A record 2,300 people took part in this year’s Star Count. The count, held over the first three weeks of February, revealed that just 2% of participants experienced the wonders of a truly dark sky full of stars, due to the impact of light pollution caused by street lighting and other artificial lights, even in the countryside. CPRE is calling for action to tackle light pollution and enable more people to enjoy the beauty of a starry sky. The cosmic census, which was supported by the British Astronomical Association, aimed to promote dark skies and engage people in the wonders of stargazing. Star-spotters submitted the number of stars they could see within the constellation of Orion and the results used to create an interactive map displaying people’s view of the night sky. But it also demonstrated the impact that light pollution is having on people’s view of the stars. Well over half of all participants (57%) failed to see more than 10 stars, meaning they are severely impacted by light pollution. In contrast, only 9% of people experienced ‘dark skies’, counting between 21 and 30 stars, while just 2% experienced ‘truly dark skies’ and were able to count more than 30 stars – half the proportion of people able to do so during the previous Star Count, in 2014. CPRE suggests the results show we can do more to combat light pollution. Given its detrimental impact – not just on people’s view of the night sky but also the behaviour of nature and wildlife, as well as human health – we are urging the government, local councils and general public to do more to limit the impact of artificial light from streets and buildings. Emma Marrington, dark skies campaigner at CPRE, said: “We’re hugely grateful to the many people who took the time to get out and take part in our Star Count. But it’s deeply disappointing that the vast majority were unable to experience the natural wonder of a truly dark sky, blanketed with stars. Without intervention, our night sky will continue to be lost under a veil of artificial light, to the detriment of our own health, and the health of the natural world. “The Star Count results show just how far-reaching the glow from streetlights and buildings can be seen. Light doesn’t respect boundaries, and careless use can see it spread for miles from towns, cities, businesses and motorways, resulting in the loss of one of the countryside’s most magical sights – a dark, starry night sky. “By using well-designed lighting only when and where it is needed, investing in street light dimming schemes and considering part-night lighting – which should of course be done in consultation with the local community and police – councils have a fantastic opportunity to limit the damage caused by light pollution, reduce carbon emissions and save money.”
See the interactive map showing people’s view of the night sky here
The new ‘villages’ of Ashmere and Alkerden in north Kent have moved a step closer with the approval of their masterplans and design codes. Some 4,600 homes are planned for the area of Ebbsfleet known historically as Eastern Quarry but that has since been renamed Whitecliffe. The approval by Ebbsfleet Development Corporation’s planning committee backs an urban park running through the middle of it. The 667-acre site is owned by Henley Camland. Michael Cassidy, chairman of the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation board, said: “The process of giving planning permission for the ‘look and feel’ of the main next phase of housing at Ebbsfleet Garden City marks a historic turning point in the ambitions for this flagship enterprise. “It shows how intelligent use of planning powers and cooperation from landowners and developers can bring matters to a speedy conclusion and a quality outcome that befits a garden city.” Alkerden is intended to host a new ‘market centre’, with commercial, retail and community facilities and new homes. There will be a primary and secondary education campus, library, sports facilities and mixed-use centre with shops and cafes, business space, a doctors’ surgery and gym. Ashmere will reportedly contrast Alkerden with its “Kentish-influenced” design and commitment to garden city principles. Social-housing provider Clarion and developer Countryside have agreed to build up to 2,600 homes there. At nearby Castle Hill, work has already on a planned community of 1,600 properties.
In another blow to Canterbury’s rapidly diminishing
countryside, a High Court judge has dismissed an attempt to stop the building
of hundreds of homes to the east of the city.
The A28 Environmental Crisis Group had sought judicial reviews of the city
council’s approval of two neighbouring developments, one for 250 homes at
Hoplands Farm, Hersden, and the other for 370 at Chislet Colliery, a site that
had not been allocated in the Local Plan for housing.
The group’s case was based primarily on the argument that the local authority
had not taken into account the joint impact of the two schemes, especially in
relation to nearby Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve.
However, on Wednesday last week (July 24) Mrs Justice Lang ruled against the
challenges, concluding that the council had made the decisions lawfully.
The judge also denied the campaigners permission to appeal. However, Antonie
van den Broek told KentOnline that his campaign group would indeed be trying to
take the case to the Court of Appeal.
“Favourable rulings would potentially have set significant precedents for local
authorities and developers throughout the UK,” he said.
