“…and for this relief, much thanks”, as Shakespeare might have said. The plans for a ‘world-class’ theme park on the post-industrial landscape of the Swanscombe peninsula have been withdrawn, just before the formal public examination was due to begin.
For a whole decade the proposals have been discussed and amended and discussed again, but it is more recently that it has become clear just how important the site has become for wildlife and nature as heavy industries turned away from the site.
Indeed, Natural England recognised this in November 2021 when it granted the site its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest for the plants, geology, birds and invertebrates the site houses. It is the complex and fragile inter-linkages of these species that make the site so special, and it is one of only two UK sites where the critically endangered distinguished jumping spider can be found (the other is on the far side of the Thames on the West Thurrock Marshes).
Support for the site’s promotion began to dwindle with the departure of the BBC and ITV as backers in February. Today we have learned that the promoters have withdrawn the application, providing welcome respite from the threat of development on this sensitive site for the time being. But – along with the community groups and other environmental NGOs who have worked tirelessly to get this far – we will continue to stand firm to protect this special area from any further proposals for inappropriate development.
Whisper it quietly (or not), but we are finally seeing progress with examination of the proposed London Resort theme park at Swanscombe. After delays and uncertainty caused by developer LRCH asking for more time to address both transport issues and the peninsula’s designation as a Site of Scientific Interest – together with its failure to produce necessary documents and doubts that it had consulted enough parties in preparing submissions – we now have a date for the preliminary hearing. A letter from Rynd Smith, lead panel member for the Planning Inspectorate’s examining authority, announced yesterday (Monday, February 14) that the meeting will be held virtually on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 29-30 (this year!), with reserve dates of Tuesday and Wednesday, April 5-6, should they be required. Yesterday’s letter read: “The purpose of the Preliminary Meeting is purely procedural, to enable views to be put to us about when and how the application should be examined. The Agenda for the meeting… divides the meeting into two stages. “• Stage 1 will be held on 29 and 30 March 2022 and will consider the question of when to examine the application in the light of recent and likely future progress by the Applicant to address important and relevant issues and provide supporting information. It will support a decision on the timing of the examination. “• Stage 2 will be held on 30 March if required and would consider how to examine the application in circumstances where a decision on timing has been made and the application is proposed to enter Examination commencing at the end of March 2022.” All those wanting to participate in the preliminary meeting must register by Tuesday, March 15. In essence, we now have a roadmap for examination of this contentious project to proceed…
In one of our longer-running sagas, National Highways (formerly Highways England) has announced four Lower Thames Crossing drop-in events at which visitors can learn about project updates and ask any questions they have. We are told there will be information about proposed routes for walkers, cyclists and horse-riders, along with news of how the government agency is working with schools and businesses to create jobs and skills opportunities. These are not consultation events, but National Highways has confirmed it is working with local authorities on the next round of LTC consultation. It has sent them a draft Statement of Community Consultation proposing a four-week consultation from March 24-April 22.
Wednesday, February 16, 4pm-8pm: New Windmill Hall, St Mary’s Lane, Upminster, Essex RM14 2QH
Thursday, February 17, 4pm-8pm: East Tilbury village hall, East Tilbury, Essex RM18 8RB
Monday, February 28, 4pm-8pm: Orsett Village Hall, Mill Lane/High Road, Orsett, Essex RM16 3HB
Thursday, March 3, 4pm-8pm: Kent Room, Gravesham Borough Council Civic Centre, Windmill Street, Gravesend, Kent DA 1AU
More than 200 people marched peacefully through Faversham at the weekend in protest at the proposed development of thousands of houses around the historic market town. The rally, on Saturday, January 22, was organised by local group Farms, Fields and Fresh Air in response to Swale Borough Council’s Regulation 19 (Publication) Local Plan – the document to be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for public examination. This Plan, the version that the council is seeking to adopt, entails the loss of substantial amounts of Grade1 agricultural land close to the historic market town. The Faversham protestors were joined by individuals and groups from across the county, including Save Kent’s Green Spaces, Save Capel (Tunbridge Wells) and Save Our Heathlands (Lenham); CPRE Kent also had a presence.
