Night blight and dark skies – new maps launched

The most detailed ever satellite maps of England’s light pollution and dark skies, released today (13th June) by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), have shown that Thanet Earth is the second worst light polluter in the country, only second to Tata Steel in Rotherham. [1].

Night sky over Thanet, photo by Kimberley Eve

Night sky over Thanet, photo by Kimberley Eve

Overall, Kent is the 29th darkest county of 41. The maps, produced using satellite images captured at 1.30 am throughout September 2015, show that within Kent, Ashford has the darkest skies, 68th of 326 districts. Ashford Borough Council adopted a specific Dark Skies Policy in 2014 to raise awareness about ways we can minimise light pollution and to raise the profile of dark skies as an environmental asset we are increasingly at threat of losing. [2]

Dartford has Kent’s lightest skies, 260th of the 326 districts, of course this area has major transport networks, including the Dartford Crossing.

Thanet is 241st in the rankings, with 34% of its skies in the lightest categories. Thanet Earth pledged to improve its greenhouse blinds in 2013, yet the light emitted is still severe. [3] [4] Its maximum brightness value is 584.98nanowatts/cm2*sr, brighter than anywhere else in the South East, including London.

Thanet Earth by Craig Solly 1

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Thanet Earth, photos by Craig Solly

Thanet Earth, photos by Craig Solly

The research comes at a time of increasing awareness of the harmful effects light pollution can have on the health of people and wildlife. That these skies were monitored at 1.30am illustrates just how long into the night England’s lighting spills.

The new maps were produced by Land Use Consultants from data gathered by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in America. The NOAA satellite captured visible and infrared imagery to determine the levels of light spilling up into British skies. CPRE is sending lesson plans to primary schools in order to promote the enjoyment of dark skies.

We are calling on the county’s local authorities to use these maps to identify areas with severe light pollution and target action to reduce it, as well as identifying existing dark skies that need protecting.

 

Stars by Tone Netone

Stars by Tone Netone

Starry night by Ethan Sztular

Starry night by Ethan Sztular

CPRE Kent recommends that:

  • Local authorities follow Ashford’s lead and develop policies to reduce light pollution in their emerging local plans.
    The councils use CPRE’s maps to inform decisions on local planning applications and identify individual facilities that should be asked to dim or switch off unnecessary lights.
  • Local businesses review their current lighting and future development plans to save money by dimming or switching off light to reduce pollution as well as meet their promises over reducing existing pollution (e.g. Thanet Earth).

Hilary Newport, director of CPRE Kent said: “Our view of the stars is obscured by artificial light. Many children may not have seen the Milky Way, our own galaxy, due to the veil of light that spreads across their night skies. It is known that dark skies are beneficial to our wellbeing. Light pollution can disturb our sleep, prevent our enjoyment of the countryside and affect wildlife, by interrupting natural rhythms including migration, reproduction and feeding patterns.
“Councils can reduce light levels through better planning, and with investment in the right street lighting that is used only where and when it is needed.
“Our Night Blight maps also show where people can expect to find a truly dark, starry sky and we hope they will go out and enjoy the wonder of the stars.”

Summary of Kent districts (this information and more is available via the maps):

District Ranking out of 329 % in three darkest sky categories, less than 1 NanoWatts / cm2 / sr
Ashford 68 85
Tunbridge Wells 72 76
Shepway 99 74
Sevenoaks 101 47
Dover 106 66
Canterbury 112 78
Maidstone 116 55
Swale 137 47
Tonbridge and Malling 156 32
Medway 196 12
Gravesham 202 0.3
Thanet 241 8
Dartford 260 0

 

Notes:

[1] CPRE’s interactive maps can be accessed at http://nightblight.cpre.org.uk

Light pollution is a generic term referring to excess artificial light that shines where it is neither wanted nor needed. In broad terms, there are three types of light pollution:

  • skyglow – the pink or orange glow we see for miles around towns and cities, spreading deep into the countryside, caused by a scattering of artificial light by airborne dust and water droplets
  • glare – the uncomfortable brightness of a light source
  • light intrusion – light spilling beyond the boundary of the property on which a light is located, sometimes shining through windows and curtains
[2] http://www.ashford.gov.uk/dark-skies-spd-2014

[3] http://www.thanetearth.com/faqs-growing-using-light.html

[4] http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/skies-Birchington-going-green/story-20253506-detail/story.html

June 13th 2016

Public support for plastic bag charge increases

it’s great news that plastic bag usage has slumped by around 80% – the UK’s largest retailer Tesco said in December that the number of bags had been slashed by 78% since the 5p charge was introduced, while at Morrisons, plastic bag consumption was down 80% across its stores. The Government is now collecting full usage statistics so the full picture should be clear soon.