“But this is not the end of the story. We think errors have been made by
Canterbury City Council and the developers.
“This particular judge has said otherwise and also refused our applications for
permission to appeal her decisions, but we are going to take this to the Court
“These things are never about whether something is a good idea or not. It’s
about whether the law was followed.
“It’s an unusual situation in that there are two developments side by side and
by two different companies.
“Therefore, the law deems them as separate. We’ve been arguing you can’t do
that with the impact on the environment. The environment doesn’t care whether
it’s one developer or two.”
A Canterbury City Council statement read: “Between them, the two developments
will provide up to 620 much-needed homes for local people, together with
medical outlets, shops, open space and other benefits.”
Ian Thomas, chairman of the council’s planning committee, added: “We are
naturally pleased to have won both of these cases, which will allow these
important housing developments to go ahead.
“It is becoming increasingly common for opponents to new homes to launch these
types of legal proceedings. We are always very careful to ensure we follow all
the right procedures, so that if we do end up in court, we have a good chance
The decision follows a failed attempt to overturn planning permission for more
than 1,000 new homes in the Thanington area of south Canterbury.
The city council had, in July 2016, given Pentland Properties permission to
build up to 750 properties on a 73-hectare site at Cockering Farm, while in
November last year Quinn Estates was granted outline consent for up to 400
homes on a neighbouring site off Cockering Road.
Campaigner Camilla Swire then won permission to seek a judicial of the Quinn
planning permission and the council’s approval of variations to the Pentland
Properties consent, arguing that the two developments should have been
considered as a “combined masterplan”.
By the time the case came before a High Court judge, however, building had already
started on the first phase of the Pentland development, following the council’s
approval of reserved matters.
Both sites, which lie close to the Larkey Valley Wood Site of Special
Scientific Interest and in a designated Area of High Landscape Value, are
treated as a single unit in Canterbury’s Local Plan, but, with them in
different ownership and being developed separately, it was argued by Ms Swire
that the local authority had breached its own policy through failing to have
the combined masterplan.
In response, the council claimed any potential breach was merely a technicality
and that, in reality, the impact of both developments had been considered
Mr Justice Stuart-Smith appeared to concur, saying all that was missing was “a
single piece of paper” showing the two planning applications had been
considered alongside each other.
He refused the judicial review, concluding that a combined masterplan “would
have made no difference whatsoever” to the outcome of the planning
Manston airport: the very name raises more than the odd eyebrow and elicits any number of sighs, but this month’s twist in a seemingly never-ending story caught out just about everyone. Just as the Planning Inspectorate’s examination into its application for a Development Consent Order was nearing its end, RiverOak Strategic Partners agreed to buy the airport site for £16.5 million from Stone Hill Park Ltd, which had its own plans to build some 4,000 homes, business units and sporting facilities there. Three representatives from CPRE Kent (director Hilary Newport, Thanet chairman David Morrish and environment committee member Chris Lowe) had been present at various stages of the inquiry, which was led by a four-strong Examining Authority. The Planning Inspectorate gave public notice that it had completed its examination on Tuesday, July 9, confirming that its findings, conclusions and recommendations would be sent to the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, no later than Wednesday, October 9. Mr Shapps will then decide whether the airport scheme should be regarded as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project and a Development Consent Order approved; it is unlikely that the recommendations of the Examining Authority will be made public until after that decision is made. Contracts were exchanged between RSP and SHP on Wednesday, July 3, but the deal could only be completed a week later (July 10) once permission had been given by then-Secretary of State Chris Grayling. That permission was necessary due to a Special Development Order designating Manston’s use as a lorry park to cope with potential post-Brexit congestion at Dover – the contract for that runs until December 31, 2020. SHP has withdrawn its objection to the DCO and will no longer take part in the Local Plan inquiry. However, it keeps its DfT contract (and payments) in relation to the Brexit lorry-park plan, while it will be responsible for providing equipment should HGVs need to use the site. The deal leaves RSP subsidiary RiverOak MSE owning more than 95 per cent of the site required for its airport plans; the compulsory-purchase provisions of the DCO are now not essential for the reopening of the airport. SHP reportedly owned 742 acres of the 770-acre site, with some plots belonging to other parties. Mr Morrish, of Thanet CPRE, said: “These events have emphasised the need for Manston to be resolved before the draft Local Plan can be properly considered – a view that we at CPRE have consistently put forward. “Manston airport has been the elephant in the room throughout the Local Plan inquiry and there is still no real point in the Local Plan deliberations continuing until the Secretary of State for Transport has made a binding decision on the DCO.” It is understood that RSP will only be able to progress its airport plans if the Transport Secretary approves the DCO application, a Planning Inspectorate spokesman telling KentOnline: “In order to construct and operate a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, development consent is required in the form of a Development Consent Order.”
