£34 million on a new station that will increase journey time from Thanet to London: a ‘robust business case’… apparently

This is what a (£34 million) white elephant looks like

Sometimes a planning decision leaves you struggling for words – and that by Kent County Council’s planning committee to approve a parkway station that will increase journey times from Thanet to London certainly hits the spot.
Councillors decided by eight votes to five to approve the £34 million Thanet Parkway project, choosing to put aside a Department for Transport statement from 2018 that its panel was “concerned that accommodating an additional stop at Thanet Parkway would add two minutes to the journey on the line between Ashford and Ramsgate”.
The county council argument has been that the station will in fact cut journey times to London by three minutes – yes, you read that correctly: three minutes – although it is by no means clear how even that laughably small reductionwill be achieved.
Extraordinarily, Thanet now has eight railway stations.
The committee made its decision in a virtual public meeting on Wednesday, September 2.   
It is telling that committee members representing Thanet all voted against the scheme regardless of their party affiliation – but what do they know?
Clearly the statement by Sharon Thompson, the county council’s head of planning applications, that “We are confident the business case is robust” carried more weight, despite a lack of supporting evidence.   
KentOnline reported how committee vice-chairman Dick Pascoe dismissed the idea that Thanet would be oversupplied with train stations by talking about Chinese restaurants: “A Chinese restaurant wanted to open in a Kent area where there were several Chinese restaurants and we did not say no,” he apparently said.
How £34 million for a scheme that will increase journey times represents a robust business case is something you might like to ponder over your evening Horlicks. As for the Chinese restaurants thing, perhaps it’s best not to think about it.
For more on this baffling decision, click here    

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Petition asks for green buffer zone between Mersham and proposed customs clearance site

The proposed buffer zone is the last green field between Mersham and the planned customs clearance site

Ashford residents are being asked to sign a petition calling for an area of countryside at Mersham to be protected from development.
The land, east of Highfield Lane, is the last green field between Mersham and the proposed customs clearance and lorry-holding area, and The Village Alliance is urging Ashford Borough Council to keep it as a green buffer zone.
This could be done through its Strategic Gap in Perpetuity policy, which protects ancient settlements and countryside from encroachment.
The petition is attached here for you to print and sign.
Once signed, it can be passed to neighbours and friends. If you include your email address, you will be kept informed of progress with the campaign.
Signed petition forms can be left at Mersham Village Stores, The Royal Oak or the Farriers Arms by Sunday, August 30.
If you need your form collecting, or any further information, phone 07732 382624. You can also send your signed petition (scanned if necessary), including your address, by email to thevillageallianceTVA@gmail.com

Lower Thames Crossing consultation: time (really is!) running out to make your voice heard

At a minute to midnight on Wednesday, August 12, the consultation clock stops!

Time is almost up!
You have until 11.59pm tomorrow (Wednesday, August 12) to take part in Highways England’s consultation on further design revisions to the proposed Lower Thames Crossing.
CPRE Kent has made a response running to more than 5,000 words and, while you might not wish to go to quite such lengths, it would be useful to make your voice heard.
There are many issues with the project – not least regarding air pollution and climate change – but did you also know the following?
The A2 was widened both ways at great expense to four lanes. With the proposed refinements, the A2 coastbound would reduce from four lanes to two just east of the Gravesend East junction and also London-bound from four lanes to two before the Thong Lane bridge. It’s not easy to find the detail in the consultation document, but it’s there!
These pinch points would cause serious congestion – and should be reconsidered in the light of the recent decision permitting the operation of Manston airport, which will result in large vehicles carrying air-freight containers along the A2.
Any congestion on the A2 will result in vehicles rat-running at speed through the narrow lanes of surrounding areas such as Meopham, Sole Street and Cobham. This, we suggest, would appear contrary to the LTC Project Objective to “improve safety”.
There is very much more that can be said about a scheme likely to bring little benefit to Kent, but you can learn more here

  • You can join the Highways England consultation here

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Truth about impact of the Lower Thames Crossing on local roads revealed at public meeting

Consultation on LTC design revisions is ending on Wednesday (August 12)

There was a healthy turn-out to a meeting from people keen to see copies of the latest Lower Thames Crossing design consultation.
The event, organised by the Gravesham committee of CPRE Kent and Meopham residents, gave all the chance to ask questions about the revised design proposals. It had been set up in view of Highways England’s belief that the documents being displayed only in Rochester Library was sufficient south of the river.
None of the many visitors at the meeting, held at Meopham Cricket Pavilion on Friday, July 31, realised that the junction of the tunnel access road and A2 would result in the A2 being reduced to two lanes in each direction at this point.
This pinch point is likely to cause huge congestion on the A2 and as a result greatly increase traffic on local roads such as the A227.

