‘Powerful lesson’ to politicians that our countryside matters… but Kent doesn’t witness dramatic change

Yes, people do care about the countryside (pic James Stringer)

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.”

Monday, June 17, 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

Green Belt: not as safe as you might like to think

Is nothing sacred? The Green Belt at Lullingstone (pic Susan Pittman)

Anyone who believed Green Belt designation might mean land was safe from development would appear to be sadly misguided if CPRE analysis is anything to go by.
This organisation’s figures reveal that almost half a million new homes are targeted for land to be released from the Green Belt – and very few of those will be classed as genuinely affordable.
Our analysis by the charity revealed that last year 72 per cent  of the homes built on greenfield land within the Green Belt could not be classed as affordable under the government’s own definition.
That depressing figure is set to rise to 78 per cent for the 460,000 homes planned for land due to be released from the Green Belt, according to CPRE’S State of the Green Belt report.
Tom Fyans, CPRE director of campaigns and policy, said: “We are being sold a lie by many developers. As they sell off and gobble up the Green Belt to build low-density, unaffordable housing, young families go on struggling to afford a place to live.
“The affordable-housing crisis must be addressed with increasing urgency while acknowledging that, far from providing the solution, building on the Green Belt only serves to entrench the issue.
“The government is failing in its commitment to protect the Green Belt – it is being eroded at an alarming rate.
“But it is essential, if the Green Belt is to fulfil its main purposes and provide 30 million of us with access to the benefits of the countryside, that the redevelopment of brownfield land is prioritised, and Green Belt protection strengthened.”
The charity argued that brownfield land, which has previously been used for housing or industrial development, could accommodate more than one million homes in England.
Local authorities with Green Belt land have enough brownfield sites for more than 720,000 homes, says the CPRE report.
The government has, however, defended its position on the Green Belt. A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We are clear that building the homes our country needs does not mean tearing up our countryside.
“Last year the number of new homes built was the highest in a decade, and only 0.02 per cent of the Green Belt was developed for residential use.
“We are adding more certainty to the planning system and our new planning rulebook strengthens national protections for the Green Belt.”
As well as a genuine ‘brownfield first’ approach to development, CPRE is urging the government to:

  • Retain its commitment to protect the Green Belt by establishing long-term boundaries
  • Halt speculative development in the Green Belt
  • Develop clear guidance for local authorities on housing requirements to protect designated land
  • Support the creation of new Green Belts where local authorities have established a clear need for them

Monday, September 17, 2018

Hundreds turn out for Gravesham Green Belt meeting

Richard Knox-Johnston, CPRE Kent vice-president, gives his presentation at the Istead Rise meeting

Almost 300 people packed Istead Rise community centre for a public meeting about housing development in north-west Kent.
The event focused on Gravesham Borough Council’s local plan consultation and questionnaire. It had been called by Gravesham Rural Residents Group because, it says, the local authority has not held any such meetings.
It was the first public meeting organised by GRRG, an umbrella action group that brings together representatives from the borough’s rural areas to debate the consultation review and develop a united approach.
Gravesham council is reviewing its policies towards the Metropolitan Green Belt and suggesting that some 2,000 homes could be built on sites currently within it.
At the meeting, on Friday, May 18, council leader David Turner defended the Green Belt review, which could remove land from the Green Belt to allow for new housing.
He said if this review was not held, there was a risk the government’s planning inspectors might take control of the process.
Bob Lane then gave a talk and slide show, with population projections challenging the council view that it needed to build up to 2,000 homes on Green Belt land, having increased its target from 6,000 new houses to 8,000.
The council’s belief that it had to wilt to pressure from Westminster or planning inspectors was challenged by guest speaker Richard Knox-Johnston, CPRE Kent vice-president.
His presentation (with slides) also illustrated why the Green Belt should be protected.
He pointed out that 2,000 houses would generate some 10,000 road journeys a day; this shocked many of those present due to the air pollution it would generate.
Mr Knox-Johnston agreed with Mr Lane that building on greenfield sites would allow developers to sell new housing at premium prices, which would not provide affordable homes for young families and first-time buyers – neither would it help residents on the council waiting list.
The audience applauded loudly both Mr Lane and Mr Richard Knox-Johnston at various points in their talks.
Local MP Adam Holloway gave his support to protection of the Green Belt and talked about his discussions with the Housing Minister.
The meeting wound up with a question-and-answer debate with the panel. Many residents expressed strong opposition to the council’s consideration of building on Green Belt land when more than 50 brownfield sites were empty or derelict in the borough.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Green Belt champion to address Gravesham meeting

This land near Higham is threatened with development for the planned Lower Thames Crossing (pic Paul Buckley)

Richard Knox-Johnston, CPRE Kent vice-president, will take to the stage at Istead Rise on Friday
(pic KMTV)

Richard Knox-Johnston, CPRE Kent vice-president, is joining the fray as campaigners step up their efforts to protect Green Belt land in Gravesham.
Mr Knox-Johnston, who is also chairman of the London Green Belt Council, will be speaking at a public meeting about housing development in the borough at Istead Rise this month.
The meeting is being organised by Gravesham Rural Residents Group because it says Gravesham Borough Council is not holding any such events as it reviews its Local Plan core strategy.
The council appears to be suggesting that 2,000 more homes than previously anticipated will need to be built in the borough and GRRG, of which Gravesham CPRE is a member, says the majority of options to cater for them entail the release of land from the Metropolitan Green Belt for development.
Although it has not set up any meetings about its proposals, GBC has produced a questionnaire asking residents for their views. However, the rural group believes this is flawed and “designed to make [respondents] support building on the Green Belt”.
As such, it is asking people not to fill in the questionnaire until they have been to the Istead Rise meeting, where they will be advised how to complete it if they do not wanting building on the Green Belt.
In a bid to attract as wide an audience as possible, the group is posing the following questions via social media:

Do you want more air pollution?