This is something most of us would surely like to see more often: housing development on brownfield sites. Proposals for 185 new homes in two such locations have been approved by Dover District Council’s planning committee. Planning permission was granted for 150 homes at the former Buckland Hospital site, with backing for another 35 at the former Stalco engineering works in Great Mongeham. Both brownfield sites were allocated for housing development in DDC’s Allocations Local Plan. Nick Kenton, DDC’s portfolio holder for planning, said: “I welcome the committee’s decision to approve these sites for housing development, which will go some considerable way towards meeting the target set by the government to build 629 new homes in the district every year. “The development of brownfield sites is challenging but one that we need to embrace if we are to reduce the pressure to build on greenfield sites.”
Christine Drury, who CPRE Kent members will know through her time as branch chairman, was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s national conference in Birmingham. Christine stood down from her five-year Kent role at last year’s AGM, held at Lenham in November, while her time on the national trustee board came to an end this year. She is now a CPRE national vice-president. The Lifetime Achievement Award “recognises some truly exceptional individuals who have helped CPRE in extraordinary ways over long periods of time and made an indelible mark on their colleagues and friends who have nominated them”. Christine was one of three people handed the award by national chair Su Sayer, the others being Leslie Ashworth from CPRE Northumberland and Ben Nash from CPRE Herefordshire. Warm congratulations to all from CPRE Kent!
To read more about Christine’s achievements, please click here
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is in the process of completing its Local Plan, a key part of which is meeting a housing target in line with government methodology. This will mean a huge increase in housebuilding. Under the new formula imposed by the government, the borough will be required to build 13,500 dwellings by 2036 more than double the number required under the previous Core Strategy. Many housing developments have already been permitted on valuable Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Green Belt land, such as at Brick Kiln Farm, Cranbrook, resulting in the loss of part of one of the finest remaining medieval landscapes in Europe. The proposed new ‘garden village’ (or new town) at Capel has already been announced, but this is the tip of the iceberg: smaller developments will happen across our rural areas.
A chance to protect the AONB and Green Belt missed The planning system allows TWBC to protect the Green Belt, but in the case of Capel it appears it has chosen not to do so. This is despite the council’s Green Belt Study identifying “release” of this broad area from the Green Belt as causing a very high level of harm to the Green Belt (Tunbridge Wells Green Belt Study Stage 2, Land Use Consultants, 2017). Paragraph 11b and Footnote 6 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) 2019 provide an exception to the requirement to meet housing ‘needs’ where the application of policies in the NPPF protecting Green Belt, AONB, irreplaceable habitats, heritage assets and areas at risk of flooding provide a strong reason for restricting development. Some 70 per cent of the borough is designated as AONB and 22 per cent as Green Belt, while Flood Zone 3 covers almost 7 per cent. This compares with some 25 per cent of England that is National Park or AONB, and 12.5 per cent of England that is Green Belt.