  • You can read more on the latest consultation here

Monday, August 10, 2020

Come and speak to us at Lower Thames Crossing display in Meopham

There’s little over a fortnight left to join the consultation

Highways England is consulting on further revisions to the design of the Lower Thames Crossing.
Details are available online or at Rochester Library and consultation closes on Wednesday, August 12.
If you would like to see copies of the Design Refinement Guide and Maps, they will be available tomorrow (Friday, July 31) from 10am-6pm at Meopham Cricket Pavilion, Meopham Green (opposite the windmill).
Members of CPRE Kent will be at the cricket pavilion tomorrow and all are welcome to come and speak with them.
The proposed location of the new tunnel and the drastic reduction in width of the A2 increases the risk of vehicles using the A227 and surrounding lanes as rat-runs.
The project involves the loss of two lanes on the coastbound A2 after the Gravesend East junction, and the Highways England map suggests that the A2 westbound reduces to two lanes before the Thong Lane green bridge.
This is to accommodate the new crossing, yet it is not that long ago it was widened to avoid tailbacks. These pinch points will greatly increase the risk of congestion on the A2, especially at peak time.
Further, traffic is likely to increase on roads in Higham, Cobham, Istead Rise, Luddesdown, Riverview and Sole Street, as well as on A-roads like the A226 and A227 through Meopham.
The new crossing has been predicted to cost £8 billion, but this does not include a long list of essential mitigation that will be needed on places like the Tollgate interchange, A227, A228, A229 and A249. Many are questioning why Kent County Council should have to pay for works that are effectively part of the project.
One last thing, for now at least: the proposed crossing will destroy Green Belt countryside, wrecking parts of Jeskyns and Shorne Wood parks.
There will of course be no benefit to local residents.
The consultation documents are not easy to read online, so we suggest you request a copy of them. This can be done by calling 0300 123 5000 or emailing Highways England at info@lowerthamescrossing.co.uk
You only have till until 23.59 on Wednesday, August 12, to contribute to the consultation, so please go to the Highways England consultation website here
Make your voice heard!

  • For more on the Lower Thames Crossing, click here

Thursday, July 30, 2020

CPRE slates government’s proposals for planning deregulation

Will planning regulations be pushed aside?

The government’s proposed planning reforms could amount to “the exact opposite of building back better”, CPRE believes.
Downing Street says its proposals are “the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War”.
Amended planning rules, due to be in place by September, would permit:
• Developers to “demolish and rebuild” vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes
• A wider range of commercial buildings to be switched to housing without a planning application
• Property-owners to build “additional space above their properties”, via a “fast-track approval process”
Tom Fyans, policy and campaigns director at CPRE, the countryside charity, was not impressed:
“Deregulating planning and cutting up red tape simply won’t deliver better quality places. It’s already far too easy to build poor-quality homes. Our research has shown that three-quarters of large housing developments are mediocre or poor in terms of their design and should not have been granted planning permission.
“Transferring decision-making power from local councils and communities and handing them to developers is the exact opposite of building back better.
“The best way to deliver the places that we need, at the pace we need them, is to make it easier for local councils to get Local Plans in place, and then to hold developers to those plans.
“One glimmer of hope in the prime minister’s words are those prioritising building on brownfield to release pressure on greenfield sites. But if we are to truly build back better, and ‘level up’ across the country, we need to make sure the voices of local communities are strengthened in shaping the homes and places that they will inherit.”
Reform of the Use Classes Order means there will be total flexibility in repurposing more types of commercial premises.
Examples might be shops or stores being converted to cafés or offices without the need for planning applications and local authority approval. However, there will not be such flexibility for pubs, libraries, village shops and other buildings judged essential to communities.

