The leader of Swale Borough Council has slammed as “diabolical” the decision by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to back a 675-unit housing scheme at Borden, near Sittingbourne. It was announced yesterday (Thursday, April 29) that Mr Jenrick was backing an appeal inspector’s decision to give Quinn Estates outline planning permission to build up to 595 homes, a primary school, shop, rugby clubhouse, three sports pitches and a road joining Borden Lane with the A249. To worsen matters for the local authority, partial costs were awarded against it. In a joint statement, council leader Roger Truelove and colleague Simon Clark, both of whom represent Homewood ward to be affected by the development, said: “The decision of the Secretary of State to give planning permission for the whole development between Cryalls Lane and Wises Lane is diabolical. “In upholding the appeal by Quinn Estates, Mr Jenrick has given permission for development on land outside the Swale Local Plan and for a spine road that will draw traffic through our ward, especially Homewood Avenue, and has given a signal to developers to make further incursions in land to the south of Sittingbourne. “The decision of the Secretary of State reinforces the belief that the government is determined to impose unsustainable development on the borough of Swale.” The Borden scheme had proved contentious from the beginning and sparked the headline “Robert Jenrick in new UK ‘cash for favours’ row” on the website OpenDemocracy, which reported that Quinn Estates had “made major donations to the Conservatives directly before and after Jenrick chose to take responsibility for deciding on Quinn’s bid to build 675 houses in Sittingbourne, Kent”. The story continued: “Shortly before Jenrick became involved in the decision, the developer, Quinn Estates, gave £11,000 to the Conservatives. Less than three weeks later, the firm donated a further £26,500 to the party.” It added: “In July 2019, the Swale local council signalled their intention to reject planning permission outright. Quinn appealed, and the issue was due to be decided by a local planning inspector. “But a letter sent by a senior civil servant on Robert Jenrick’s behalf on August 13 said that ‘the Secretary of State considers that he should determine it himself.’” The OpenDemocracy story, written in July last year, noted that “Quinn Estates, and the company’s owner Mark Quinn, have donated around £140,000 to the Conservatives’ central party and Tory MPs across the south-east of England in recent years, including almost £10,000 to Epping Forest MP Eleanor Laing and £5,500 to Folkestone MP Damian Collins. “Quinn companies have a number of projects in those constituencies, including a major proposed development in Epping Forest and a mix[ed] housing scheme in Folkestone that was given planning permission last year.” OpenDemocracy referred to an article elsewhere in which Mr Quinn dismissed any malpractice: “Asked about his approach to planning in 2018, Quinn said ‘Brown envelopes? Planning is given by a democratically elected committee. All their accounts are checked. We’re not allowed to do anything to jeopardise that.’”
A proposal by land agent Gladman Developments to build 450 houses on agricultural land on Margate’s Shottendane Road has been turned down… but it will be returning. The scheme was narrowly refused by Thanet District Council’s planning committee on Wednesday evening (April 21): seven voted against it, four were in favour and two abstained. There are many issues with the plan, such as loss of farmland, flooding, challenging topography and impact on wildlife, but the principal concern to councillors was the proposed reduction in affordable housing from 30 per cent to 10 per cent. It also became evident that support for it was down largely to its role in new infrastructure, being linked to other housing proposals at nearby Westgate (2,000 new properties) and Birchington (1,650) that, via Section 106 payments, will between them fund a new ‘inner circuit’ road complete with three roundabouts and two link roads. Planning officers argued that this infrastructure funding made the cut in affordable housing acceptable. Happily, enough councillors did not agree – although the committee did vote for the Gladman scheme to be brought back to it with amendments.