Land lost based on incorrect housing need forecasts There is a prevailing false assumption that simply building more homes, of any kind, will bring down prices. Councils are placed under ever-increasing pressure to meet unrealisable housing targets, compelled to release more land for development and grant more planning permissions, even while many sites (such as the brownfield cinema site in Tunbridge Wells) that already have permission are not built out. Last year, the final report of Sir Oliver Letwin’s review of build-out rates found that the largest housebuilders were consistently delivering expensive homogenous homes only as fast as the open market could absorb them without lowering prices. This business model deliberately and explicitly fails to result in the reduction in house prices assumed by those who advocate unconstrained market housebuilding as a solution to the affordability crisis. It does not and cannot deliver the kind of homes that communities need; rather, it will continue to cover the countryside in poor-quality, piecemeal development. Worse still, because the ‘standard method’ for estimating local housing need is based on the relationship between house prices and incomes, building more expensive homes, especially in rural areas, leads to an increase in the apparent demand for housing calculated using this method and the cycle of unaffordable speculative housebuilding continues. The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics on housing affordability in England and Wales show worsening levels of affordability over a five-year period across most of the country, despite the consistent weakening of the planning system. At present, the planning system actively reinforces market trends. The standardised method for calculating ‘objectively assessed need’ for housing in each local planning authority area, which takes household growth projections as a baseline and adjusts them according to market signals, concentrates growth and investment in areas that are already economically buoyant and have overheated housing markets. In the long run, this simply stokes more demand, further inflating rents and house prices, straining local services and exacerbating the oppositional nature of the planning process. Moreover, it further unbalances the national economy. Government planning policy, as set out in the revised and updated 2019 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), prioritises driving up the overall quantum of homes delivered over other considerations, including tenure mix. It also holds local authorities to account for things outside their control, such as the failure of the volume housebuilders to build out sites quickly. The introduction of the Housing Delivery Test (recently failed by 108 authorities) places councils under such pressure to deliver more homes that it is difficult for them to reject proposals for inappropriate developments, including those that do not comply with local affordable housing policies. Moreover, many applications that initially propose to meet local affordable housing requirements are later renegotiated by developers on the grounds of viability. CPRE’s 2018 research with Shelter found that rural sites where a viability assessment was used saw a 48 per cent drop in the number of affordable homes delivered. CPRE’s report on the State of the Green Belt 2018 demonstrated that building on the Green Belt was not solving the affordable housing crisis and would not do so. Last year, 72 per cent of homes built on greenfield land within the Green Belt were unaffordable by the government’s own definition. Of the 460,000 homes that were planned at the time of the report to be built on land released from the Green Belt (a figure that doesn’t include the 4,500 additional houses now planned for Capel and Paddock Wood), the percentage of unaffordable homes would increase to 78 per cent. Local authorities with Green Belt land have enough brownfield land for more than 720,000 homes, the report found, much of which was in areas with a high need for housing and existing infrastructure.
Land lost due to low-density housebuilding TWBC may do its best to put homes on ‘brownfield’ sites, and on areas outside the Green Belt or AONB, but the target is so high that many houses will have to be on Green Belt or AONB land. An important way to reduce the amount of land required is to maximise the density of each development. There are two reasons this is difficult in practice. The first is that it is more profitable for developers to build big houses with plenty of land. Secondly, neighbours, faced with a planning application, often ask for the number of homes to be built on a site to be reduced, minimising the impact. We all need to realise the result of that: another piece of land will need to be sacrificed to take the houses not built here. The Campaign to Protect Rural England and TWBC both recognise 30 homes per hectare as a fair target for new developments. Many of the planning applications received are for 15-20 homes per hectare. This means that up to twice as much land is needed for the same number of homes. Somewhere else? No, your village will have to provide some of the land. Future generations will ask why we sacrificed land in this way – land that might still be green. There is another reason density is important. The borough desperately needs more affordable housing. Many parish councils have heard from residents that their children are being priced out of the area, and the supply of new affordable homes in the villages is way below the need. Low density simply means more expensive housing. Higher-density housing does not need to be ugly. Some of the most desirable properties in our area are terraced cottages on village streets: the high-density housing of the past. There are clusters of homes in converted buildings around old farmyards that use land very efficiently. Even in modern developments a village atmosphere can be created with terraces, while maisonettes and other three-storey developments can be an attractive part of the development. Higher-density development makes public transport more viable. Some sites are not suitable for higher-density housing. The answer in most cases is not to accept the low density but to leave the land green. Over the planning period, the amount of land sacrificed by low-density development could be up to 1,000 hectares – 1,400 football pitches. We suggest that an opportunity cost should be applied to proposals for low- density development: the land to be sacrificed in the future. A five-hectare plot built at 15 to the hectare has sacrificed 2.5 hectares of land that might still be green. Meanwhile, despite clear government guidance that “where there is an existing or anticipated shortage of land for meeting identified housing needs, it is especially important that planning policies and decisions avoid homes being built at low densities, and ensure that developments make optimal use of the potential of each site” (NPPF para 123), TWBC has been granting planning permission on many sites at low densities. For example, on a partially brownfield site in the Green Belt at Five Oak Green the borough council is applying to grant itself permission for three four-bedroom and two five-bedroom market houses on a half-hectare plot, a rate of a mere 10 dwellings per hectare, with no affordable housing (19/01586/OUT Land West Of Sychem Place Five Oak Green). Future generations will ask why we both sacrificed land in this way – including some of our most precious landscapes – and failed to build the homes our young people need.