Monday, July 13, 2020

‘Shocking’: CPRE Kent director responds to decision to grant Manston airport DCO

Manston: flying again in 2023… maybe

A developer has been granted consent to reopen Manston airport as a freight hub – a move described as shocking by the director of CPRE Kent.
After two postponements of the decision, in January and May, the Department for Transport finally announced today (Thursday, July 9) that the RiverOak Strategic Partners scheme to reopen the airport six years after it closed was being granted a Development Consent Order.
RSP says it will be investing £300 million in the scheme, which it claims will create up to 6,000 jobs at Manston. The developer predicts the reopened airport will be operational from 2023 and able to handle at least 10,000 freight movements a year.
The decision effectively dismisses the conclusions of the four-man Planning Inspectorate’s Examining Authority, which had been clear that the DCO should not be granted.
Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said: “It is shocking that four inspectors spent some nine months preparing a report and concluded very strongly that the DCO should be refused.
“The developer was not able to demonstrate need, there were adverse impacts on traffic and transport and there were concerns over noise pollution.
“Most importantly, though, the Examining Authority recommended the Secretary of State refuse the DCO due to conservation of habitats and species regulations.
“In short, the inspectors’ conclusions were ignored.
“This decision flies in the face of the Heathrow third-runway judgement where the Court of Appeal ruled that proposals had failed to consider this country’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions.”
Although by law the Manston decision had to be made in the name of Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, the DfT said Mr Shapps had “not personally been involved in this decision because of a conflict of interest, following previous statements of support made prior to his appointment as the Secretary of State for Transport” and the decision had “in practice been allocated to and taken by the Minister of State for Transport, Andrew Stephenson”.
Sir Roger Gale, MP for Thanet North, told the BBC’s South East Today: “The new airport, when it opens, will be the most environmentally-friendly airport in the world – it will beat Helsinki by a country mile. It’s going to be net-zero carbon – we’re going to be proud of it.”
The same programme reported that RSP had said there would be five flights an hour – but no night flights.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Lower Thames Crossing: rallying call to take part in next phase of consultation

Four-week consultation starts on Tuesday, July 14

The next phase of consultation on the proposed Lower Thames Crossing begins this month.
Highways England is launching the four-week consultation on proposed design refinements to the planned road on Tuesday, July 14. It comes after 2018’s statutory consultation in 2018 and the supplementary consultation, which was completed this year.
From July 14, we will all be able to comment on the proposed refinements, which include:

  • Minor refinements to elements of the highways design
  • Updated paths for walkers, cyclists and horse riders
  • Proposals for redirecting and upgrading utilities
  • More detailed landscaping proposals
  • Further developed ecological mitigation measures

The consultation is a digital-first event, meaning that from July 14 to Wednesday, August 12, all materials, including an online feedback form, will be accessible here
You can also order printed copies of the consultation materials by emailing info@lowerthamescrossing.co.uk
The digital-first approach reflects social-distancing restrictions imposed by the government in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Highways England says it is, though, setting up additional measures to ensure the public can engage in the consultation. These include:

  • Leaflets distributed to 135,000 properties within two kilometres of the route, giving residents notice of the consultation
  • From now, people can register their interest in the consultation and order hard copies of the consultation packs to arrive from the July 14 launch
  • Extensive media and social-media campaigns to raise awareness of the consultation

Highways England says that during the consultation period, July 14-August 12, it will provide:

  • Freephone consultation and call-back service for people to find out more and give their feedback on the proposals
  • Online public information exhibition, including videos, displays and documents library
  • Webinars to explain the key changes open to all members of the public
  • Updated and newly-interactive website
  • Social-media updates

Alex Hills, CPRE Kent’s Gravesham district chairman, said: “This could be the last consultation before a planning application is put in, so it is important that as many people as possible take part in this very short consultation.
“CPRE Kent is calling on people and organisations to order hard copies of the consultation for those who are not comfortable doing everything online.”

For more on the Lower Thames Crossing, see here and here

Friday, July 3, 2020

‘A once-in-a-generation chance to unleash potential of the countryside’: CPRE’s regeneration manifesto