Home to the Kent Downs and High Weald (the latter shared with Sussex and Surrey), our county is blessed with two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). AONBs are some of the country’s most precious landscapes, which you might expect to mean they were safe from being built on. But even though these areas have the strongest protections available in planning law, they are falling foul to an increasing amount of rapid and reckless housing development, according to analysis from CPRE, the countryside charity. Threats to England’s 34 AONBs from development are increasing at an alarming rate – the Beauty still betrayed: The state of our AONBs 2021 report reveals a 129 per cent increase in the amount of greenfield land planned to be built over. The research, conducted by Glennigan Consultancy on behalf of CPRE, has found that high housing pressure is also being applied to land around AONBs, with the number of homes built in the setting (within 500 metres of the boundary) increasing by 135 per cent since 2012. It is clear this kind of sprawling development is bad for people, nature and the countryside. The research found that the developments on AONBs use up twice as much land compared with the national average for developments. Yet only 16 per cent of the homes built in AONBs are considered affordable even by the government’s own definition. Clear evidence shows that the real affordability of housing in many rural areas is much worse than the government estimates. Tragically, the kind of housing being provided will do little to tackle the affordable housing crisis while concreting over precious countryside and setting back action to tackle the climate and nature emergencies. Truman, CPRE chief executive, said: “The fact that some of our most highly-prized areas of countryside are being lost to build more executive homes says a great deal about our planning system. “Continuing with this ‘build and be damned’ approach just serves to line the pockets of greedy developers while undermining climate action, stalling nature’s recovery and gobbling up our most precious green space that’s vital for our health and well-being, all while doing next to nothing to tackle the affordable housing crisis. “Rural communities are crying out for well-designed, quality and genuinely affordable homes in the right places. We know this kind of development is possible. To start building the right nature-friendly and low-carbon homes in the right places, we must see a swift change of tack from the government to put nature and countryside communities at the heart of any future Planning Bill. Continuing to give developers more power in the planning system will only make this bad situation worse.” It is also interesting to note the north-south divide when it comes to threats to our AONBs, with particular pressure on AONB land in the South West and South East. In these areas, more than half (52 per cent) of all planning permissions for development on greenfield land in AONBs have been granted, including:
• The High Weald AONB has seen 932 housing units on greenfield land approved since 2017 • The Dorset AONB has seen 771 housing units on greenfield land approved since 2017 • The Chilterns AONB has seen 771 housing units on greenfield land approved since 2017 • The Cotswolds AONB has seen 684 housing units on greenfield land approved since 2017
CPRE is calling on the government to use the upcoming Planning Bill to strengthen planning protections for precious green space and prevent high levels of development in AONBs and, further still, only allow development if it meets the needs of local people, nature and the countryside.
You can read the report Beauty still betrayed: The state of our AONBs 2021 here
Tonight (Wednesday, April 21) Thanet District Council will decide whether planning permission should be granted for the building of 450 houses on agricultural land on Margate’s Shottendane Road. The applicant, land agent Gladman Developments, has already cut affordable housing on the site from 30 per cent to 10 per cent so is not addressing the issue of providing affordable housing for local people. The planned development is linked to proposed housing schemes at nearby Westgate and Birchington via Section 106 payments for a new ‘inner circuit’ road. Together, they would mean the loss of some 750 acres of farmland. The attractive character of central Thanet’s undulating chalk farmland will be changed forever by the proposed housing, roadbuilding and streetlighting, while open views from footpaths enjoyed by so many will go, with some of the footpaths absorbed into new housing estates. Farmland birds such as skylarks and other wildlife will lose their habitat. And another chunk of Thanet’s long farming heritage will be lost. CPRE Thanet has put in a strong objection to the proposed development, while you can read the submission from Margate Civic Society here
Proposals to develop Princes Parade in Hythe are still being pushed along despite the divisive nature of the scheme. It was in August 2018 that Folkestone and Hythe District Council awarded itself permission to develop land it owns on the site, its planning committee approving an application for up to 150 houses and associated buildings including a leisure centre, hotel and café or restaurant. Despite this, the campaign to block the scheme, spearheaded by Save Princes Parade, refused to die, although protestors were dismayed when in February 2019 the government announced it would not be calling in the council’s decision. Undeterred, campaigners forced a judicial review. There was a substantive hearing in the High Court in March last year, but some three months later they learnt this had been dismissed by the High Court. And in December, permission to appeal that review was refused, causing Folkestone and Hythe District Council to declare: “There is no other route of appeal against the decision and the Princes Parade development can now go ahead.” However, so contentious is the scheme, which borders a stretch of the Royal Military Canal, that some councillors have still not given up the fight. During the local authority’s cabinet and full council meetings on Wednesday, February 24, one asked that almost £29 million be removed from its General Fund Medium Term Capital Programme, effectively denying the funds required for the project to proceed. The councillor suggested focus should move instead to building a leisure centre elsewhere in the town, “probably at Martello Lakes”. His amendment was, however, voted down by 16 votes to 13. Work has now begun on clearing the site, by the Royal Military Canal – the upsetting scene of trees and vegetation being chopped down sparked a protest to which the police were called. There is also concern that the powerful weedkiller glyphosate is reportedly being used to kill the stumps left by the tree-chopping on the north bank of the canal. It has been pointed out that there are no signs or barriers warning the chemical is being used in an area where children and dogs could come into contact with it. It would, also, of course be far more environmentally desirable to leave the stumps to degrade naturally.
