Maidstone Local Plan re-think welcomed by CPRE Kent

CPRE Kent has welcomed Maidstone Borough Council’s decision to postpone the adoption of its Local Plan.

The decision by the local authority follows a letter from Faversham MP Helen Whately to Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, asking him to ‘call in’ the Plan.

She was expressing concerns about the level of housebuilding proposed in the Plan, the prospect of business development at junction 8 of the M20 and lack of infrastructure.

The council had been expected to adopt the Plan at a meeting on Wednesday, but that has now been postponed in the wake of the letter to Mr Javid.

Gary Thomas, CPRE’S Maidstone branch chairman, said: “It’s encouraging to see Maidstone council postponing the meeting due to the uncertainties around the Plan being adopted.

“They’re listening to people’s concerns and that in itself is a step forward.

“From Maidstone’s perspective, the junction 8 site is the worst in the whole borough for employment purposes as people would be travelling across much of the county for any work created there. There would be little benefit to Maidstone.”

26th September 2017

Right Homes, Right Places?

This new consultation (Sep 14 – Nov 9) is looking at ways to deliver even more homes in the areas of highest pressure: in the introduction, Sajid Javid says: “Nobody likes indiscriminate, unplanned and unwelcome development. But most of us are willing to welcome new homes if they’re well-designed, built in the right places, and are planned with the co-operation of the local community. To win the support of local residents, we have to build homes people want to live alongside as well as in.”

He’s not wrong in saying that, but communities all across Kent are reeling in the face of already impossibly high housing targets. The new methodology for calculating housing need will see significant increases in those targets in every district across the county. Simply raising the targets for housing delivery is only going to force yet more land to be allocated; it will not direct the development that we need into the most sustainable locations.

It won’t help protect green space or the best and most versatile agricultural land. It won’t magically put right the fact that Kent is already severely water-stressed. And never forget that simply building more houses doesn’t force house prices down: the housebuilding industry has never followed the ‘pile them high and sell them cheap’ mantra of the supermarkets. We need a proper national spatial planning strategy, and planning authorities need support to deliver genuinely affordable housing that meets public needs first. Only then will communities feel able to welcome new homes.

See here for the proposed target increases in Kent and Medway: righthomes and see the consultation itself here:

15 September 2017

Biddenden Tractor Fest 2017

…a big shout out to the organisers of this year’s Tractor Fest and Country Fair at Biddenden on Saturday and Sunday (August 19 and 20)! if you are planning on being there, be sure to come and say hello to the wonderful CPRE Kent team.

Concerns over noise and air pollution at Manston Airport

We have today (12th July) submitted our consultation response to RiverOak Strategic Partnership’s consultation into the future of Manston airport.

We are concerned that the environmental and social impacts of noise and air pollution outweigh the claimed economic benefits. In contrast, the opportunity to convert this brownfield site to mixed commercial and residential use offers more realistic employment opportunities and would help of safeguard the best quality agricultural land which would otherwise be required to meet Thanet’s objectively assessed housing need.

Manston airport by Simon Moores, flickr

Director Hilary Newport said “We don’t think a new airport here would provide any overall social or economic benefits, and there is a real danger of converting the site into an airport is that is highly unlikely to be viable, and would therefore again become a blight on the area, and retard the more useful, and economically and socially beneficial uses for another decade.”

CPRE Kent also considers the negative impact of night flights on surrounding communities to be unacceptable.

The consultation period closes on 23rd July. You can read our consultation response here.

12 July 2017

We’re recruiting!

Do you have a keen interest in Kent’s countryside and in helping to create a positive future where the homes that we need are built in the right places, and that we can all share and enjoy a beautiful, thriving countryside?

We have a vacancy for a Part Time Planner. Details can be found here: Planner Job Advert Planner Person Specification and Job Description Planner application form

CPRE Kent offers great working conditions, pension and holiday entitlement.

Waterside Park – Success!