The government must invest in the ‘countryside next door’ to ensure we all have access to quality green space near to where we live as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, according to CPRE, the countryside charity, as it launches its regeneration manifesto today.
Regenerate our countryside, regenerate ourselves: A manifesto for a resilient countryside after coronavirus urges the government to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect and invest in the countryside, support rural communities and break down the barriers too many face in accessing the health and well-being benefits of time in green spaces.
Critically, our Green Belts, the countryside next door to 30 million people, and other countryside around large towns and cities that don’t currently have Green Belts should see funding significantly increased to make sure they are enhanced and include greener farming techniques that could make our food supply more resilient to future shocks.
The manifesto was launched at a virtual debate this morning (Wednesday, July 1) with leading countryside and political voices, including Rhiane Fatinikun, founder of Black Girls Hike; Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee; Mike Amesbury MP, shadow minister for housing and planning; and Caroline Lucas MP, former leader of the Green Party.
Emma Bridgewater, president of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “Just as National Parks were integral to post-war reconstruction in the late 1940s, so too should everyday landscapes including local green spaces, the Green Belt and the countryside next door become a central part of the government’s response to coronavirus recovery.
“Public support for protecting and enhancing these spaces is impossible for ministers to ignore – now more than ever we need more quality green spaces available to everyone and to make sure young people form lifelong connections with nature that can help us bounce back from the pandemic and build resilience in the longer term.
“Today, we are calling on the government to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to put the countryside and access to green spaces at the heart of the recovery.
“That means putting the Green Belt ahead of developers’ profit margins, guaranteeing children’s education includes quality time in nature and breaking down the barriers to the countryside for groups previously excluded.
“But we also need to make sure rural communities don’t bear the brunt of the economic fallout by supporting the rural economy and investing in rural social housing. Only then can the government claim to be learning the lessons of lockdown and building back better.”
The manifesto outlines a vision for a resilient countryside with thriving rural communities that is open to everyone, whether visiting, living or working there. Key recommendations of the manifesto include:

  • Regenerate our green spaces: the government must support local councils and communities to deliver up-to-date Local Plans, adopt a truly ‘brownfield first’ policy and ensure that our Green Belts, our countryside next door, is enhanced through greater funding;
  • Regenerate ourselves: the government must guarantee every child a night in nature as recommended in the Glover landscape review, and increase funding for the many tried-and-tested community outreach projects that have already enabled greater engagement with the countryside for marginalised groups
  • Regenerate our rural economies: the government must establish a rural economy task force working across government to develop a comprehensive strategy for supporting the rural economy and invest in rural social housing to provide genuinely affordable homes for our key workers.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to shine a light on the deep inequalities that exist in who is able to make use of green space or countryside near to where they live.
Natural England’s figures show that children from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups are 20 per cent less likely than white children to visit the countryside. That’s why CPRE is campaigning for every child to be guaranteed a night in nature in a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as recommended in last year’s Landscapes Review by Julian Glover OBE.

  • For see the manifesto, click here

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

‘The PM’s “new deal” makes a mockery of the government’s so-called green recovery’

Tom Fyans, of CPRE: ‘We must not even begin down this path with plans for £27 billion spending on roads’ (pic BBC)

CPRE, the countryside charity, has given a decidedly hostile response to the prime minister’s post-coronavirus recovery plan in which he promised to “build, build, build”.
Boris Johnson’s announcement of a ‘new deal’, delivered in Dudley yesterday (Tuesday, June 30), pledged £5 billion to build homes and infrastructure and vowed to speed up and intensify plans set out in the Tory election manifesto.
The UK economy has reportedly shrunk faster between January and March this year than at any time since 1979 and the government proposals are intended to halt that decline.
Key features of Johnson’s ‘new deal’, some of which had already been announced, include:

  • £100 million for 29 road projects
  • £12 billion to help build 180,000 new affordable homes for ownership and rent over the next eight years
  • £1.5 billion for hospitals, the removal of mental-health dormitories and improving A&E capacity
  • More than £1 billion for new school buildings

Tom Fyans, campaigns and policy director at CPRE, made a blistering attack on the prime minister’s scheme:
“With road-building at its heart, the PM’s ‘new deal’ makes a mockery of the government’s so-called green recovery.
“At this historic moment, the government must show real ambition and build back better, not worse, and in doing so balance our health and well-being, nature and countryside and the economic recovery.
“The government cannot continue to ignore the surge in appreciation for green spaces and the public appetite to reduce our carbon emissions.
“We must not even begin down this path with plans for £27 billion spending on roads. That money could be much better spent connecting towns and villages with low-carbon public transport, shoring up rural economies and businesses hard hit by the coronavirus and investing in genuinely affordable and well-designed housing.
“Furthermore, the PM has pledged to ‘build at the pace that this moment requires’, which strikes fear in the hearts of those who understand the benefits of a plan-led system.
“Rushing through potentially poor-quality development is the very antithesis of building back better. We already know, from painful experience, a rush for development trades off quality homes and infrastructure for quick and easy economic growth.
“This trade-off isn’t necessary. It’s already far too easy to build poor-quality homes and therefore any plans to deregulate our democratic, locally accountable planning system will take decision-making powers from communities and local councils and hand it to short-sighted developers.
“The government can only seriously claim to be pursuing the levelling-up agenda after scrapping planned spend on roads and refocusing planning reforms to deliver for people rather than developers.
“Until then, it’s the same old deal.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