Meanwhile, a poll partly-commissioned by CPRE has revealed increased public support for the bag charge in England [1]. The poll for the Break the Bag Habit (BTBH) coalition found that 70% of English respondents now find it reasonable to charge 5p for all carrier bags – an 8% increase in support in the eight months since the English charge came into force [2]. The increase was particularly marked amongst younger people, where support has jumped 10% [3].

plastic bag cpre

Despite this encouraging news, the poll indicated that more people find the current charge confusing than not. The charge, introduced on 5 October 2015, does not apply to businesses of fewer than 250 employees, paper bags or franchises such as Subway. Answering the ICM survey, 42% of respondents found it confusing that only some shops charged for bags.

Samantha Harding, spokesperson for the Break the Bag Habit coalition, said:

“People are clearly confused by the current scope of the charge. A universal scheme that applies to all bags and all retailers will eliminate confusion, boost public support, and most importantly reduce bag usage and litter.

“With a frankly ridiculous £1 billion litter bill, England is lagging behind the other home nations. Now that the scheme has been successfully launched, the Government should review the exemptions and introduce a universal charge.”

Photo: Earth Policy Institute

Photo: Earth Policy Institute

[1] The 2016 poll was conducted by ICM on 11th of May 2016. ICM interviewed a random sample of 2000 GB adults, including 1742 in England, aged 18+ online. The results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information is available at www.icmresearch.co.uk.

[2] The Break the Bag Habit coalition consists of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Greener Upon Thames, Keep Britain Tidy, Surfers Against Sewage and Thames21. The coalition has long worked towards the introduction of a carrier bag charge scheme in England.

[3] Survey respondents aged 18-24.

June 7th 2016

New interactive map of threats to the Green Belt

London Green Belt Council with CPRE London and seven other CPRE branches have made an interactive map showing threats to the London (Metropolitan) Green Belt. It is a worrying picture.

Screenshot of Threats Map

Campaigners have today published a map of threats to London’s Green Belt. It shows nearly 200 sites under threat from development and proposals for building over 110,000 houses on protected green belt land.

Catherine Maguire, Green Belt Campaigner, said: “London’s Green Belt has saved our countryside. It is hugely valuable – more so now than ever, with more and more pressure being piled on the South East. If it had not been for the London Green Belt preventing urban sprawl, London could have followed the example of Los Angeles, and now spread from Brighton to Cambridge, with millions of people car-dependent and horrendous traffic and pollution problems.

“The planning system has been weakened to the extent that even the ‘strongest protection’ afforded to green belt land is being ignored on a widespread basis. Even though the government has clarified that housing needs cannot ‘trump’ green belt, it has also piled pressure on councils to release land for new homes and does not take action when protected green belt land is released. This is flagrantly hypocritical.”

You can view the map here. To find out more about the Green Belt, its history and legal status, have a look at the London Green Belt Council website.

May 24th 2016


Great news – we have been granted leave to appeal on Farthingloe

CPRE Kent has been granted leave to appeal against the judicial review judgement in our fight to save the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at Farthingloe near Dover.

Farthingloe view from Western Heights, photo CPRE

Farthingloe view from Western Heights, photo CPRE

An appeal court judge has said that our arguments over mitigation to the AONB “raise an arguable point which has real prospects of success.”

CPRE Kent Chairman Christine Drury said: “This is great news – we have been determined to save this beautiful area of countryside. The harm to the AONB cannot be justified and we are heartened that the judge has agreed to our appeal on this important point.”

We argued that the judicial review judge had been wrong to conclude that the application to build 521 houses and a 90 home retirement village at Farthingloe complied with planning law (paragraph 116 of the National Planning Policy framework (NPPF)).

Dover District Council planning officers had criticised the density and layout of the scheme and recognised that it would have significant adverse impact on the AONB. Councillors ignored this advice and agreed to the proposals without any mitigation measures.