Wonderful news that the appeal against refusal to build commercial warehousing and offices on green field land near Leeds Castle and in the setting of the Kent Downs has been dismissed – and for all the right reasons.  Our landscapes and heritage are precious assets and must be safeguarded from inappropriate exploitation.  This decision will help protect this area from future speculative development and, crucially, allow Maidstone Borough to complete its Local Plan to help safeguard other sites from speculative challenges.

Read the full decision here

(picture credit: Stephen Sutherland)




Thanet Local Plan Consultation

We have set out our concerns about the unrealistic and damagingly high target for new homes and jobs in the draft Thanet Local Plan.

The plan sets a target of 5,000 new jobs. We believe this is unachievable, mainly because the catalyst for growth on which it is based – Manston Airport – has gone. We are advocating a lower target of 3,100 jobs and this would mean the housing target could be reduced.

The housing target of 12,000 new homes is based on population information that is out of date and unreliable. It fails to take account of housing proposed in neighbouring districts – especially Dover. Dover has already set a high growth housing target of 14,000 new homes. In addition, Dover District Council has recently granted planning permission for even more houses – including 500 at the Discovery Park. The Dover and Thanet housing markets are closely aligned, and we believe that Dover will inevitably meet some of the Thanet housing need. This has not been taken into account in Thanet District Council’s assessment of housing need. Continue reading

Musings on Junction 8

Maidstone Borough Council has refused planning permission for the second time for Gallagher’s ‘Waterside Park’ at J8 of the M20. This is great news for all of us who have been fighting this development over the last two years.

Despite the Maidstone planners recommending approval, the planning committee was not persuaded that the changes made to the proposal would overcome the previous reason for refusal. This was the right and obvious decision. Gallaghers had been clearly told by the Council when they were first refused permission in February that “The application was considered to be fundamentally contrary to the provisions of the Development Plan and the NPPF, and there were not considered to be any solutions to resolve this conflict.”   

Given this clear message, we’re concerned that the officers saw the revised application, for the same development, as being acceptable. This really is difficult to understand, but at least common sense and consistency of decision making has prevailed, and the committee members are to be applauded.

The battle though is not over. Gallaghers have already appealed against the earlier planning refusal, which will mean another expensive Public Inquiry next year. More worrying though, is that despite removing proposals for development at J8 from the draft Local Plan earlier this year, Council officers now want them put back in the Plan. In a report to the Council’s Planning Overview and Scrutiny Committee next Tuesday (21st) planning officers are claiming that new evidence means that J8 is the only option for new employment development.  This does not bode well for how hard the officers will fight the planning appeal when they think that J8 is a good place for development.

Let’s hope that last night’s decision will make the officers think again, and finally accept that neither their own councillors nor local people want to see damaging development in the countryside at J8.

Waterside Park Rejected

Maidstone Borough Council last night (16th October) rejected the plans for a business park at Waterside Park by Junction 8 of the M20, in a move welcomed by CPRE Kent.

We believe the planned development of warehouses, industrial premises and offices would have been hugely detrimental to the countryside setting of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the important heritage setting of Leeds Castle.

CPRE Kent was just one of many organisations opposed to the scheme – there were also objections from Kent County Council, Natural England, the Kent Downs AONB Unit, the Kent Wildlife Trust, Leeds Castle, the Joint Parishes Group and many local people.

Brian Lloyd, Senior Planner for CPRE Kent, said “This is greenfield land in the open countryside where development should not be allowed under either local or national planning policies.  We seriously questioned the claimed economic benefits to Maidstone.  There is no justification for developing in this location when considerable employment land has already been identified in area such as Ashford, Swale and Canterbury which would not impact on an AONB and on one of the county’s prime heritage and tourist sites.”


Lodge Hill: protected habitats owed to a nightingale…

Last night (4th September) Medway Council’s Planning Committee voted to approve the outline planning application for 5,000 homes at Lodge Hill.  This ex-MOD site had been identified in the last draft of the Medway Local Plan as a significant strategic location for around one-third of all Medway’s identified housing needs to 2026.  While this site was technically designated as brownfield in 2007, it has more recently been identified as one of the most important breeding sites for nightingales in the country; as a result of this, Natural England recognised its significance in 2013 by designating it a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)*.

