Habitat improvement
    If habitats could be improved, there are numerous local sites where greater biodiversity could be encouraged. Examples include degraded ponds, areas of intensive weed infestation, silted stream beds or marshlands, point source pollution along streams and areas where litter or rubbish has accumulated. There is already much activity directed towards improving habitats, but there is almost an unlimited range of work that can still be usefully accomplished. As well as restoring degraded habitats, new habitats can be created that allow for ‘more nature’, for example new lagoons in marshland or along river banks; planting of wildflower meadows, especially along set-aside land; and creating artificial nesting sites in modern barns.
  3. Joining wildlife and local conservation groups
    There are numerous groups whose focus is directed generally towards ‘improving nature’. Membership of such groups gives the opportunity for active or more static participation. For those who are relatively inactive, then just your support and encouragement are welcome, while of course financial contributions are important (if not essential). But groups such as Kent Wildlife Trust, Kentish Stour Countryside Project, RSPB, Friends of the Earth, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, The Woodland Trust and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation offer a wide variety of mainly voluntary opportunities to ‘get actively involved’. Most of these groups also have action plans explaining their aims and how these aims might best be achieved, while ample information is available on websites.
  4. Nature improvements outside conservation areas
    The majority of land in Kent will always retain a variety of non-conservation purposes, for example housing, industry, transport routes and urban centres. However, most of these areas offer wide opportunities for nature improvement. One obvious example is urban gardens, where nature can be encouraged through bird-feeding, adding flower and plant varieties and perhaps leaving some kind of ‘wild area’. Another important improvement outside conservation areas per se is through the implementation and protection of ‘wildlife corridors’ that often compensate for the fragmentation of ecosystems by allowing wildlife transit routes between dispersed areas of protection. This may be along railway lines and hedgerows, through golf courses and via an assortment of ‘nature stepping stones’. One important set of wildlife corridors that needs considerable enhancement comprises headlands or set-aside land along the edges of countless fields. Too often these areas are literally set aside having had no management or improvements. Most of these non-conservation land areas need to be recognised and given some level of formal protection.
  5. Tackling local wildlife pressure points
    Recognition needs to be given to where existing and planned structures, industries, pollution sources and other major constructs that could be detrimental to ‘nature’ are located or are planned. I suspect we can all think of actual or potential, mainly human, constructs likely to create such pressure points, for example the proposed solar farm at Cleve Hill, the former animal-rendering plant at Thruxted Mill and the sewage plant at Bybrook. We can all play a part in ‘watching’ these developments and, if necessary, contact the owner or the local authority if there are problems. These single points can do environmental damage that may be out of all proportion to the size or scale of the pressure point itself.
  6. Data gathering
    For the great majority of local biodiversity there is a deficiency of quantitative and locational data. Local environmental organisations ought to be challenged as to the data they can provide and whether they think that adequate actions to redress negative situations can be addressed via their existing data. It is well known that the RSPB organised an annual garden bird count and this is an invaluable source of knowledge in respect to wild bird populations, at least in urban areas. But this data collection ideal needs extensive replication across a much wider biome and species range. As long as methods of data collection can be appropriately standardised, the actual data can easily be gathered. Most of the larger wildlife organisations should have the resources to turn the data into useful information (text plus tables, graphs and maps) and eventually time-trend analyses. The use of data gathered can be essential to wildlife-targeted recovery plans – something all major local environmental or conservation groups should aspire to.
  7. The identification of keystone sites or areas
    For all the Kent biome types and for a range of important indicator species, it is vital to select areas where either the biomes or the selected species are thriving. Once selected, these sites need to gain protection so the area is sacrosanct from built development; it may also be necessary to bar general human access to some sites. It is now well known that Marine Protection Areas (MPAs) have an excellent capacity to not only give protection to species within the area but also to act as overspill sources. Thus, when populations build up within an MPA the population pressure obliges animals or plants to move out into surrounding waters and soon replenishment of these waters becomes noticeable. The same general principle is likely to work in terrestrial ecosystems, though strict management may be necessary.
  8. Friendly persuasion
    Since the reversal of ecosystems and biodiversity declines is never likely to be accomplished solely by actions on a local or Kentish scale, it will be vital that both groups and individuals participate in ‘friendly persuasion’ across the widest possible audience:
    l ‘Friendly’ because if something needs to be done, success is more likely to be achieved through a positive and friendly approach
    l ‘Persuasion’ because we are attempting either to change someone’s mind or to show that our suggested approach needs to be activated.
    There is a myriad range of measures that might come under this category, such as letter-writing to decision-makers or to the press, issuing press releases, spreading the word via social media, circulating petitions, talking to a councillor or your MP and giving public talks.
    These measures must be pursued with vigour, determination and commitment – as if our lives depended on what we are doing, which very surely they soon will.
    It is important to note that before embarking on any campaign it is essential to be well informed on the particular aspect of a topic about which you feel most strongly. This is important because we do need to change mindsets; if people were as convinced as we must be, then the chances are that the status of ecosystems and biodiversity would not be in their present dire situation.

