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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Green Belt: the development pressure ramps up again

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

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

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

    Monday, February 4, 2019

Eyes to the skies, the Star Count starts tomorrow

You can play your part in monitoring light pollution

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

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

Friday, February 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

 

Monday, January 21, 2019

How demand for second homes in Thanet highlights flawed housing policy

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

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Draft Environment Bill contains ‘significant unanswered questions’

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 11, 2019

Manston DCO examination starts in Margate

Manston… are we finally on the way to some kind of resolution over its future?

The next phase in deciding the fate of the Manston airport site began this week.
The Planning Inspectorate’s examination into RiverOak Strategic Partners’ application for a Development Consent Order was marked by the preliminary meeting held at Margate Winter Gardens on Wednesday (January 9).
The meeting, which was open to the public, comprised discussion of procedural matters only – this was not an event for debate on the merits or otherwise of the application.
Three representatives of CPRE Kent (director Hilary Newport, Thanet chairman David Morrish and environment committee member Chris Lowe) were present as the four-strong Examining Authority clarified issues and some of those who had made Relevant Representations (known as Interested Parties) made themselves known.
The examination, which will take six months, will determine whether the RSP plan to reopen the site as an aviation freight hub should be regarded as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project.
If it does, the Secretary of State for Transport (currently Chris Grayling) can grant seizure of the site.
During the period of the examination, Interested Parties will be asked to give further written details of their views, while there will also be public hearings.
When the examination is concluded, the Planning Inspectorate has three months to prepare a report and recommendation for the Secretary of State, who then himself has three months to decide on the application.
Finally, there is a six-month period when that decision can be challenged in the High Court.
At Wednesday’s preliminary meeting, chaired by lead examiner Kelvin MacDonald, CPRE Kent asked that an Issue Specific Hearing be scheduled for climate-change considerations.
Among the 2,052 Relevant Representations posted on the examination website (“an almost unprecedented number for a national infrastructure application,” according to Mr MacDonald), site owner Stone Hill Park Ltd, which has plans for some 4,000 homes, business units and sporting facilities at Manston, has prepared a 668-page document laying out its principal objections to the application – primarily that the planned operation was not nationally significant and there were doubts about viability and national need.
CPRE Kent’s next involvement with the examination will be the presentation of an expanded written representation by Friday, February 15 (revised from February 8).

  • To listen to Wednesday’s preliminary meeting, click here
  • For more on Manston, see here, here,here and here
  • For CPRE Kent’s response to RSP’s Manston Consultation last year, see here

Friday, January 11, 2019

Cleve Hill: another reminder to register your interest. Pretty pleeease…

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

Sorry (sort of) to return to this theme so quickly – and it won’t be the last time – but it cannot be stressed enough how important it is to register your interest in plans for the UK’s biggest solar farm, on the North Kent Marshes.
The Planning Inspectorate’s decision to consider Cleve Hill Solar Park Ltd’s application for a Development Consent Order allowing it to build a 1,000-acre solar power station near Faversham means we all have until Saturday, January 28, to register as an Interested Party.
Your views must initially be registered in no more than 500 words.
Please note that registration does not commit you to anything. However, if you do want to become involved and make representation to the inquiry inspector, you must have registered during this period.
To go to the registration form, click here
This will also take you to a tab letting you view the application documents. You might, however, find them easier to navigate via Cleve Hill Solar Park Ltd’s website here.
CPRE Kent will of course be registering as an Interested Party. We expect our final draft to include the following concerns:

  • Damage to landscape, including tranquillity and dark skies
  • Inadequate assessment of flood risk and potential conflict with the Environment Agency’s ‘managed retreat’ strategy relating to future sea-level rise
  • Impacts on soil microclimate and hydrology
  • Ecological impacts and loss of biodiversity
  • Damage to heritage assets caused by traffic during construction and beyond the construction period
  • Loss of agricultural land
  • Threats to animal welfare

To learn more about what these plans might mean for this vast area, in one of this country’s most important areas for wetland birds, please see here

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Cleve Hill solar farm: can this really be allowed to happen?