The latest attempt by Sevenoaks District Council to defend its Local Plan has fallen in the High Court. The local authority in November failed in its judicial review of a planning inspector’s refusal to approve its Local Plan. The local authority had brought the review of inspector Karen Baker’s conclusion that it had failed to comply with the required duty to cooperate when preparing its Plan. But in the Planning Court, Mr Justice Dove rejected the council’s challenge, saying Sevenoaks had engaged fully with neighbouring local authorities only when it became clear at the Reg 18 stage that housing need could not be met, rather than as part of the whole process. Sevenoaks went on to contest that verdict, but on Friday, April 9, a High Court judge dismissed the challenge. Peter Fleming, council leader, said Sevenoaks would now seek a meeting with Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in a bid to agree a strategy on developing a new Local Plan. Until that happens, it is feared the district could be vulnerable to speculative development proposals. Nigel Britten, CPRE Kent’s Sevenoaks chairman, said: “We are in a slightly difficult position as we do not have a set five-year land housing supply.”
Highways England has failed to hit its own target in resubmitting plans for the Lower Thames Crossing. In November, the government agency withdrew its application for a Development Consent Order to build the Lower Thames Crossing, saying it would put in revised plans to the Planning Inspectorate by Easter. However, they have yet to appear, Highways England just offering the following statement: “It’s been a really busy time for the project as we continue to work hard to submit our revised planning application later this year. “We’re absolutely determined to bring you these benefits as soon as possible, so it’s essential we continue to maintain momentum on the project. “We initially submitted our planning application back in October, which we then withdrew following some feedback from the Planning Inspectorate. “They have asked us to provide some more information on some technical elements of our application. “We’re busy bringing this information together, but we also see this as a great opportunity to strengthen our application as we continue to work with key stakeholders to make the Lower Thames Crossing the best it can possibly be.”
A consultation on Thanet District Council’s Statement of Community Involvement closed last week – and CPRE Kent is less than impressed. A Statement of Community Involvement sets out how a council intends to engage the local community and others in planning matters. It is an important document that should help ensure that planning process is fair, open and accessible to all. Or not, in the case of Thanet. While CPRE Kent made several comments on the detail of the document, it is TDC’s intention to charge a fee to process public comments that it deems long and complex that has caused us most concern. Not only do we question the lawfulness of this, but we also point out that it is undemocratic and potentially discriminatory. We have called for this proposal to be removed from the document. If it is to remain, as a minimum we have asked for the basis on which the charge is deemed lawful to be reported back to members. The outcome of the consultation, along with any resulting changes, will shortly be reported back to Thanet council members before formal adoption. We will be watching the response very closely.
The much-anticipated deposit return scheme (DRS) is to be delayed until at least 2024, sparking a sharp response from CPRE Kent, the countryside charity. It was three years ago almost to the day that then-Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced we would all be paying a deposit of up to 22 pence on plastic and glass bottles, as well as on aluminium cans. That deposit could, of course, be reclaimed. It was suggested the DRS might arrive as early as 2020, although a year later the government said it would be brought in for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2023. However, yesterday (Thursday, March 24), in announcing a second DRS consultation, the government said such a scheme would not be introduced until late 2024, at the earliest. Unsurprisingly, this has not gone down well with the countryside charity, which has campaigned long and hard for a DRS. Tom Fyans, CPRE campaigns and policy director, said before the announcement was made: “‘Despite huge public appetite to tackle the waste crisis, we have mountains of litter piling up in our countryside. “New research shows that around eight billion drinks containers are landfilled, littered or burnt every year. Despite all this, the government looks set to delay a deposit return scheme until the end of 2024 – essentially shirking its responsibility and waiting for a new government to show any leadership on the issue. This amounts to six long years of dither and delay. “This delay is so much more than kicking the can down the road – it seems that in the face of industry lobbying, ministers would prefer to stick their heads in the sand rather than tackle the problem of waste head on. “The public want to see action, not just warm words. The evidence is clear that an ‘all-in’ deposit return scheme is the best option for people, planet and our economy, yet the government is showing no leadership on the issue at all. “It beggars belief that when the evidence is so clear that an ‘all-in’ deposit system is needed, it is still unwilling to make the polluter pay.”