There is no evidence that any local or international person, body or group has an overall perspective on the management priorities necessary to halt ecosystems and biodiversity decline.
A body like the United Nations should have a whole agency committed to fostering the future of ‘nature’, but the UN Environment Programme’s ‘Convention on Biological Diversity’ has no such comprehensive plans, for example like those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for combatting worldwide climate change.

Likewise, the Department of the Environment should be the lead organisation in the UK, and indeed this year Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of the United Kingdom, produced a 25-year plan for the environment, but although this plan recognised some of the main “actions that are needed”, it said almost nothing on “how the plans would be implemented”. The same can said of earlier government plans.
Vision, action and coordination will be vital to achieve the following essential management actions:

  • The appointment of an ecosystems and biodiversity champion
  • Financial commitments, primary aims and objectives
  • An overall management structure
  • Developing suitable metrics for measuring progress
  • Data gathering and processing
  • Establishing priority actions
  • Delegation of specific roles to existing nature conservation groups (a rationalisation of effort)
  • Building a volunteer structure.

Most of these actions could best operate at county level. An oversight body in Kent might be Kent Wildlife Trust, Kent Nature Partnership, Environment Agency or Natural England.
It would be of interest to find out what actions any of these groups are taking to ensure that the overall demise of nature does not continue.

Our wonderful nature is in serious trouble and it needs our help as never before”, David Attenborough, State of Nature 2016

I also believe that an organisation going under the title Campaign to Protect Rural England needs to be at the forefront of attempts to reverse the diminishing fortunes of our local ecosystems and biodiversity.

Monday, November 12, 2018

 

 

Sevenoaks: where will the bricks and mortar be landing?

River Darent at Shoreham (pic Glen Humble, flickr)

People in and around Sevenoaks should have a clearer idea this month about where future housing development in the district could be targeted.
With the government’s Objectively Assessed Need formula arriving at a figure of 13,960 properties to be built from 2015-2035 in a district that is 93 per cent Green Belt and two-thirds AONB, the publication on Thursday, November 15, of papers for Sevenoaks District Council’s planning advisory committee will detail the sites put forward for housing.
Sites on previously developed land (PDL) are expected to take some 6,000 properties, but that of course leaves a huge gap of almost 8,000 new homes.
To cover the gap, the council is focusing initially on PDL within the Green Belt and, finally, greenfield sites within the Green Belt for which there may be “exceptional circumstances”.
Possible site allocations range from fewer than 50 to the staggering 2,500 at Pedham Place, near Swanley.
There is concern over how the local authority might interpret PDL, which might not qualify as such according to the National Planning Policy Framework definition.
Nigel Britten, chairman of Sevenoaks CPRE, said: “We have objected in detail to the major Green Belt sites while not supporting any of them.
“The council knows it won’t get away with an unrealistic housing figure so must produce something that will satisfy the Local Plan inspector while not causing a mayhem of protest.”

  • A protest march against one potential development in the Green Belt is being held in Sevenoaks at the weekend.
    The event has been organised by the Halstead Green Belt Future group to highlight plans for almost 2,000 homes in the village, 800 of which would be on Green Belt land.
    Marchers will meet at Sevenoaks railway station at 2pm on Saturday, November 10, and head to the district council offices for 2.30pm, when letters of objection to the district’s draft Local Plan will be handed over.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

How green is our Brexit?

We are, we are told, leaving the EU. Good or bad news for our natural heritage?