A spokesman from Farms, Fields and Fresh Air said: “All wanted to show their solidarity with Faversham and to stop the ceaseless destruction of Kent’s green spaces, agricultural land and wildlife habitat. “Government policies encourage developers who, like a swarm of locusts, have descended to devour the Garden of England. The devastation has to stop. “Brownfield and repurposing should be incentivised. Green fields should be properly protected. Real local need should define development, with a focus on truly affordable housing and environmental safeguards. We are stronger when we support each other.”
A planned housing development that has been refused permission three times goes before a ‘virtual’ appeal inquiry tomorrow (Tuesday, January 11). The scheme, from land agent Gladman Developments, entails the building of 450 properties on farmland at Shottendane Road on the edge of Margate. Thanet District Council is hosting the inquiry, which is being held online, with no in-person meetings. It starts at 10am and could take anything up to a week to complete – if you would like to speak, email email@example.com asking for details of how to take part. Proceedings will be live-streamed to the council’s YouTube channel. Gladman’s third bid to win planning permission for the scheme was refused by Thanet District Council’s planning committee on Wednesday, July 21. The decision followed previous refusals by the committee in April and June. CPRE Kent, through its Thanet committee, has contested the Gladman scheme throughout on a range of issues, particularly viability and the proposed cut in affordable housing from 30 per cent (as set in TDC Local Plan policy) to 10 per cent on the first application and then 15 per cent on the second. And it is the level of affordable housing that has most concerned the planning committee, although loss of farmland, flooding, challenging topography and impact on wildlife have all been cited as further reasons for refusal. As part of its third attempt, Gladman offered 68 properties as affordable housing on an 80 per cent affordable rent and 20 per cent shared-ownership mix. It also claimed it would make almost £5 million in contributions to community and highways infrastructure. However, this was not enough to convince the TDC planning committee, which also looked to agree on reasons for refusal to be cited should the case be taken to appeal by Gladman. Sure enough, the appeal to the Secretary of State came and this will be heard at inquiry this week. CPRE Kent has made an eight-page submission and a representative of our Thanet committee will be speaking tomorrow. Salmestone Ward Residents’ Association and Westgate & Garlinge Action Group have played principal roles in fighting the appeal and over the coming week the scheme’s viability and the level of affordable housing will be highlighted, with new evidence presented and witnesses cross-examined. The inspector has agreed to discuss biodiversity and flooding. There is also the fundamental issue of whether the Shottendane Road site should have been included in the Thanet Local Plan at all. Michael Hand, a planning consultant speaking against the Gladman appeal, believes it has so many flawed aspects that it should not have been. He views it as “a poor and late allocation in the first place” that was only included in the Local Plan to fill a gap left by the loss of another potential site, while documents justifying its inclusion do not appear to have been prepared.
A petition calling for the site to be protected attracted more than 5,500 signatures, while SWRA’s crowd-funder for the appeal costs reached some £3,400 – you can contribute here
A judicial review of Dover District Council’s decision to approve the expansion of Lydden Hill racing circuit is due to be heard on Tuesday, February 15, 2022. It was in January 2020 that councillors backed proposals to pull down the circuit’s two-storey administration building and replace it with a two- to three-floor pavilion including office space, external viewing areas, function areas and six garages. Permission for a new access road from Geddinge Lane and extra land for parking was also sought. Wootton Environment Protection Group has since raised funds for the judicial review of the council’s decision and this has been brought by nearby resident Penelope James. Dover CPRE had objected to the scheme when it was first mooted in 2015 and maintained its opposition throughout.