The Swanscombe peninsula – the area of north Kent being targeted for the building of the country’s largest theme park – has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). National England announced today (Thursday, March 11, 2021) that the peninsula’s “nationally important invertebrates, breeding birds, plants and geology” warranted such recognition. The government advisory body said: “The 250 hectare site, alongside the Thames Estuary, forms a corridor of habitats connecting Ebbsfleet Valley with the southern shore of the River Thames between Dartford and Gravesend. “The site has an incredible assortment of grassland, scrub, wetlands, grazing marsh and saltmarsh habitat in a relatively small area, providing ideal conditions for a unique variety of wildlife. “The area is home to over 1,700 invertebrate species, which includes over a quarter of the UK’s water beetle species and more than 200 species that are considered of conservation importance. It is one of just two places in the UK where the critically endangered distinguished jumping spider is found. “The rich and varied habitats on the peninsula also provide great conditions for breeding birds such as marsh harrier and bearded tit, and for nationally scarce plants threatened with extinction in Great Britain, such as the divided sedge and the slender hare’s ear.” James Seymour, NE’s Sussex and Kent area manager, added: “The designation of Swanscombe Peninsula as an SSSI is great news for one of the richest known sites in England for invertebrates, ensuring essential refuge for many rare and threatened species that sadly are not able to thrive in the wider landscape. “Right on the doorstep of some of our most densely populated towns and cities, this new SSSI will also offer wonderful opportunities for people to connect with nature via the England Coast Path. “This area is living proof that some of our most important species can thrive hand in hand with businesses and transport infrastructure. Special places like this will form the vital backbone of a national nature recovery network.” The new Swanscombe Peninsula SSSI includes the previously-designated Bakers Hole SSSI, which covers 6.9 hectares with geological and archaeological features. The designation is undoubtedly good news, but this is only the start of the process, not the end, as there will now be a four-month consultation before potential SSSI confirmation. Natural England said: “As of 11 March 2021, the SSSI has been formally notified to landowners and occupiers and other interested parties. “There will be a 4 month period in which anyone can make representations or object to the notification. If all objections are resolved or none are submitted, the designation will be confirmed. If there are unresolved objections the Natural England Board will hear all of these; they must then decide whether to confirm the designation (with or without reductions). “If the notification is not confirmed within 9 months of the date of notification, the notification falls.” And, in a clear reference to the proposed London Resort theme park, it said: “Natural England recognises that there is interest and consideration of potential development opportunities in the Swanscombe area. “Designation of this site for its nationally important wildlife features is an important step towards ensuring that its environmental value is recognised and taken due account of in any future planning decisions.” In January, the Planning Inspectorate accepted the application by London Resort Company Holdings for a Development Consent Order to build the London Resort theme park on the peninsula.