You can join online talk on gardens, conservation and threatened species

You are warmly invited to an online talk on gardens and biodiversity being held this month.
The lecture by Fergus Garrett focuses on Great Dixter House & Gardens just over the county border in Northiam, East Sussex.
You can listen to Biodiversity at Great Dixter: Showing how Gardens can play a Role in Conserving some of our most Threatened Species on Wednesday, June 24 (6pm), or Saturday, June 27 (9am).
The event is being hosted on Zoom. For more details and to book, visit www.greatdixtershop.co.uk    

Monday, June 15, 2020

Lockdown lesson for government: more than two-thirds in South East want to see their local green space enhanced

We all enjoy a bit of countryside… don’t we?
  • 72 per cent of adults in the South East of England think their local green space, or nearby countryside, could be enhanced
  • Majority of these would like to see more wildlife (52 per cent) and a greater variety of plant life (50 per cent) in their local green space
  • CPRE, the countryside charity, and the HomeOwners Alliance are calling for the government to go further to protect and enhance local green spaces so that everyone has easy access from their doorsteps

As lockdown in England eases and many venture out into their local green spaces, research has found 72 per cent of people living in the South East think their local green spaces, including the countryside next door to where they live, could be enhanced.
Commissioned by CPRE, the countryside charity, and the HomeOwners Alliance, and carried out online by YouGov as the lockdown started, the research shows that the majority of people in the South East believe increasing the amount of wildlife (52 per cent) and the variety of plant life (50 per cent) are top ways in which their local green spaces can be improved.
During lockdown, we have seen a surge in appreciation for local green spaces and a heightened awareness of their role in boosting our physical and mental health and wellbeing. For the one in eight households who do not have access to their own garden, accessible shared or public green spaces are all the more important.
CPRE, the countryside charity, and the HomeOwners Alliance believe that everyone should have easy access to quality green spaces from their doorsteps and the government should go further to protect and enhance these spaces.
These results show that the public agree, and those who were in favour of enhancements in the South East would like to see:

1. More wildlife, including birds, butterflies and bees (52 per cent)

2. More and a greater variety of trees, shrubs, hedgerows, plants and flowers (50 per cent)

3. Better maintenance (eg paths maintained, trees pruned and lawns cut) (35 per cent)

4. More facilities (eg café, toilets and seating) (35 per cent)

5. More wilding (ie not overly manicured) (35 per cent)

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “Access to quality local green spaces has hurtled up the agenda as a political issue and for good reason.
“As lockdown eases, many people are turning to their local patch of green as a place to meet family and friends, subject of course to social distancing, as well as their daily dose of exercise and nature. We’ve been championing local countryside and green spaces for nearly a century, believing they are vital for our health and well-being – a natural health service as they’re now being called.
“But not everyone has access to green spaces and too many have been lost as the countryside next door to our largest towns and cities faces mounting pressure for development.
“If the government is serious about learning the lessons of the pandemic, it must use upcoming planning reforms to protect these precious spaces and recognise their value as a natural health service, as we do.
“But we can’t stop there – by properly investing in our green spaces we can make these spaces easily accessible to more people and invite wildlife like birds, butterflies and bees back.”
Paula Higgins, chief executive of the Homeowners Alliance, said: “Now that people are allowed to move, new-build homes and those with nearby green space are becoming more popular.
“There is a real opportunity for developers and government to create quality green spaces – and this is much more than a patch of lawn. Planning reform should ensure that green spaces are not considered to be an afterthought or a nice extra given the positive role they can play in people’s lives.”