A kestrel hovers over the marshes… how much long longer will wildlife have a future in the area? (pic GREAT)

We recently detailed the threat posed by plans for the UK’s largest solar farm on the North Kent Marshes, near Faversham.
Then the plans covered 890 acres of Graveney, Nagden and Cleve Marshes – that figure has since expanded to 1,000 acres, to allow, according to developer Cleve Hill Solar Park Ltd, for “expanded habitat management areas” dedicated to wildlife.
The increased acreage would also allow the developer to work with the Environment Agency on maintaining flood defences, the extension covering “the area where any maintenance might be needed”.
A second public consultation ended in July and drew more than 700 “pieces of feedback”, resulting in the anticipated application to the Planning Inspectorate for a Development Consent Order being delayed from August to October 31, 2018.
CPRE Kent is vehemently opposed to Cleve Hill Solar Park due to its scale, its position within the North Kent Marshes, which are internationally important for birds, and the drastic effect on the landscape.
“If I was to think of the worst possible place to put a solar farm, it would be here,” director Hilary Newport had said when the proposal was announced.
“We absolutely support the provision of renewable energy, but solar panels should be on roofs, not trashing landscapes in an astonishingly beautiful part of the North Kent Marshes.”
Dr Newport’s view strikes a chord in this part of the world. As a Faversham resident noted on social media: “If we are to lose Nagden Marshes, Graveney Marshes and Cleve Marshes to the biggest solar farm in the UK, why are the hundreds of new houses being built in Faversham not having solar rooftops?”
If that is possibly the definition of a rhetorical question, the destruction of such a huge expanse of land in an area so important for wildlife and people alike is anything but a light-hearted matter.
CPRE Kent’s response to the second public consultation totalled almost 1,700 words, our primary concerns focusing on the following areas (more may be added after scrutiny of the DCO application):

  • Damage to landscape, including tranquillity and dark skies
  • Inadequate assessment of flood risk and potential conflict with the Environment Agency’s ‘managed retreat’ strategy
  • Impacts on soil microclimate and hydrology
  • Ecological impacts
  • Damage to heritage assets caused by construction traffic
  • Loss of agricultural land
  • Threats to animal welfare

With government offering little or no incentive for solar energy to become an integral requirement for housing development – the export tariff, the money given to householders with solar panels for the electricity they provide to the national grid, ends on March 31, while it has announced that it will not be subsidising any renewable-energy projects until at least 2025 – can such an environmentally damaging proposal as Cleve Hill be justified?
CPRE Kent recognises the challenges of climate change and the government’s commitment to meeting carbon-emission targets but does not consider that the renewable-energy benefits of Cleve Hill outweigh the damage it would cause the North Kent Marshes.
We also question the sustainability of reliance on lithium-ion battery technology, with its own remote but concerning ecological impacts.
More broadly, Kent could not be accused of failing to contribute to the country’s renewable-energy needs. The website MyGridGB’s UK Renewable Energy Map shows that, in October 2017, this county had 36 solar farms either active, in construction or awaiting construction. Neighbouring Surrey, by comparison, had just two… and one of those floats on a reservoir.
Further, Kent hosts five wind farms, including, in London Array, the second-largest offshore site in the world. A sixth is planned.
Cleve Hill lies on the boundary of Swale and Canterbury districts, and two councillors from the latter local authority have pointed out in the local press that, in terms of providing ‘green energy’, “the Canterbury area alone is punching six times its weight against the national average”.
Michael Wilcox is chairman of GREAT (Graveney Rural Environment Action Team), which has been fighting the solar park plans at Cleve Hill and has been encouraged by the response to the consultation.
“I think they’ve been overwhelmed by the feedback, which has led to the delayed application,” he said.
“We haven’t really seen any changes from the developers since the consultation, so we don’t really know what’s going on, but both Kent Wildlife Trust and our local MP Helen Whately have openly come out against the scheme.”
There is a belief among some that the Cleve Hill application is a ‘done deal’, that conversations behind closed doors have secured a decision in the developer’s favour, but Mr Wilcox does not see it that way:
“I think opposition is building. I thought it might have been a done deal, a tick in the box for the carbon targets they’re chasing, but as the months have gone past it’s become glaringly obvious that it’s not green energy if you’re destroying countryside and harming wildlife. “This looks and feels like a dense industrial development and I think people question if this is the answer.
“I want to be clear: we are not against solar energy, but this kind of thing is dirty solar. Why new homes are not incorporating solar panels is a mystery – when a house is being built is the easiest time to put in solar.”
The loss of wildlife is one of the most distressing aspects of the Cleve Hill project for Mr Wilcox, who lives in Nagden.
“It’s this little pocket of land that somehow missed being designated as worthy of protection. If it’s solely down to land management, then there’s the lovely story of Elmley over on the Isle of Sheppey, where 40-odd years ago some of the site was farmed for arable and the production of barley or corn but has now been converted back and forms part of a nature reserve.
“The land here has been identified for managed retreat and conversion towards intertidal saltmarsh, but under this scheme it would be killed by a whole load of steel.
“Apparently the developer has described it as just muddy fields, but on those muddy fields there are nesting lapwings, skylarks and reed buntings, while they form part of a wider expanse necessary for birds of prey such as marsh and hen harriers.”
When considering how Cleve Hill Solar Park would look, you need to disregard anything you might already have seen elsewhere.
“It would entail about a million panels packed very densely. Rather than the familiar south-facing setting, they would have an east-west orientation and look like a factory,” said Mr Wilcox.
“The normal appearance of a solar farm is quite benign, but this design made me question the whole proposal as it’s so dense and has panels up to 4.3 metres high – as high as a London double-decker bus.
“South-facing panels have substantial space between them so they don’t shade each other, whereas east-west ones are about blanket coverage that can absorb more radiation early and late in the day.
“These would be angled at about 12 degrees – almost flat – whereas south-facing panels are 30-40 degrees.
“The panels planned for Cleve Hill would be 24 metres across with just three 30-centimetre gaps to let the rain drip off. The rows would be up to half a kilometre in length and there would need to be 2.5-metre spaces between the rows to allow for maintenance.
“In short, the ground would be receiving barely any sunlight and effectively die.”
The developer says it is looking to include “battery storage technology” in its scheme although it has not decided on the details.
“It’s likely the battery would need about nine hectares, together with a new bund around it,” said Mr Wilcox.
“The battery storage could make this more about price speculation than energy production – a similar installation in Australia is reported to earn huge profits by selling energy when it’s more expensive.”
A verdict on the proposed Cleve Hill Solar Park could be expected from the Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Energy and Strategy in late 2019. For the wildlife that depends on this special place and for the people who love it, there can only be one acceptable answer.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Thousands respond to Manston airport inquiry