Campaigners against the building of the Lower Thames Crossing between Kent and Essex have been encouraged by the news that the Secretary of State for Transport ignored the advice of his own officers in refusing to review the government’s road policy. The Guardian’s front-page story revealed how Grant Shapps had dismissed the advice from civil servants that the policy should have been reviewed on environmental grounds. The newspaper says: “It has been a legal requirement to take into account the environmental impact of such [road] projects since 2014. Shapps appears to have pressed ahead despite the advice of civil servants in his own department.” It suggests that the £27 billion expansion of England’s road network – described by Chancellor Rishi Sunak a year ago as the country’s “largest ever” roadbuilding programme – “has been thrown into doubt” by the revelation. It came as Transport Action Network sought a judicial review of the strategy to develop such road projects as the Lower Thames Crossing, the Stonehenge tunnel and the A46 Newark bypass. The Guardian says evidence that Mr Shapps had overridden Whitehall advice was disclosed only “at the 11th hour to the claimants” in the High Court case. That advice had been to review the 2014 National Policy Statement on national networks. The TAN claim centres on the decision not to review all or part of the NPS and has now been amended to introduce Shapps’s decision to dismiss the civil servants’ advice; this runs alongside the original grounds that the roadbuilding policy was not compatible with commitments to the environment and air quality. David Wolfe QC states in his submission: “On the day before the limitation period for issuing this challenge was due to expire, the defendant [Mr Shapps] provided the claimant [Transport Action Network] with the advice of his officials, which was that it was appropriate to review the NPS.” He adds: “The claimants have been presented, on the one hand, with official reasoning in support of a review, and on the other, with a decision by the defendant not to review the NPS, with no explanation of why, or on the basis of what information or considerations, he chose to depart from his officials’ advice.” Government lawyers, however, claim Mr Shapps has no duty to give reasons for his decision and that the claim is baseless. Chris Todd, Transport Action Network director, said: “The largest-ever roads programme and world-leading emissions cuts were always the strangest of bedfellows. “Far from ‘building back better’, the government’s £27bn roads plan would pollute communities, tear through treasured green spaces and turn up the heat on the planet, while making congestion worse. Our legal challenge seeks to end this nightmare and prioritise what’s important to people.”
To read about the proposed Lower Thames Crossing, see here
Today’s Budget (Wednesday, March 3) represents a missed opportunity to help tackle the climate emergency, according to CPRE, the countryside charity. Responding to Rishi Sunak’s Budget Statement, Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “The Chancellor’s Budget simply doesn’t add up – the government can’t claim to have a ‘real commitment to green growth’ while using funding models that systematically disadvantage rural communities and worsen the climate emergency” said Mr Truman. “By levelling up between urban and rural investment, not just north and south, we could regenerate many rural towns and villages that have been long forgotten. “It’s just not right that government spending per person on public infrastructure is 44 per cent higher for urban areas than it is for rural areas with no major cities. We risk levelling up northern cities to the level of London and leaving rural areas stuck in disadvantage and decline. “Today, the Chancellor has also missed a golden opportunity to prove that the government really means business when it talks about the UK being a genuine world leader in tackling the climate emergency. “What we need is for the government to help create green and sustainable jobs up and down the country that help real people, while also making the UK economy greener. “The Chancellor mentioned ‘green growth’, ‘green industries’ and ‘green projects’ nine times, but there’s nothing green about the jobs created by a new coal mine in Cumbria. “He should be stimulating jobs in areas like Cumbria with renewable energy and energy efficiency, rather than through a coal mine that will be disastrous for carbon emissions and disastrous for our international reputation on climate in equal measure. “All in all, a disappointing Budget for climate, communities and the countryside.”
Almost 1,100 homes will be built on the outskirts of Canterbury after councillors made a U-turn from their previous decision. The city council’s planning committee had in November refused a scheme for 650 new homes in Sturry, a decision that sparked the withdrawal of a linked application, for 456 properties at neighbouring Broad Oak. Last night (Tuesday, February 9), however, both schemes, which comprise one strategic site, came back to the committee, which at its ‘virtual’ meeting approved them by seven votes to five. The Sturry plan had been marginally revised, the number of properties being cut by 20 homes to 630. A new primary school and – perhaps critically – funding towards a Sturry relief road were part of the wider package. Planning officers said earlier reasons for refusal, including concerns over traffic, issues with environmental impact, absence of affordable housing, excessive density and poor design, had all been tackled. CPRE Kent had objected to both proposals, along with many others, including Sturry and Broad Oak Action Group, the Woodland Trust and Sturry Parish Council. The Sturry development won outline permission only, while the Broad Oak element’s 456 properties were given full permission. More than 800 square metres