This important designation was one of the significant reasons that the Inspector charged with testing the Medway Local Plan in 2013 advised that the Plan was sufficiently flawed that it should be abandoned; she wrote “… I am not convinced that the social and economic benefits … would outweigh the harm to a site of national importance.”  She went on to state that the modifications that would be needed to prevent damage to the SSSI were “…so significant as to amount to the Plan being re-written”.

This makes Medway Council’s resolution to grant planning permission seem all the more bizarre.  If the selection of this site as a major centre for Medway’s future development is sufficiently ill-advised as to make the whole of Medway’s Local Plan ‘unsound’, then the validity of the resolution to grant planning permission must also be somewhat shaky.

Let’s hope that the Secretary of State will give this decision the scrutiny it deserves. The National Planning Policy Framework makes it clear that in exceptional circumstances, the need for development might outweigh the importance of an SSSI or other important habitat.  In this case, the independent Inspector made it equally clear that it does not.  Let’s further hope that our National Planning Policy Framework lives up to its name this time.


*Natural England describes SSSIs thus: “…the country’s very best wildlife and/or geological sites. SSSIs include some of the most spectacular and beautiful habitats: wetlands teeming with wading birds, winding chalk rivers, flower-rich meadows, windswept shingle beaches and remote upland peat bogs.”

No Time for TEA (Thames Estuary Airport!)

Sir Howard Davis’s Airports Commission has finally announced that the idea of a wholly new hub airport in the Thames Estuary will no longer be considered a possibility.  We have to breathe a sigh of relief at this, since the enormous environmental damage, financial cost and business risk of such an enterprise have finally been clearly and damningly recognised.

Given the resounding pounding that the idea of a new ‘Boris Island’ has received this morning does give us cause to consider why so much public money has been unnecessarily spent in extending the work of the Commission in hammering the last few nails into this particular coffin.  Nevertheless, we must not allow ourselves to be distracted from the fact that the focus for airport capacity expansion is now firmly on either Gatwick or Heathrow.

CPRE Kent remains convinced – along with other Non-Governmental Organisations – that the case for expansion is far from clear-cut.  We contend that adequate airport capacity already exists; it is not passenger numbers but flight numbers that are the key parameter.  Flight numbers have not increased in line with passenger numbers, since aircraft now carry more passengers per flight.  Sensible management of transport policy, making best use of existing alternative (and less environmentally damaging) routes, could free up significant runway space (the south east has astonishingly good rail connections to mainland Europe, yet Heathrow alone carries over 10 flights per day to Paris alone).  Let’s make sensible use of the runway space that already exists – and yes, even at Manston, provided it can be operated under a sensible planning regime that prevents the erosion of night flight controls – before we rush to increase pollution, sacrifice homes, blight lives and lose green spaces.


2nd September 2014

Lower Thames Crossing

15th July 2014
Welcome news this morning from Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin that a decision on an additional crossing of the Thames will be deferred until after the impact of the new free-flow charging scheme (due to start in October) at the existing crossings can be assessed.  The free-flow system will free up capacity at the existing crossings and we’ve been pressing for a long time for this to be properly assessed before pressing ahead with expensive and environmentally-damaging road schemes.

New study maps shale and water

The BGS and EA have today released maps which show the depth and location of the important underground aquifers in England and Wales and their relationship with the shale oil and gas deposits which lie beneath them.  We welcome these maps, which contain important information that will help inform decisions over where it might be possible to safely exploit shale resources by fracking.  However, in and around Kent, the vertical separation of the aquifers and the shale which lie beneath them is only a very small part of the information that must be taken into account.

The Geology of the Weald is naturally heavily fractured as the result of ground movements in the distant past.  It is densely packed with planes of structural weakness which, if fracking were to go ahead, could well open or re-open fissures which would allow the contamination or loss of important aquifers.

In the light of recent calls to ‘cut red tape’ and lighten the burden of regulation on the oil and gas industry, we retain serious concerns over the prospect of fracking in the geologically vulnerable region which is the Weald.

See information about the maps here:

(Contains BGS materials: copyright NERC 2014)
July 3, 2014