Wildlife charities are calling for the withdrawal of the London Resort theme park planning application that would destroy a nationally important wildlife site in north Kent, after the site was awarded special conservation protection today (Wednesday, November 10). Swanscombe Marshes, which sits on the bank of the River Thames, has now received confirmation of official designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Natural England – the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England – after a consultation period. SSSI status recognises that the marshes are of high conservation value and particular interest to science, due to the unique and biodiverse wildlife and plant species found there. CPRE Kent, the RSPB, Buglife, Kent Wildlife Trust and Save Swanscombe Peninsula are working together to fight the building of the London Resort Theme Park on the marshes. The marshes being confirmed as an SSSI is another stepping-stone in the fight against this proposed colossal entertainment development, which would concrete over vital wildlife habitat, meaning much of this haven would be lost forever. The decision to award SSSI protection status is particularly timely during COP26 as, more than ever, the importance of protecting the environment and natural spaces like Swanscombe Marshes is key when the world is facing a nature and climate emergency. The wildlife charities say the site, which consists of a remarkable mosaic of grasslands, coastal habitats, scrub and wetlands, is home to a staggering amount of wildlife. This includes more than 2,000 species of invertebrate, including the critically endangered distinguished jumping spider, found at only one other site in the UK, as well as the sea aster mining bee, brown-banded carder bee and saltmarsh shortspur beetle. Swanscombe supports an outstanding number of breeding birds, comparable with the best sites in England, including marsh harrier, cuckoo, nightingale, black redstart and grasshopper warbler. Hilary Newport, director of CPRE Kent, said: “We are hugely relieved that the SSSI designation has been confirmed. The wildlife on Swanscombe Marshes is extraordinarily rich and varied, while the site provides an invaluable green lung for local people in an otherwise heavily over-developed part of the world. We believe London Resort should drop its plans to destroy this wonderful place.” Jamie Robins, projects manager at Buglife, added: “We welcome the great news that Natural England has taken the crucial step of confirming Swanscombe Marshes as a SSSI. This should dispel any notion that it should be anything but a haven for nature and the local community. We urge the London Resort to look elsewhere to build their theme park, as in a biodiversity and climate crisis, it cannot be justified to concrete over one of our finest wildlife sites.” Nick Bruce White, operations director at the RSPB, shared the excitement: “We know the value and importance of Swanscombe Marshes for wildlife and the natural world and are incredibly pleased that the government’s own adviser on the environment, Natural England, has also recognised how truly important this site is, too. We now call upon the London Resort Company to withdraw its application to build on this nationally important wildlife site.” Julia Hunt, head of advocacy at Kent Wildlife Trust, said: “Not only is this site important in its own right; it also forms a critical part of the nature recovery network that we sorely need to prevent irreversible loss of wildlife and damage to our climate. “We are thrilled that Natural England has recognised the site’s value. It is now imperative that London Resort cease their plans to destroy this wildlife haven.” Finally, Donna Zimmer, of the Save Swanscombe Peninsula group, which has said: ”Natural England have completed a thorough and professional assessment which formally recognises Swanscombe Peninsula as one of the best wildlife sites in England. As a local campaign group, we are absolutely thrilled that our irreplaceable green space with such wonderful wildlife receives this much needed protection. We expect London Resort to recognise this and so withdraw their theme park proposal.”
To sign the Save Swanscombe Marshes petition and make your voice heard, clickhere
Perhaps to nobody’s great surprise, the site set to host the country’s largest solar farm – formerly known as Cleve Hill – has been sold. It was in May last year that the Planning Inspectorate announced Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, had granted a Development Consent Order for Cleve Hill Solar Park. It was desperately disappointing news for CPRE Kent, which believes the industrialisation of almost 1,000 acres of the North Kent Marshes – an area of international importance to wildlife – is wholly unacceptable and further evidence of the government’s chaotic approach towards sustainable energy generation. Now comes the news that Hive Energy and Wirsol Energy have sold the scheme to London-based operation Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners, which promptly renamed the whole thing Project Fortress. Quinbrook, which is reported to manage assets worth more than £1.5 billion, says it aims to start construction at Cleve Hill – sorry, Project Fortress – in the first half of next year, with it becoming operational in 2023. Energy is to be stored in a giant lithium battery system, which has sparked serious safety concerns for the nearby town of Faversham and village of Graveney. A Swale Borough Council spokesman said: “When the scheme was approved by the Secretary of State, several requirements were placed on the permission for the developer to undertake before the scheme can start on site. These have been ongoing and more submissions are required.” Quinbrook is reported to already operate two large solar farms in Nevada, United States, and “pride itself on being an investment group solely involved in renewable energy schemes”. It will be both owner and operator of the north Kent scheme. A spokesman said: “We believe Project Fortress is a landmark transaction on many fronts and represents a new frontier in UK solar teamed with large-scale battery storage. “We have been immersed in large-scale solar and storage in the US for many years and we can apply our significant experience in project design and equipment selection to ensure Fortress becomes the new benchmark for renewables that support the UK grid rather than challenge it.”