of commercial space at Broad Oak won outline permission. CPRE Kent has been working on the proposals with Sturry and Broad Oak Action Group, which gave the following reaction to the Canterbury City Council verdict: “We are deeply disappointed by the decision of the planning committee to push through this deeply flawed application for hundreds of houses on the edge of the city. “The committee’s justified concerns over traffic, issues with environmental impact, absence of affordable housing, excessive density and poor design all cited in November’s decision to refuse the application are still just as relevant. “Issues with planning law have not been addressed, while the developer’s slight reduction in the number of properties does not change the fact that the Environ Design (Sturry) scheme remains wholly unacceptable. “We believe it has been accepted because of council fears that SELEP [South East Local Enterprise Partnership] funding for a related Sturry relief road would be lost if it were not approved by SELEP’s mid-February deadline. “The new road is not even about relieving traffic at the Sturry level crossing – rather it is about opening up potential housing sites for miles to the east of the city. The resultant urban sprawl does not bear thinking about. “Additionally, the new road, which will run through the middle of the estate, will do little more than shift traffic congestion a mile or two down the A28 towards Canterbury. “We are concerned for the residents living in the new estate who will have to endure an extremely busy road effectively on their doorsteps – traffic will have to include the transfer of sewage from the tank built to deal with its waste. “Such issues alone could make the new properties close to unsaleable anyway, while potential new residents might also notice the lack of any playing fields and the fact that the suggested tiny community hall sits on a roundabout, making it effectively inaccessible. “There are serious concerns for neighbouring Den Grove Wood, where the council has not heeded or acted on Natural England’s standing advice for ancient woodland. “We have never denied the need for new housing in our city, but we should be pressing for the highest of standards – not the lowest, which is what this scheme represents. “The level of mitigation work necessary to address the damage caused by it will blight the area for years. Its acceptance is a depressingly stark example of how strategic planning should not be done.”
Further to yesterday’s story on discussions over the Swale Local Plan, borough councillors voted 30-17 last night (Wednesday, February 3) that pre-submission draft consultation should begin on Monday (February 8) for a statutory six-week period. An amendment to the Plan was agreed to permit inclusion of the Quinn Estates scheme for 675 new houses at Wises Lane, Borden, should it be granted at appeal.
Tonight (Wednesday, February 3), Swale councillors will be voting on where 22,814 houses are going to built in the borough. They also need to find 56 hectares of employment space, which includes 15 hectares of office space, and the infrastructure to support this. As part of the package, a new relief road for the section of the A2 through Teynham is in the frame. With such a monumental decision to be made, you would rightly expect this to be the cumulation of an iterative process informed by robust community engagement. Well, the only meaningful community engagement occurred back in the spring of 2018 and simply involved a high-level discussion on the issues and options facing Swale. In any event, it appears these comments were ignored, with the chairman of the Local Plan Panel informing the panel on January 19, 2021: “I think it is fair to say that when the new administration took over in 2019 the Local Plan team had to work to a radically different strategy. Meaning that much of the work they had done for the previous year didn’t really contribute much to this, to the direction that the new administration went.” More significantly, a promised further consultation to include the council’s preferred sites to inform the final version of the Plan to be submitted has conveniently been sidestepped. Instead, Swale residents are to be presented with this final version as a fait accompli. It is being left to the Planning Inspectorate to make any changes. As it is, Swale councillors have been given less than a week to familiarise themselves with this Plan, along with 12 separate reports totalling some 1,193 pages. No mean feat, though arguably impossible when you realise much of the evidence to back up the “radically different strategy” (as the Local Plan Panel’s chairman called it) is incomplete or still a work in progress. This incomplete work includes concept diagrams yet to be provided and, crucially, vital transport modelling that is not anticipated until “Spring 2021”. This urgency was blamed on a proposed increase in the numbers of houses the government might require Swale to build. This increase is now not happening. There are, however, likely to be changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, currently out to consultation, that this Plan is likely to need to take account of. Swale councillors are reminded that the Local Plan must be prepared in accordance with the council’s latest Local Development Scheme and that consultation must be carried out in accordance with the council’s Statement of Community Involvement. It is CPRE Kent’s view that the 2018 versions of these documents created a legitimate expectation that there would be a Regulation 18 Draft Preferred Option Public consultation stage on which to comment – not least as this is what the council said would happen. To be voting to approve a Plan without this additional consultation is at best foolhardy. To be voting on a Plan without this additional consultation and that is not yet finished is positively irrational.