CPRE Kent, Natural England, the Kent Downs AONB Unit and the National Trust all opposed the decision and it is astounding that the case was not called in by the Secretary of State despite the strongest recommendations from his advisors.

Christine Drury added: “We will never give up on our countryside. I would like to thank everyone who continues to support us in this important battle. It is absolutely central to our cause that we fight to protect beautiful, protected, unspoilt areas of countryside for future generations.”

We will now prepare for the Court of Appeal hearing which could be some months away.

Read more on the background to this hereherehere and here.

May 10th 2016.


Good news – 67 homes on inappropriate site appeal dismissed

A planning inspector has dismissed an appeal by a developer wanting to build 67 homes on the former Norton Ash Garden Centre near Faversham.

We had objected to the plans because the site is unsustainable with no community facilities. All travel would be by car. The inspector agreed that “it amounts to the creation of a suburban housing estate in a rural location with few facilities”. He said “the proposal is not in a sustainable location and does not represent development in the right place”.

Photo, Vicky Ellis

Photo, Vicky Ellis

The inspector also agreed that the development is in fundamental conflict with Swale’s development plan because the site is within countryside outside of any settlement.

CPRE Planner Jillian Barr said: “We were pleased that the inspector took notice of Swale’s emerging local plan and attached weight to its settlement strategy.  We hope the council will take this decision into account when considering other speculative development proposals.”

May 10th 2016

Housing and Planning Bill – some good news

Housing and Planning Bill – Affordable rural homes

Due to the low number of affordable homes and the high cost of property in rural areas, CPRE has been vigorously campaigning to protect affordable housing for those on lower incomes in the countryside.

The Housing and Planning Bill reached report stage in the House of Lords last Monday (11 April). Lords debated amendments concerning affordable rural housing, namely: excluding ‘starter homes’ from rural exception sites; excluding rural areas from the forced sale of council homes; and excluding rural areas from the extension of the right-to-buy from rural areas.

Starter homes

After lengthy discussions and valuable contributions from a number of Lords, including Lord Best and Lord Cameron of Dillington, we are pleased to report that the Government conceded that new approaches are required on both exception sites and council homes in rural areas to protect affordable housing provision in rural areas. The Government will disclose its proposed amendments along these lines at the bill’s Third Reading next week.

The Government’s willingness to negotiate these terms is very welcome, and we look forward to seeing the detail put forward.

Housing and Planning Bill – Neighbourhood right of appeal

CPRE has long campaigned for the Government to introduce a limited neighbourhood right of appeal. This would enable local communities to appeal against approved but speculative planning applications where they conflicted with a made or well-advanced neighbourhood plan.

On Wednesday 20 April Baroness Parminter (Lib Dem) spoke forcefully when proposing that this instrument be introduced to the Housing and Planning Bill. Baroness Parminter argued that an amendment introducing a neighbourhood right of appeal would ensure that it was easier to build consensus in local communities behind the development we need.

Kent aeria photo by Vicky Ellis

Kent aerial photo by Vicky Ellis

Despite the efforts of Government to oppose the amendment, Lords from across the House spoke in support and the amendment was subsequently passed by 251 contents to 194 not-contents. With Civic Voice and the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), we must thank many peers, including Lords Best, Taylor, Kennedy and Marlesford, for their support.

Even though the Government was defeated, the amendment is very likely to be debated and opposed when the Bill goes back to the Commons. As a number of Conservative MPs have supported the right of appeal in the past, including Nick Herbert and Sir Oliver Heald QC, we look forward to the next parliamentary discussions on this matter.

April 25th 2016

Disappointment in response to community appeal petition

We are disappointed in the Government response to the community right of appeal petition so many of you have been signing.
The Government “does not believe that a right of appeal against the grant of planning permission for communities, including parish councils, is necessary. The Government considers that communities already have opportunity to guide and inform local planning issues via Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans, and it would be wrong for them to be able to delay a development at the last minute, through a community right of appeal”.
The Petitions Committee (made up of 11 MPs) will take a look at this petition and its response and could still press the government for action and gather evidence.
Read the full response here.
April 19th 2016.

Stour Park will harm landscape and heritage

We have raised concerns about the huge scale of a planned warehouse development near Ashford and its impact on the important landscape and heritage setting.

The developers of Stour Park, Friends Life Ltd, have applied for permission to build enormous warehouses, 16 metres tall and covering an area the size of 31 football pitches (160,000 sq m). The site, next to Sevington and Mersham villages, is identified for commercial development in the local plan.