The giant ‘garden city’ planned for countryside to the south of Canterbury has been stopped in its tracks by a High Court ruling. The 4,000-unit Mountfield Park scheme would have destroyed more than 550 acres and was first backed by the city council in December 2016, but legal challenges delayed matters until a 7-5 vote in December to approve it by the council’s planning committee. The decision gave developer Corinthian detailed permission for 140 homes and outline approval for another 3,860. It was claimed 30 per cent of the development would comprise affordable homes. However, on Wednesday last week (October 20), the council quashed its earlier decision to approve the scheme. It made the move after a judge accepted Canterbury resident Thomas Lynch’s attempt to take its approval to judicial review. Mr Lynch launched his review bid in March this year, based on three tenets:
The council had failed to comply with its Local Plan
The council had failed to sufficiently assess damage to Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve
The council had not provided financial viability assessments relating to delivery of affordable housing.
High Court judge, the Honourable Mr Justice Waksman, decided Mr Lynch’s case could proceed on all three grounds. And, rather than take on the legal challenge, the city council conceded the case and agreed that planning permission should be quashed. It should be noted that the council conceded two of the grounds but not the Stodmarsh element. The council paid Mr Lynch’s legal costs. He is reported to have raised almost £30,000 from supporters in his effort to bring the review – money he says will be reimbursed once he receives the money from the council. He told Kent Online: “My main issue has been with the city council and its members, who steamrollered this decision through, totally ignoring the views of residents who they are supposed to represent. “I fully expect Corinthian to come back with revised plans and I will take advice at that stage on what further action, if any, we will take.” The original planning permission for the development had lapsed last year, but it was voted through again in December. Corinthian says it intends to submit a revised masterplan next year. “A spokesman said: “Elected councillors have now voted twice for affordable, sustainable and beautiful new homes in Canterbury, and it is disappointing to see those much-needed homes delayed again. “The application will be considered by committee for a third time in the next few months. We are confident that we will be able to get going with making this wonderful new place in the new year. “In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with residents and with Canterbury City Council, who are determined to see sustainable, affordable homes built for local people in east Kent.” The city council took a similar tack, its spokesman Rob Davies saying: “Following recent legal action, the planning application for the South Canterbury urban extension will be considered afresh by our planning committee. “We are more determined than ever to create a beautiful and sustainable community. We expect this to be early next year.”
Here’s a final reminder about tomorrow’s (Saturday, October 2) rally at which we will be calling for the protection of the wildlife-rich Swanscombe peninsula. Sadly, however, we must report that the SSSider Soak planned for Gads Hill Farm in the afternoon has fallen victim to a grim weather forecast. Hopefully another time! It’s full steam ahead for the Swanscombe rally, though, and we would love to see you at 10am for a tour, where we can all enjoy the sights and sounds of the peninsula, which is threatened by the proposed London Resort theme park. If you can’t make it bang on 10am, we’ll be walking at a gentle pace, so you’ll be able to join us over the next couple of hours. CPRE Kent is one of an alliance of organisations, notably Buglife, Save Swanscombe Peninsula SSSI, the RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust, fighting to stop such a hugely destructive scheme coming to pass.
Campaigners on the rally will gather at Manor Way, opposite Britannia Metals, Northfleet DA11 9BG, on Saturday, October 2, at 10am
To learn more about the Swanscombe peninsula, click here
We have objected to a vast housing scheme – effectively a new town – of more than 9,000 properties south-east of Sittingbourne. Quinn Estates has submitted two outline planning applications for what is collectively being referred to as Highsted Park. One comprises a scheme for 1,250 homes and other uses, including completion of the Sittingbourne Northern Relief Road, while the other is for 8,000 homes and other uses, including a new M2 junction south of the A2. The application conflicts with the adopted Local Plan and we believe there are no material or exceptional considerations why the Plan should not be followed. Among a range of issues, the site lies in countryside and within a designated Local Countryside Gap, while the proposed development would have a detrimental impact on the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an Area of High Landscape Value and ancient woodlands and Local Wildlife Sites.