Plans for a combined heat and power near Sittingbourne have been approved despite its visual impact on the Saxon Shore Way. Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, announced in a letter that he would issue a development consent order for the Kemsley Mill K4 Combined Heat and Power Generating Station. He concluded that its benefits would outweigh any potential negative visual impacts. The order grants development consent for the construction and operation of a gas-fired combined heat and power generating station with a gross electricity-generating capacity of up to 73MW; it will be built within the boundary of Kemsley Paper Mill. The letter said that a planning inspector had examined the application and concluded that “the potential adverse visual and landscape impacts of the proposed development when viewed from certain vantage points along the Saxon Shore Way… cannot be entirely mitigated”. The applicant had apparently “assessed that while there would be no significant adverse visual or landscape impacts from individual locations in the vicinity of the development, a person walking along the Saxon Shore Way designated footpath would encounter a much greater degree of impact”. The applicant “did not offer any mitigation as it felt that it would not be possible to achieve a meaningful reduction in impact”. The letter added that Mr Clark had noted that a report from Swale Borough Council concluded that the development “would not add any adverse visual or landscape effects to the existing industrial cluster of buildings”. “The [inspector] also notes that the design features of the development – including the colour scheme – would be subject to approval by Swale Borough Council and that the final agreed design might lead to mitigation of the impacts,” the letter continued, adding that Mr Clark agreed with the inspector that the visual and cumulative effects would not outweigh the benefits of the project. Those benefits included “meeting national need for additional electricity generation capacity”.
Proposals for a 2,000-home garden community at Marden have sparked a huge wave of opposition. After almost 2,000 people marched through the village (still!) in protest during the spring, a petition carrying almost 3,000 names was handed to 10 Downing Street on Friday (July 12). The March for Marden, on Saturday, May 18, organised by Marden Planning Opposition, had seen protestors take to the streets wearing yellow and black – the colours that have bedecked much of the village on window posters and hedge banners over recent weeks. Meanwhile, the group has set up a website (see here); drawn national media coverage; and seen its Facebook group attract more than 1,000 members. Chairman Claudine Russell said: “The scale of this proposal is truly shocking and has united the people of Marden in fighting this development. “We simply don’t have the infrastructure or services to support 2,000 more houses and two new schools, and it would mean Marden would cease to be a village and instead become a town. “We are determined to show the council the strength of opposition as early as possible in the process. The scale of this development, which effectively doubles the size of Marden, is unthinkable in terms of traffic congestion on country roads, loss of wildlife habitat and negative impact on both the village’s heritage and the well-being of the people who live here.” The proposals have been submitted to Maidstone Borough Council by three landowners, developer Countryside Properties and consultancy DHA Planning in response to the local authority’s Call for Sites ahead of its Local Plan review in 2022. Countryside Properties has argued that Marden would benefit from the scheme through new facilities and better links to Maidstone town centre; it also says it is speaking with people who live and work in the village. The campaign against the plan is supported by Helen Grant, MP for Maidstone and The Weald, who said: “We need to make sure the homes we need are built in the right places with the required infrastructure, and this proposed development is simply not in keeping with the beautiful rural community of Marden.”
As you know, CPRE is strictly non-political. So, without any comment on the Conservative Party leadership contest, we simply present here your opportunity to tell the next Tory leader, and indeed Prime Minister, what matters most to you. The survey has been put together by the Conservative Party, which urges respondents to “tell us what matters to you – and we’ll tell them”. It really is the quickest of surveys and gives you the chance to tell government how much the countryside and environment matter to you. Click here if you would like to take part.