We might all be a little weary of the B word, but the future for our natural heritage once this country has departed the EU is a matter of concern for Graham Warren, chairman of the CPRE Kent environment committee   

The natural environment barely got a mention in the pre-Brexit referendum barrage of half-truths and ‘alternative facts’ and would, even now, struggle to make the top 10 of the government’s shopping list.
It is difficult to evaluate clear environmental gains and losses in isolation from agriculture and other aspects of land use and our natural heritage will perhaps prove especially vulnerable – ‘up for sale’ as it were – in the late-stage trade-offs in the Brexit negotiations.
Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, sees our proposed departure from the EU as an opportunity to treat agriculture and the environment as paired objectives.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which is paying landowners £3 billion a year based on farmed acreage, would be replaced with schemes for farmers who enhance the natural environment by planting woodland, establishing wildlife habitat, increasing biodiversity, improving water quality and returning cultivated land to wildflower meadows.
This vision was revealed in Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan, launched in January with a pledge to eliminate waste, create new safeguards for wildlife, connect more children with nature, improve air and water quality and curb the scourge of plastic waste in the world’s oceans.
The agenda for this ‘green future’ includes:

  • Extension of the five-pence plastic-bag charge to small retailers, with restricted dependence on single-use plastics and inclusion of plastic-free aisles in supermarkets.
  • Creation of 500,000 hectares of new habitat for endangered species and support for farmers in turning fields into meadows and replenishing depleted soils.
  • Provision of £5.7 million to establish a ‘northern forest’.
  • Increased investment in overseas aid to combat poaching and illegal trade in wildlife and to extend marine protection areas.
  • A new environmental watchdog to hold government to account for environmental standards and set out an approach to agriculture and fisheries management.
  • Promotion of a net environmental-gain principle, locally and nationally, enabling housing development “without increasing the overall burden on developers”.
  • Creation of green corridors linking otherwise isolated habitats.

The plan embodies the principle of ‘natural capital’, founded on:

  • A better understanding of the benefits from nature.
  • Recognition of the environmental assets of clean air and water, wholesome food and opportunities for recreation.
  • A commitment to interact with our natural environment as an essential element in sustaining the economy.
  • The plan sits alongside the programme for implementing the Paris Agreement to cut carbon emissions and control climate change.

There will also be a review of the national planning and building regulations to ensure the planning system delivers improved flood resilience and sustainable drainage systems and makes provision for new developments to deliver a ‘biodiversity net-gain’, aiming at the least environmentally damaging locations.
An outline of a 25-year environment plan put forward by Defra in September 2015 envisaged an investment of £3 billion from the CAP to enhance the countryside with a programme focused on Green Belts, Areas of Outstanding Beauty, National Parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
However, this will no longer be available post-Brexit.
Other investments totalling £20m were also identified but will be UK-funded and incorporated in the 25 Year Plan announced this year.
Have these been fully costed and what are the chances of this ambitious programme surviving Brexit, given that our departure would evidently incur severance penalties and possibly trigger a recession?
Further, our national debt has increased over the last 10 years from £560bn to £1,760bn (36 per cent to 85 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a rate unprecedented in peacetime) and is expected to increase.
This is bad timing for a government facing a general election with an electorate preoccupied with the immediate outcome of Brexit and the prospect of a radical reordering of our national priorities to accommodate the strictures of a sinking economy (and there seems little remaining doubt that it will indeed shrink).

In any event, we can expect a new look for the ‘top 10’ agenda, possibly:

  • National Health Service and welfare
  • The Brexit Bill (estimated at £50bn-100bn)
  • Defence (a 50 per cent increase to 3 per cent of GDP)
  • Immigration control and border security
  • National transport infrastructure
  • Servicing national debt
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Agriculture/environment
  • Fisheries