An 18-day public planning inquiry opens today (Tuesday, September 21) into a scheme for 165 houses near Cranbrook in the High Weald AONB. Berkeley Homes had been granted permission to build 36 homes at Turnden, in the Crane Valley between Cranbrook and Hartley, back in February 2019. The developer then expanded its scheme to add 165 more homes – which was also backed by the council. This scheme represents substantial development in the AONB on a greenfield site that has not allocated for development within a Local Plan. CPRE Kent has been vocal in its objection to the scheme from the start. CPRE Kent supported Natural England in objecting to the proposal and asking the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to call in the decision. This request was accepted and the inquiry opening today is to inform the Secretary of State’s decision. CPRE Kent is undertaking a formal role at the inquiry, working alongside Natural England and the High Weald AONB Unit in presenting evidence against the scheme and challenging the evidence being presented in favour of the proposed development. We do not undertake such formal action lightly though are deeply concerned the Turnden scheme would set a precedent that could lead to harm to protected areas throughout the country. The outcome of this inquiry is not just critical to AONBs in Kent but to protected landscapes across the country.
Examination of a developer’s bid for consent to build the country’s largest theme park has been stalled again. The scheme entails the construction of the London Resort park at Swanscombe, between Dartford and Gravesend. The Planning Inspectorate’s six-month examination of the application by London Resort Company Holdings had been anticipated to begin in September, but in July the inspectorate advised that “The ExA [examining authority] does not have a detailed understanding of the Applicant’s proposed consultations and updates” before stating that the process was not going to begin until the second half of January next year – at the earliest. Now it has been delayed again because LRCH has failed to produce all the documents required by the inspectorate; the preliminary meeting is “unlikely to be held before April 2022”. Further, the inspectorate seems unconvinced that LRCH has consulted enough parties in preparing its submissions, while it’s not clear if the developer’s evidence will even be up to date by the time the examination eventually starts.
It has been reported in The Times this morning (Saturday, September 11) that the government is planning to abandon substantial parts of its planning proposals, including the zonal planning system. If correct, this will be a huge win for the CPRE planning campaign, so fingers crossed! Commenting on the reported rethink of the planning proposals, Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “The devil will be in the detail, but it looks as though some of the most damaging proposals of what was a top-down developers’ charter have been rightly binned. However, the government must not shy away from overhauling a tired planning system to make it fit for the multiple challenges of the 21st century. “Local communities need a stronger right to be heard in local decisions; brownfield sites must automatically be developed first to help protect local green spaces and our Green Belts in the fight against climate change; and young people and key workers desperately need more funding for rural affordable homes. “Positive changes to the planning system are long overdue – in future it is vital local communities are empowered to protect their precious green spaces while delivering the affordable homes they desperately need and, at the same time, responding to the climate emergency by regenerating the countryside. “This decision by ministers is a victory for common sense and local campaigners all across the country who just wanted a proper say on the needs of their communities and how their area should be developed. “We look forward to working with the government on creating a planning system that puts the needs of local communities ahead of developers’ profits.”
The proposed London Resort theme park has largely disappeared from the radar in recent months, so it is timely to give an update on proceedings. In January this year the Planning Inspectorate declared that it was accepting the application by London Resort Company Holdings for a Development Consent Order to build the park. A six-month examination of the project, in which CPRE Kent will take part, had been expected to begin two to four months from that point. Good news for the peninsula, its wildlife and the local people for whom it is a critical area for recreation, but there would be a four-month consultation before potential SSSI confirmation. Far from it, however! LRCH chose instead to plough on with its project, although saying it would be changing its plans after the SSSI designation. It was granted an extra four months to submit revised documents in its DCO bid, meaning the examination would most likely begin in September. However… in July this year the Planning Inspectorate advised that “The ExA [examining authority] does not have a detailed understanding of the Applicant’s proposed consultations and updates. Having considered the information available to date, the ExA is minded not to decide on the date(s) of the PM [preliminary meeting] before it has seen the Applicant’s submissions. On that basis the ExA anticipates that it will be unable to decide on the date(s) of the PM before mid-December 2021 and that therefore a PM is unlikely to be held before mid-January 2022.” Or, in other words, examination of the London Resort is not going to begin until the second half of January next year – at the earliest.