Sevington, photo The Village Alliance

Sevington, photo The Village Alliance

We are concerned that the masterplan does not provide sufficient guidance to ensure that the harm to sensitive heritage, landscapes and communities is minimised and appropriately mitigated. The site is close to the medieval grade 1 listed St Mary’s Church and the North Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is essential that a sensitive approach to important views (heritage and landscapes), ecological mitigation, landscaping and building heights, colour, materials and orientation are agreed from the outset.

St Mary's Church, Sevington, photo The Village Alliance

St Mary’s Church, Sevington, photo The Village Alliance

Chairman of CPRE Kent’s Ashford Committee, Dr Hilary Moorby said: “We need to protect the setting of this important church and the AONB. The sheer scale of these giant buildings will change this beautiful rural area dramatically and everything possible must be done to minimise the harm.” Continue reading

Strongly opposed to damaging new crossing

CPRE Kent has raised significant concerns about the proposed Lower Thames crossing including fears over air quality, transport, devastation of areas of countryside and the complete failure of strategic planning which means it won’t even solve the problem.

Responding the Highways England consultation, we have stressed that we are strongly opposed to option C (bored tunnels from Gravesend) but we would also oppose option A at Dartford because of the longer-term induced traffic growth, congestion and reduction in air quality.

Artist's impression of the bored tunnels

Artist’s impression of the bored tunnels

Director Hilary Newport said: “The planned crossing would damage important areas of countryside that are a vital ‘green lung’ to the urban population of the Medway towns, providing recreation and the opportunity for quiet enjoyment of the countryside which is so important for physical and psychological health.”

These areas include ancient woodland and Metropolitan Green Belt. There would also be an impact on the wider area, a loss of amenity in and around Shorne Country Park and the open landscapes to the north.

Post Opening Performance Evaluation (POPE) studies for new roads schemes have repeatedly shown that new road routes do not just relieve congestion, but create and attract new traffic.

There is already an over-reliance on the channel corridor and the channel crossings for the transport of goods to and from Europe. This should be an issue of national concern for the UK’s resilience and security. Not only is there the need to implement Operation Stack during periods of disruption, but even during normal operations, the Dover ‘Traffic Assessment Project’ (’Dover TAP’) is frequently used to hold back port-bound HGVs on the A20 to limit congestion and air pollution in Dover Town Centre. This of course simply displaces the same congestion and air quality concerns to other parts of the roads network. Continue reading

Concerns about Maidstone Local Plan

CPRE Kent has said it is concerned about the scale of development – 18,560 new homes – proposed in the Maidstone Local Plan.

Responding to the Maidstone Local Plan Pre-Submission document, we also raised the following concerns:

  • the absence of sound supporting evidence
  • the accompanying draft Integrated Transport Plan has not been agreed with Kent County Council or the Maidstone Joint Transportation Board
  • the cost of providing much of the necessary supporting infrastructure is unknown and there is no guarantee that statutory contributions will cover the cost
  • the Gypsy and Traveller and Travelling Showpeople Accommodation Assessment has not followed government guidance.

Harrietsham sign by Gregory Williams View near Staplehurst by fraser Elliot

Photos above: Harrietsham sign by Gregory Elliot and view near Staplehurst by Fraser Elliot

Most of the housing (84%) is allocated on greenfield land and this approach will not encourage the development of brownfield and previously developed land. The scale of residential development in villages and rural settings is disproportionate to their size, and is unlikely to promote sustainable journeys and more likely to increase traffic on the roads.

Finally, we are very concerned that land at Woodcut Farm close to junction 8 of the M20 is allocated for employment – this is an unsuitable location for development as agreed by the inspectors who considered the Kent International Gateway proposal, and the recent Waterside Park application.

Chairman of the CPRE Kent Maidstone Committee Gary Thomas said: “This local plan is already having a terrible impact on villages and countryside. It would cause enormous traffic problems and a strain on school, health and travel facilities. The number of new homes is unrealistic and unsustainable. There will be a loss of greenfield land, much of it valuable farmland and the beautiful landscapes so important to the character and enjoyment of our county.”

Read our full submissions here and here.

March 23rd 2016.


M20 Junction 10a

CPRE Kent’s Ashford Committee has submitted comments on the proposed new Junction 10a of the M20.