Some 10,000 people are expected at Westminster this week (Wednesday, June 26) to call for urgent action on climate change. Do you want to join them? The rally has been organised by Greener UK and The Climate Coalition, which says: “The government has taken a step forward by setting the long-term target of ending our contribution to climate change, but we need policies to get us on track and slash our emissions now. “To tackle the environmental crisis, we also need our politicians to pass a strong Environment Bill that can restore nature, cut plastic pollution and improve air quality. “We need as many people as possible showing their MPs that now is the time for bold action. “On June 26, thousands of us from every corner of Britain will take our message straight to Parliament in what we hope will be the largest mass lobby for climate and the environment the UK has ever seen.” The Campaign Against Climate Change adds: “Around 10,000 are expected to gather in Westminster, in groups with others from their constituency. It’s an opportunity to talk to your MP and demonstrate that their constituents are calling for urgent action on climate change!” Many will be going to the rally, labelled The Time Is Now and which runs from 1pm-4pm, as individuals, families and friends, but many organisations and charities are taking part, among them CPRE. The CPRE website has a form, which you can fill in here if you would like to go. This will give an idea of how many people are going and from which district. CPRE has clarified the aims of the rally on its website: “The Time Is Now as a group will be calling on government to: “Commit to a target of reaching ‘net-zero’ carbon emissions by 2045. This is the technical way of saying we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to a level where the UK no longer contributes to climate change. “Bring in legally binding targets for nature’s recovery, focusing on important things like clean air, waste and resources, soil, water quality and biodiversity. “We’ll also be raising other issues with MPs, such as opposing the government’s proposals to fast-track fracking and making sure new homes are built to be energy efficient.” We are encouraging as many people as possible to be at Westminster on Wednesday; we have CPRE Kent signs here at the office if you would like to take them (phone 01233 714540). Further, it would be helpful if you could share this story on Facebook and Twitter.
An architecture student is £300 better off after winning a prestigious award sponsored by CPRE Kent’s Historic Buildings Committee. Ayako Seki’s Dover Castle portfolio saw her take the Gravett Award, given for the best observational drawings of buildings or structures produced over the past year by an undergraduate at Kent School of Architecture, part of the University of Kent at Canterbury. The award is named after Kent historic buildings enthusiast Kenneth Gravett, who died in 1999. It both rewards excellence among students and encourages the recording of existing buildings through hand-drawing. Historic England says drawings of existing buildings and structures are “used to aid understanding by observation and close contact with building fabric. They are particularly useful for vernacular buildings and architectural details crucial to the history of a building or site.” A total of 119 students had entered for the award, with just eight shortlisted. Ptolemy Dean, one of the country’s finest architects and a former Kent College pupil, chaired the judging panel, which was completed by Stuart Page and Clive Bowley. It was, of course, cheers all round, Ptolemy having been awarded an OBE earlier this month (June). Graham Horner, secretary of the Historic Buildings Committee, said: “The entries were once again of a very high standard. The finalists all got to present their work in person and get feedback from the judging panel. “Ms Seki impressed the panel with her passion for, and understanding of the functionality of, the castle structure.”
The delights of Wildwood Discovery Park were savoured by an excited group of CPRE Kent members, supporters and friends on an exclusive tour of this very special place. Julie Davies, a member of the CPRE Kent planning team, led a party of 14 on Saturday, June 8, as they learnt about the conservation of water voles, harvest mice and dormice before meeting rescued red foxes as they were fed by their keeper. The afternoon allowed the group to wander around the park as they chose, getting to see fantastic animals such as bears, wolves and badgers. And some, we can be assured, took full advantage of the opportunity to eat at the wonderful café! Our next event is Christmas dinner at The George in Molash on Friday, November 29. Get out your diaries and mark the date right now!
Now the dust has settled from May’s local elections, we can reflect on some dramatic changes across the South East’s political landscape, even if Kent was not as affected as some of its neighbours. Such was the widespread shift in allegiances that the London Green Belt Council was moved to comment: “One of the lessons of [the] local elections is that voters place greater emphasis on protection of the environment than on almost any other issue. “According to research by the LGBC, the ruling groups in local authorities that allocated Green Belt countryside and green spaces for housing development in their Local Plans have been decisively punished by the electorate for doing so. “Analysis by the LGBC of [the] council elections shows that where authorities had proposed development on Green Belt land, the ruling party in each case had been voted out of office or its majority substantially reduced. “While in other parts of England, Brexit and other national issues may have determined the course of the recent elections, it is clear that in counties such as Surrey, Berkshire, Essex and Hertfordshire, which are within the London Metropolitan Green Belt (LMGB), the outcome of district and borough councils had been influenced more by communities’ anger at proposals