The environment may begin to look like a luxury we can no longer afford. There is already talk of the ‘zombie list’, a review of the 800-1,000 items of environmental legislation inherited from Brussels for incorporation in UK law; many of these could face ‘reform’ by statutory instruments.
In January last year, MPs warned government that environmental protection must not be weakened after Brexit, while the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) chaired by Mary Creagh called on government to introduce an Environmental Protection Act under the Article 50 negotiation and warned of the risks to our countryside, farming and wildlife currently protected under EU law.
There is also a wider global perspective of environmental issues with a direct bearing on our post-Brexit strategy.
Many of the, mainly tropical, countries that export foodstuffs to the UK face increasing levels of water demand for irrigation due to the impact of climate change and over-abstraction, evidenced by depleted river flows and falling groundwater levels.
It is estimated that by 2025 1.8 billion people (20-25 per cent of the world’s population) will be living in water-scarce regions.
There are clear implications for the availability and cost of produce we import from some of these regions and we may need to plan on increasing the proportion of home-grown produce beyond the 40-50 per cent level.
We seem to have the makings of an ideological ‘set-to’ between the need to increase the proportion of productive farmland and the counter-argument, advanced by Mr Gove, for appropriating areas for wildlife.
The latter has obvious attractions, but the penalty could be reduced food security, increased costs and a corresponding increase in the tariff bill.
To put this in context, this country’s net contribution to the EU budget has been estimated as costing the UK taxpayer an average of some £160 a year; this figure includes environmental protection. Compare that with the current level of national debt interest payments per person of more than £200.
As to what all this could mean for Kent, it would seem reasonable to plan on the assumption that any environmental outcome of national significance arising from Brexit and severance from the Single Market and Customs Union will also apply locally… in some cases, such as traffic disruption, air pollution, immigration and the disproportionate loss of greenfield acreage, to a relatively high degree.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The new-look Kent Voice is out now… and you can read it here

The Autumn-Winter 2018 edition of Kent Voice has a wholly new look. See what you think (and let us know)

The latest edition of Kent Voice is out and has a completely new look, so we’d love to know what you think of it (you can email your thoughts to david.mairs@cprekent.org.uk).
Items include features on the loss of our wildlife, the potential environmental impact of Brexit and the grim reality of the vast solar farm planned for the North Kent Marshes.
It is also time to bid farewell to Christine Drury, who ends her five-year stint as CPRE Kent chair next month; she shares some reflections and thoughts with us.
Otherwise, Local Plans, stag beetles, news from across the county and a whole lot more are in there for your delectation, so read the Autumn-Winter edition of Kent Voice here

Monday, October 29, 2018

Christine Drury: final views from the chair

Food for thought… Christine Drury rarely took a breather from considering the issues of the day

At next month’s AGM, Christine Drury’s five-year term as CPRE Kent chair comes to an end. Here she offers some thoughts and reflections after what has been, even by this organisation’s standards, an extraordinarily busy time