Friday, June 12, 2020

Cleve Hill Solar Park: making money at the expense of the environment in the name of the environment

The landscape of the North Kent Marshes is set to be changed drastically

CPRE Kent is hugely disappointed by the government’s decision to back the building of the UK’s largest solar farm on Graveney Marshes, near Faversham.
The Planning Inspectorate announced yesterday (Thursday, May 28) that Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, had granted a Development Consent Order for Cleve Hill Solar Park.
CPRE Kent 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.
A coherent policy would entail solar energy becoming an integral part of housing development. Instead, the government is offering little or no incentive for that to happen, a particular irony given the thousands of new houses being targeted for the surrounding area.
This development, if it proceeds, will destroy a precious and fragile landscape, wreck natural habitat for a wide range of wildlife and inflict substantial disturbance and disruption on local people, through construction and subsequent maintenance of the site, for decades to come.
CPRE Kent is a strong supporter of renewable energy, but both the vast scale and sensitive location of this scheme mean its development should never have been accepted.
Further, there are serious safety implications for the nearby town of Faversham and village of Graveney. With energy due to be stored in a giant battery system, the threat of a potentially devastating fire should not be understated.
This is not scaremongering, as fires at battery installations across the world have proved. Of course, developers are not resourcing the local authorities and services that will be tasked with tackling the consequences of any such incidents.
Despite the promotion of Cleve Hill Solar Park as a green energy project, it is difficult to view it as anything other than a developers’ cash cow. Anything that destroys countryside and harms wildlife on this vast scale is not green energy.
Cleve Hill is all about making money at the expense of the environment in the name of the environment.
CPRE Kent will be considering its options in response to the Secretary of State’s decision.

  • You can read the Examining Authority’s report and the Secretary of State’s decision letter here

Friday, May 29, 2020

Protect our green spaces, government is urged in lockdown survey

The countryside in north-west Kent lies close to large centres of population… has its value ever been greater?

Despite us living under the strictest social-distancing measures we’ve ever experienced in the UK, there has been an increase in community spirit and appreciation for local green spaces and countryside during lockdown, according to new research.
Commissioned by CPRE, the countryside charity, and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (WI), and carried out by Opinium, the poll has found that more than half (54 per cent) agree that people are doing more to help their communities and almost two-thirds of people (63 per cent) feel that protecting local green spaces should be a higher priority for the government when lockdown ends.
The results show local green spaces have been a haven for many people since lockdown measures began, with:

  • The majority (53 per cent) of people saying they appreciate local green spaces more since the country adopted social-distancing measures
  • More than half (57 per cent) of us reported that the lockdown has made us more aware of the importance of these local green spaces for our mental health and well-being
  • One in three people (35 per cent) reported visiting green spaces more since the start of lockdown

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “Our countryside and local green spaces are facing mounting pressure, but the coronavirus pandemic has reminded us why the countryside next door, including our Green Belts, is so important to ordinary people.
“More people are aware of the health and well-being benefits that access to green spaces delivers and support for protecting and enhancing these after lockdown is impossible for the government to ignore.
“Going back to business as usual is not an option. The government must use the forthcoming planning reforms to protect these precious spaces and also go further by investing in their enhancement.
“Many of us feared that lockdown would see more people isolated, lonely and cut off from their communities and the outside world. However, these results have turned these notions on their head.
“While we are physically distanced, many of us are more connected than ever and people are helping each other in their communities – with different age groups connecting more – which is truly inspiring to see.”
It is clear that some of the high-profile volunteering and fundraising initiatives are not isolated acts of kindness and community spirit. The poll has also uncovered an outpouring of community spirit and feeling of togetherness, revealing that:

  • Only 11 per cent of us feel less connected to our community at this time – 40 per cent feel more connected and 42 per cent just as connected as before
  • More than half (54 per cent) of us agree that people are doing more to help their community under lockdown
  • Two in five people (42 per cent) are communicating more with people in their local community and one in six people (19 per cent) communicating at least twice as much with their neighbours as before
  • The top five ways in which we’re connecting more under lockdown are:
    • ‘Clap for the NHS’ on a Thursday evening (49 per cent)
    • Saying hello at the front door (37 per cent)
    • Social media (36 per cent)
    • Phone calls (33 per cent)
    • Seeing people in person and at a safe distance in communal spaces like parks (29 per cent)

Intergenerational connections have also been impacted:

  • Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of people report they have made new connections with different age groups in their local community
  • One in three (33 per cent) 18- to 34-year-olds say they have made new intergenerational connections
  • For all those who have made these new connections, more than two-thirds (69 per cent) are optimistic these new relationships will continue once lockdown is over.