Manston… so many questions

A four-strong Examining Authority will be considering more than 2,000 representations made in response to the bid to reopen the Manston airport site as a freight hub.
Following the Planning Inspectorate’s decision to consider RiverOak Strategic Partners’ case for reopening the airport through a Development Consent Order, the latest stage in one of the most contentious – and long-running – planning issues in Kent has drawn a predictably strong response.
If the panel determines that Manston should be regarded as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, the Secretary of State for Transport can grant seizure of the site.
One of the respondents is site owner Stone Hill Park Ltd, which has contrasting plans to build some 4,000 homes, business units and sporting facilities there.
Those who have registered with the Planning Inspectorate are known as Interested Parties and will be asked to a meeting, run and chaired by the Examining Authority.
This part of the process is expected to last about three months, after which the Planning Inspectorate has six months to carry out its examination.
Interested Parties will be asked to give further written details of their views during this time, while there might be public hearings.
When all that is concluded, within the next three months the Planning Inspectorate must prepare a report and recommendation for the Secretary of State, who then himself has three months to decide on the application.
Finally, there is a six-month period when that decision can be challenged in the High Court.
Meanwhile, a question to the leader of Thanet District Council about whether the local authority had produced either a Statement of Common Ground, detailing agreements and disagreements pertinent to the case, or a local impact report drew a non-committal answer.
The leader said only that the council “was engaging” with RiverOak Strategic Partners.
Thanet CPRE has chosen not to give a view on the airport as feelings on the subject are so mixed.

  • For more on Manston, see here, here and here
  • For CPRE Kent’s response to RSP’s Manston Consultation last year, see here

Monday, December 24, 2018

Cleve Hill solar farm plan: if you want to have a say, now is the time to register

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

The Planning Inspectorate last week agreed to consider proposals for the UK’s largest solar farm, on the North Kent Marshes near Faversham – and you can comment on the scheme.
Cleve Hill Solar Park Ltd’s application for a Development Consent Order that would allow it to build a 1,000-acre solar power station was accepted by the Planning Inspectorate, meaning there will now be a consultation period leading into an inquiry.
If you want to have your say on the planned Cleve Hill Solar Park, you need to register as an Interested Party – and today (Wednesday, December 19) the window for registration opened.
Your views must initially be registered in no more than 500 words by Saturday, January 28.
Registration does not commit you to anything. However, if you later wish to become involved and make representation to the inquiry inspector, you must have registered during this period.
To go to the registration form, click here
This will also take you to a tab letting you view the application documents. You might, however, find them easier to navigate via Cleve Hill Solar Park Ltd’s website here (due to the size of the files, they are uploaded on a Google Drive space).
CPRE Kent will of course be registering as an Interested Party. Our final draft is yet to be completed, but we expect it to include the following concerns:

  • Damage to landscape, including tranquillity and dark skies
  • Inadequate assessment of flood risk and potential conflict with the Environment Agency’s ‘managed retreat’ strategy relating to future sea-level rise
  • Impacts on soil microclimate and hydrology
  • Ecological impacts and loss of biodiversity
  • Damage to heritage assets caused by traffic during construction and beyond the construction period
  • Loss of agricultural land
  • Threats to animal welfare

We expect to work alongside a range of groups, so if you wish to make comments via CPRE Kent please email either:

You can, of course, register as an individual to be involved in the examination of the DCO.
For more on the saga of Cleve Hill, see here and here

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Lower Thames Crossing: is it only going to make things worse on our roads?