I have lived in Kent now for 35 years; I can almost say I have put down roots here.
Certainly since I left Unilever in 2003 I have been able to get involved in my local community, campaigning and a variety of trusteeships.
In my last 10 years at Unilever I was a part of its strategy to be an environmental leader as well as a brand marketing company, setting up the Marine Stewardship Council with WWF to certify fisheries that could be called sustainable. Unilever needed 200 tonnes of sustainably-caught fish for its Birds Eye fish fingers and fillets.
We also evolved the refrigeration systems for Unilever’s two million ice-cream cabinets in a joint venture with Greenpeace.
Not everyone in the company was happy to be working with “enemy NGOs [Non-governmental Organisations]” but having been in the business for a long time I had some trust as an “internal activist”.
I always preferred the route of getting unlikely partners in the room together and we did a lot under the umbrella of Green Alliance – the organisation that former CPRE chief executive Shaun Spiers now heads up. It is a small world.
Switching from global to local sustainability when I left Unilever seemed perfectly logical, and I have probably always been a campaigner.
When Charles Oliver, then regional chair, asked if I would help CPRE in succeeding him, planning was entirely new to me.
The 2004 Planning Act had just introduced regional plans so the role of regional chair for the South East was interesting and new. Regional plans only lasted until 2009.
I was also a member of my Ashford district committee. Hilary Moorby was a very good teacher, but we did all have to keep up!
By then I was also a parish councillor and learning about planning in CPRE has always been a great help in that role.
I had also started campaigning in Ashford for a solution to the borough’s overnight lorry-parking problems, which I and others recognised as much a social and employment issue for the drivers as an environmental issue for communities.
While chair of the CPRE South East region I asked Gary Thomas if he would be a vice-chair.
He agreed provided I reciprocated, which in a nutshell was how I became a trustee and then vice-chair of CPRE Kent.
Richard Knox-Johnston succeeded Gary as CPRE Kent chairman and I took over from Richard at the November 2013 AGM.
Richard became regional chairman in addition to continuing to help CPRE Kent as a vice-president.
His was a hard act to follow. The huge public inquiry at Maidstone into the Kent International Gateway proposals had just been won, while events and campaigning were very active under the name Protect Kent.
This was a slight dilemma for me as I was also a trustee of national CPRE and I suggested we evolve to become CPRE Protect Kent.
Board meetings were still dominated by the enormous task of realising the Ivor Read legacy – a long and complicated story on which I acknowledge the depth and diligence of the work by Hilary Moorby and Alan Holmes as well as Gary.
Richard had almost completed it during his term as chairman, meaning I have been able to focus on managing the funds as if the legacy was an endowment.
The legacy has of course been transformational: it means we can have a depth of planning expertise in the branch to be able to work with districts to comment on most Local Plans and the seriously large or challenging planning applications.
We can also engage and campaign on many other issues across Kent. The Farthingloe application for more than 600 homes in the AONB has been with me throughout my time as chair.
When I took over, we were looking for ways to challenge a bad planning decision by Dover District Council.
By September 2016 the decision was quashed at the Court of Appeal, and in December last year that was confirmed in the Supreme Court.  The road to victory was by no means smooth, potholed with legal uncertainty and quite large financial risk to the charity at each stage.
We would not have succeeded without the challenge and clear thinking of the Board of Trustees and of course our legal team.
It was a salutary reminder of the risk and costs of going to court that shortly after winning at the Supreme Court we lost a case at Maidstone after a long campaign to promote the countryside over development at junction 8.
I have been asked what has changed in the five years. Some campaigns are much longer than a chair’s term; Farthingloe is just one example of that.
Change is also permanent. We all adapt to staff changes as people move on to develop their careers, and to volunteers changing as they move away – Cally Ware, for example, is now much appreciated by CPRE Shropshire.
Others we lose to mortality. I was very lucky to have Alan Holmes and Hilary Moorby for most of my time as chair.
Some retire and are difficult to replace: Margaret Micklewright’s outings have been as much part of who we are as CPRE as the planning battles.
We need to be able to reinvent what we do and how we organise ourselves.
A lot of change has also occurred at CPRE nationally. Tom Fyans has honed our evidence-based campaigning skills to make us more effective.
Alliances and partnerships are becoming even more important. They are unavoidable with such a wide range of challenges to the countryside, and they make our arguments stronger.
Five years ago, national office may have seemed less important to Kent –now we work as One CPRE and try to think of ourselves as the network rather than branches and national office. We remain independent charities, which is why good governance is vital.
I am often asked by people who know CPRE but who are not members why CPRE is so obsessed with Green Belt.
Even though we can point regularly to development incursions into Green Belts, it is instructive to listen to people in village communities who appreciate the countryside and green spaces around them but who are and feel immensely vulnerable to their countryside next door being swallowed up.
With no protection and councils frequently losing the power to decide on applications if they fail the five-year housing land supply test, Green Belts are a very important planning tool to promote and enhance communities that are not against development but do want it to be respectful and relevant to their community.
Housing is needed, but there is still a long way to go to get the right housing in the right places with the right infrastructure, not least fibre broadband! I think I will be campaigning for a while yet.
Thank you for the patience and support everyone has given me during my time as chair, including a special thank-you to Hilary Newport, and to all the staff with whom I have worked since November 2013 – those who have retired or moved on and, of course, David, Paul, Julie and Vicky.
I will hand over to the next chairman at the AGM on November 9th when my five years is up.
CPRE is a great team. I will still be around but may be doing a little more travelling with Jolyon, gardening with the robins and enjoying adventures with my grandchildren. My term as a national trustee continues until June 2019.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Ashford council told to drop 500 new properties from Local Plan

The Hothfield area is the greatest beneficiary from the inspectors’ report, with some 400 homes slashed from the building target (pic www.hothfield.org.uk)

Inspectors have ordered Ashford Borough Council to chop some 500 new properties from its Local Plan.
Sites at High Halden and Hothfield are to be deleted altogether, while five plots in other villages must be reduced in size.
The new Plan, which identifies where 13,521 homes will be built up to 2030, was approved by the council in December last year, but it must now be amended.
The Hothfield area is the greatest beneficiary from the inspectors’ conclusions, with a total of 400 proposed homes axed at Tutt Hill, near Holiday Inn, near Hothfield Mill and near Coach Drive. It is believed isolation from the village and damage to trees were the primary reasons for their exclusion.
Fifty properties at Stevenson Brothers petrol station between High Halden and Bethersden also failed to convince the inspectors.
Sites at Brook, Mersham, Aldington and Wittersham all have reduced numbers of houses to be built.
Thankfully, the inspectors have said the borough does not to add sites to compensate for those that have been dropped.

Monday, October 15, 2018