Lynne Stubbings, chair, National Federation of Women’s Institutes, said: “It is wonderful to see how communities have become more connected in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It is clear that we are cherishing our local communities now more than ever – by supporting our neighbours and those who are vulnerable, and getting out in the fresh air at our local green spaces.
“The WI has always thrived through difficult times and for over one hundred years it has remained at the heart of its communities, supporting those in need – and today’s lockdown is no different.
“WI members across the country have stepped forward to help others throughout the crisis – whether by arranging free book deliveries, sewing for the NHS, supporting food banks, or creating craft kits for families home-schooling their children.
“It is these acts of kindness and solidarity which have spread positivity, alleviated loneliness and lifted people’s spirits through what has been an incredibly challenging time.
“Throughout this crisis, green spaces have also been a lifeline to people dealing with the impact of lockdown. So many of us have discovered pockets of green right on our doorsteps – a chance to get out in the fresh air, exercise and support our mental well-being, which has been an oasis in difficult times. Yet too many of these places are threatened – by pollution, litter or the impacts of climate change.
“As we look to rebuild after the crisis, we must make sure that we continue to cherish our communities and this new sense of connectedness – both to each other and to our local environment.”

Monday, May 18, 2020

‘We fundamentally disagree with the inspector’s conclusions and believe key parts of the Local Plan requirements have been incorrectly interpreted’: Sevenoaks begins judicial review proceedings in planning battle

The authority is making good on its warning that it would not back down

Sevenoaks District Council has taken its challenge of the Planning Inspectorate to the next level by beginning judicial review proceedings.
The move comes in response to a government-appointed inspector’s refusal to endorse the council’s new Local Plan.
The inspector, Karen Baker, wrote her final report on the examination of the Plan on March 2, concluding it was not legally compliant in respect of the council’s duty to cooperate.
She had advised the council of her view in a letter to the local authority in October in which she wrote: “I have significant concerns about a number of aspects of the Plan, both in terms of legal compliance and soundness.
“My main concern relates to the lack of constructive engagement with neighbouring authorities to resolve the issue of unmet housing need and the absence of strategic cross-boundary planning to examine how the identified needs could be accommodated.”
However, not only did the council, which is being told its Plan should include the building of 11,312 homes, refuse to withdraw it but its leader, Peter Fleming, gave a fierce response to the inspector’s letter:
“It is clear to me the way this has been handled calls into question the integrity of the whole Plan-making system in this country…
“To call into question an evidence-led approach comes to the root of our concerns with the actions of the inspector. If we are not to follow the evidence to make our Plan then the government may just as well dictate how many homes an area should have and then pick sites, we need to put an end to the thinly veiled charade that Local Plans are in any way locally led.”
Cllr Fleming is now making good on his warning that the council would not back down: “I will be writing to the Secretary of State on this matter and urgently asking him to intervene,” he said in October.
“It appears something is very wrong with the system if a council with its communities works hard for four years to produce an evidence-based Plan that delivers housing, jobs and infrastructure investment, whilst protecting the environment, only to be halted by a single individual.
“We will not be withdrawing our Local Plan and the inspector will produce her report in due course. We will then take the strongest action open to us.”
The council says its Plan submission included more than 800 pages of evidence detailing how it had worked with neighbouring authorities during its production of the Plan. It adds that those councils and other organisations involved in its development supported the council’s evidence and approach.
And on Friday last week (April 17) Cllr Fleming said: “Taking legal action is not something we would undertake lightly and demonstrates we are serious about standing up for our residents and our cherished environment, against what we believe is a fundamental failure by the Planning Inspectorate to take account of the weight of evidence in front of them.
“Working with landowners, communities and developers, our new Local Plan put forward innovative solutions to deliver almost 10,000 homes and improved infrastructure while protecting nearly all of our Green Belt. It’s a huge frustration that, after so much work, we cannot take our Plan forward at this time.
“In our view, concluding we failed to cooperate with neighbouring councils was the only way to halt the examination. We reject this. We gave the planning inspector detailed evidence of our work with our neighbours and, from the start, they said they couldn’t accommodate the homes we could not deliver.”
Julia Thornton, cabinet member for development & conservation, added: “Our Local Plan is the first in the country to be assessed under a new planning framework. We believe, whilst this is not the reason the inspector has given, failing to meet the government’s housing figure would potentially impact on subsequent Local Plans across the country.
“If the inspector did have significant concerns over our duty to cooperate, these should have been raised soon after we had submitted our Plan, not months later. We fundamentally disagree with the inspector’s conclusions and firmly believe key parts of the Local Plan requirements have been incorrectly interpreted.
“We feel have no choice but to take this course of action.”
Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for the Planning Inspectorate, will have the chance to respond before a judge decides if the case should proceed.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020