Do you want to wait longer for medical treatment?

Do you want your journeys to take longer? (traffic on the A227 is set to increase by 10,000 vehicles a day due to the planned Lower Thames Crossing)

Do you not want your children to attend the school of your choice?

Do you want to live in an extension of London?

Alex Hills, Gravesham CPRE chairman, said: “Gravesham Borough Council wants to build 2,000 homes on your Green Belt that they do not need to build.
“If you value your Green Belt, now is the time to fight for it!”

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Is Gravesham Green Belt up for grabs?

More Gravesham countryside could be lost to housing. This is Shorne Woods (pic Paul Buckley)

Fears of our Gravesham committee for the future of Metropolitan Green Belt land in the district appear to have been well founded.
The borough council has launched a consultation on proposals for the review of its Local Plan core strategy, which suggest 2,000 more homes than previously anticipated will need to be built in Gravesham.
The majority of options to cater for them entail the “release of land from the Green Belt for development”.
Gravesham CPRE belongs to Gravesham Rural Residents Group, a group formed in 2011 to defend the Green Belt, and Alex Hills has been active in the campaign.
Anticipating what was to come, the CPRE Gravesham chairman said in November last year: “The group is ready to fight again as people in Gravesham care about the Green Belt.
“In this area healthcare is at breaking point, air pollution is at dangerous levels – every one of our services is at breaking point, water supply and flooding risk in Kent are now pressing questions and our roads face gridlock – the Thames crossing alone will cause a doubling of the traffic on the A227, which runs north to south right through Gravesham.
“Is it not time we questioned the growth targets?”
Now the council, in launching its eight-week consultation, has identified three main areas for review:

  • How much development is needed
  • Where this development should be
  • If and how the Green Belt or any other policy constraints need to be changed to accommodate development

The local authority says a strategic housing market assessment carried out as part of the evidence base of the review found Gravesham had “a higher housing requirement of 7,900 homes, more than the 6,170 in the current plan”.
Further, it claims that an analysis using the government’s proposed standardised housing need assessment methodology suggests this should rise again to 8,000.
The council statement says: “When all urban sites and planning permissions are taken into account, Gravesham is about 2,000 homes short of its 2028 requirement.”
The options for housing allocation include:

  • Intensification of existing settlements
  • Expansion of existing urban areas
  • Creation of “a single new settlement through the merger of existing settlements”
  • Creation of a free-standing new settlement

The council document does not identify specific Green Belt sites for development but highlights an area running from Culverstone Green in the south of Gravesham up the A227 to Higham in the north as “a primary area of search”.
Council leader David Turner said: “With no Local Plan, the Green Belt could lose virtually all protection it has, allowing the local planning process to be sidestepped.
“Ideally, we would avoid building on Green Belt land. However, as part of this process, the council must look at all possible sites and rule them in or out.
“We are starting from the principle of brownfield land and other sites within the urban confines first but may need to seek additional land to meet our needs.
“When this consultation is complete, the council will draw up more detailed options and everyone will get the chance to comment again on those next year.”
The council intends to consult on a submission draft of its Local Plan in 2020, leading to submission, examination and adoption in 2021.
The consultation runs until June 20, 2018. If you would like to take part, visit bit.ly/2HDpjCF

Monday, April 30, 2018

We still have to fight for Gravesham’s Green Belt, says district chairman

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

Many doubtless gave a hefty sigh of relief on Wednesday when Chancellor Philip Hammond gave an assurance that the country’s Green Belts were safe from development.
However, all is not necessarily as rosy in the garden as it might seem. Alex Hills, CPRE Kent’s committee chairman for Gravesham, is preparing to fight proposals for 2,000 homes in the area of the Metropolitan Green Belt that falls within the district.
CPRE will be joining its talents with other members of the Gravesham Rural Residents Group, a group formed in 2011 to defend the Green Belt.
“The group is ready to fight again as people in Gravesham care about the Green Belt,” said Alex.
“In this area healthcare is at breaking point, air pollution is at dangerous levels – every one of our services is at breaking point, water supply and flooding risk in Kent are now pressing questions and our roads face gridlock – the Thames crossing alone will cause a doubling of the traffic on the A227, which run north to south right through Gravesham.
“Is it not time we questioned the growth targets?
“Governments of different colours for many years have shown that they have no understanding of what sustainability means – people need to stand up and say enough is enough.
“We need to spell out to the government what living in this area is really like as it is clear they do not know – if they did, housing targets would have been drastically reduced.
“We need our councillors to turn round to the government and say we can not build more houses as there is not the infrastructure for them.
“We need all the South East MPs to do their job and say enough is enough.
“Standing up to excessive development is not about being a nimby – it is about protecting essential services for everyone.
“It is also about fixing the broken planning system that allows developers to build what they like where they like when they should be building the properties people need, where they are needed.”

Friday, November 24, 2017