to build housing estates on Green Belt land than by any other concern.” It was in Surrey, perhaps politically the bluest of counties, that the swing was most striking. The Conservatives, the ruling party in the majority of the county’s district and borough councils, lost 117 councillors (out of 1,269 losses in total), meaning Surrey accounted for almost 10 per cent of all Conservative losses in May’s local elections. Throughout England the Conservatives lost control of 41 councils, six of them in Surrey. According to the LGBC, the Conservative electoral performance was worst in the three Surrey districts where the Local Plans threatened Green Belt land for housing: Tandridge, Guildford and Waverley. In each of these areas, Conservatives lost control of the local councils to residents’ associations, local campaign groups and independent candidates opposed to the Local Plans and who were pledged to defend the Green Belt from development. In Guildford, the newly-formed Guildford and Villages group, which stood on a platform of defending the Green Belt, won 15 seats, and an existing local party, the Guildford Greenbelt Group, won an additional seat, giving them a total of four. This, together with the seats won by the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, almost all taken from the Conservatives, resulted in a reduction in the number of Conservative councillors from 31 to nine. The defeated council leader admitted that concerns about building on the Green Belt had been crucial in determining the outcome. Hertfordshire saw the Conservatives lose control of three district councils – North Hertfordshire, St Albans and Welwyn & Hatfield – due to opposition to Local Plans proposing loss of Green Belt. In each of these districts there could have been even greater losses had the whole council been up for election. In Kent, although the Conservatives suffered some losses, there was nothing like the groundswell of change experienced in neighbouring counties. That might be something to think about. Richard Knox-Johnston, chairman of the London Green Belt Council and CPRE Kent vice-president, said: “The electorate punished the ruling party in boroughs and districts where they wanted to build housing estates on Green Belt countryside. “In the local elections, dozens of pro-Green Belt councillors were elected in Tandridge, Guildford and Waverley, overturning once-impregnable Conservative majorities. “There is a powerful lesson here for all political parties in London and the Home Counties that tampering with the boundaries of the Green Belt will result in further losses of councils to independent and single-issue Green Belt campaign groups. “Proposals to remove land from the Green Belt in order to build on it are always extremely unpopular, as people rightly value and cherish their access to countryside and open spaces. “In the cases of Tandridge, Guildford and Waverley, it is clear that the Green Belt has become a major election issue, with profound consequences for the ruling party. “The elections prove that the environment is a ‘hot issue’ in many areas. Local Plans should protect the Green Belt and should concentrate new development on urban and brownfield sites in need of regeneration.”
We are indebted to the local media for two stories highlighting some of the many issues affecting Thanet. The district is usually at the wrong end of socio-economic statistics, so it comes as no surprise to learn it has the highest proportion of children living in poverty in the county, even taking into account a 4 per cent fall on the previous year (2017-18). The figure of 35 per cent equates to a staggering one child in three (some 11,500) living below the breadline in Thanet, the Kent Messenger Group reports. This compares with a Kent average of 28 per cent and figures from the ‘right’ end of the table: Tunbridge Wells (22 per cent) and Sevenoaks (23 per cent). Now consider the issue of rising property prices in Thanet – indeed the entire Kent coast, where it costs an average of £150,000 more to buy a home than it did 10 years ago. House prices across Thanet rose by an average of 48 per cent over the past decade; in apparently trendy Margate, the hike was 55 per cent, from £151,520 to £235,012. The spiralling increase is, of course, fired largely by London and puts the prospect of local people buying their first home ever-further out of reach. It is against such a backdrop that the government’s much-criticised housing methodology is anticipated to produce an Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) of 17,140 new homes in Thanet between 2016 and 2031. It is a number that is highly unlikely to be fulfilled; in the region of 8,500 homes were built in the past 20 years, so the rate would need to more than double for the OAN to be achieved. And when such a shortfall occurs, a local authority is unable to demonstrate a five-year housing supply, leaving the door wide open for speculative developers to try their luck at just about anything, no matter how inappropriate or undesirable. There is a growing belief among some commentators that the ludicrous housing targets being imposed on some (but by no means all) local authorities are designed to do just that: effectively put planning powers in the hands of developers. Or is that a conspiracy theory too far? CPRE Kent has long advocated the building of social housing for local people, highlighting the fact that developers’ keenness to put up four- and five-bedroom houses at prices beyond the wildest dreams of many is going to do precious little to ease the much-reported ‘housing crisis’. Thanet residents concerned at the manner in which property prices are being skewed are often told of the ‘trickle-down effect’: the notion that an influx of cash-rich newcomers shares the posterity far and wide. The idea would in truth seem to hold little truth, at least if those child poverty figures are anything to go by.
The saga of Thanet planning rarely makes uplifting reading, but for more see here, here, here, here and here