Travelling could be grim on the A227 if a range of development proposals comes to pass (pic Google Earth)

The Lower Thames Crossing, should it be built, would merely exacerbate traffic congestion in north-west Kent, says Alex Hills, chairman of Dartford and Gravesham CPRE.
“The A227 section that runs from the A20 to the A2 and that paces through Vigo, Culverstone, Meopham and Istead Rise is facing a massive increase in traffic,” he said.
“Work by the Gravesham Rural Residents Group (GRRG) has proved that lorries are already using this road as a cut-through.
“With 3,000 houses planned for Borough Green and Gravesham Borough Council pressing to build on Green Belt in the area, this road already faces a huge hike in traffic. A new Thames crossing would drastically increase it yet further.
“The road has pinch-points at Wrotham Hill, near Culverstone Green primary school, Meopham Green, the listed George Inn and the shops near Meopham station.
“These pinch-points make it unsuitable for large HGVs, which is why we are calling for a weight restriction to be put on the road, along with other traffic measures.
“The safety of the children attending the two schools and residents’ health and well-being on the road must take priority. To put things in perspective, it can take minutes to cross the road now, so any increase in traffic is going to really impact on people’s lives.”
Given the potential effect on the area, Alex wants to see Highways England provide the appropriate mitigation if the new crossing becomes a reality.
“Highways England has admitted that the new crossing will increase the traffic using the A227, yet it is reportedly not going to pay for the required mitigation measures.”
CPRE Kent is requesting clarity on the issue of mitigation and wants to see a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis as part of that process.
Alex concluded: “It is not right that Kent County Council should be forced to pay for problems caused by a Highways England project that will not solve the problems at the Dartford crossing, will increase traffic congestion and will increase air pollution.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

We can’t rely solely on the car forever

The proposed KenEx tram service could cut congestion significantly (pic KenEx, Thames Gateway Tramlink)

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 Dartford and Gravesham CPRE, says we should be demanding a better transport system

Since the 1950s, successive governments have pursued a transport policy that has had the car as the main form of transport on the basis that building new roads reduces congestion.
This policy has proved to have no basis in fact, with the truth being that building new roads increases congestion and proves more environmentally damaging than suggested while failing to provide the claimed economic benefits.
Other countries did not need the CPRE report The end of the road: Challenging the Road Building Consensus to tell them that an integrated green transport system is needed.
Locally, we have seen the Dartford tunnel built, which would apparently end congestion, then another tunnel and then a bridge – and now a new, very damaging, crossing that would increase both congestion and air pollution in the area.
CPRE is not anti-car – far from it – but to have a sustainable green transport system that does not destroy people’s health there needs to be more investment in other forms of transport.
Gravesend is a hostile environment for cyclists, with existing cycle routes like the ones on the Wrotham and Rochester roads being dangerous for them.
In the town centre, cyclists are banned while in other places there are signs saying ‘Responsible cyclists welcome’.
The bus service in our rural areas is appalling, while train services are struggling to cope with demand.
Green travel plans are not just about infrastructure – they are also about ensuring that trains, trams and buses connect properly so people do not have excessively long waits. They are also about ensuring our transport systems are more disabled- and senior citizen-friendly.
There is some good work being done in this area, with cycling plans being developed for Dartford town centre, Stone Parish Council developing its own cycling plan and Ebbsfleet garden city working extremely hard to develop a green travel plan, while the proposed KenEx tram line would help tackle congestion in the area, reducing traffic at the Dartford crossings by 10 per cent.
Even with other walking and cycling projects, all these projects comprise just a small amount of what is needed.
Rural areas cannot be accessed by non-road transport. For example, there is no pedestrian or cycle path between Istead Rise and Meopham. The goal for district councils, the county council and the government should be to make the car the transport option of last resort.
To get people to use public transport, it needs to be reliable, affordable and able to reach destinations in reasonable time.
Currently, it takes two hours to get from Gravesend to Maidstone by bus and 25 minutes by car – given the choice, no one is going to choose the bus.
To get more journeys completed by walking and cycling, these options need to be made safer, with separate walking and cycling paths away from roads.
It is time we demanded a better transport system.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

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