We are concerned about the effect the new junction would have on the wider road network, particularly the Romney Marsh road and the country lanes around Mersham.

Chairman of the Ashford Committee Hilary Moorby said: “It is imperative that the village of Mersham is protected from the village lanes becoming rat runs to the M20. It is also important that a buffer of open countryside between the village and the industrial site U19 (Stour park) is provided.”

M20 approaching Junction 10

M20 approaching Junction 10

Mersham Parish Council has requested that the link between Kingsford  Street and Highfield Lane be closed and we support this.

We also want to know the exact effect on public rights of way and need details of any permanent closure or realignment so that the needs of pedestrians, horses and cyclists can be assessed and provided for.

We are calling for safety measures on the Barrey Rd/A2070 Junction, including traffic lights, a strict enforcement of the proposed 40mph speed limit  and a lane restricted to hospital traffic only.

We also want more done to mitigate the damage to the existing environment and protect the important wildlife on the site.

You can read our full comments here.

March 21st 2016.


Last day to sign important petition – give communities a voice

You have just today left to sign an important petition calling for parish councils to be given the right to appeal planning decisions to the Planning Inspectorate. we are strongly supporting this because the current planning system is unfair.

Kent aeria photo by Vicky Ellis

Kent aerial photo by Vicky Ellis

CPRE has long called for a limited community right of appeal in areas where a development is non-compliant with a neighbourhood plan or local plan. Currently parish councils and other community groups have the power to produce neighbourhood plans, but no scope to stop developers overriding this by putting in speculative planning applications for approval by the district council. Budget cuts within local authorities mean that they are under increasing pressure to allow large developments, even when these are not in line with the community’s aspirations for the future of its area. Continue reading

Huge solar farm refused over landscape and heritage concerns

Good news – Maidstone Borough Council has refused an application for a 29,400 panel solar farm across 28 acres of agricultural land at Great Tong Farm.

We were concerned about the impact the site would have on the landscape and the heritage of the area – the site would be seen in views from the Greensand Ridge and was in close proximity to 23 listed buildings – including seven on Tong Farm itself.

Solar farm in Europe, photo flickr

Solar farm in Europe, photo flickr

The site lies in the Special Landscape Area of the Low Weald and Greensand Ridg and is bordered by three public rights of way. Headcorn’s built environment is 76 hectares. Proposed development would equate to 15% of this figure, increasing to 27% in conjunction with the 220 homes already granted permission on Tong Farm.

The Kent Historic Buildings Committee, part of CPRE Kent, raised concerns on the setting of heritage assets on Tong and the wider landscape including Grade 1 Ulcombe Church. The objection stated “a considerable number of buildings stand to be affected, both individually, and as a group, and we would say the total effect of the proposal on the heritage environment is substantial”.

Historic England said the solar array would cause “modest harm to the significance of these listed buildings by altering the context that explains their historical purpose”. The site would be visible from Grade 1 Ulcombe Church, classified as an “important view”.

March 1st 2016

 

Lower Thames Crossing debate

We will be debating the proposed new Lower Thames Crossing at an important public meeting next week.

Wednesday, 2nd March
St John’s Catholic Comprehensive School, Rochester Road, Gravesend, Kent DA12 2JW

Doors open 18:00 for 19:00 start

Lower Thames Crossing image

Organised by Gravesham Neighbourhood Forums, the speakers are CPRE Kent Director Hilary Newport and Highways England Consultation Manager Martin Potts. The meeting will be chaired by journalist Iain McBride with maximum time for questions.

QE2 Bridge by Diamond Geezer, flickr

QE2 Bridge by Diamond Geezer, flickr

Meanwhile we have raised our concerns about the implications for pollution of the proposed new crossing.

Alex Hills, Chairman of the Dartford and Gravesham branch of CPRE Kent, said: “We all know that pollution is a killer with the young most at risk and yet the route being promoted passes many schools. We find it baffling that Highways England is not going to do a full modelling of the impact on air quality until after the route has been chosen.”(1)

Highways England documents state that no parts of the south east meet the ambient air quality directive(2) and Gravesend and Rochester town centres already exceed safe pollution levels. Experts calculate that pollution accounts for 40,000(3) early deaths a year. Research has proven that pollution can cause asthma, strokes and heart attacks, so should be regarded as a serious health issue.(4)

It is for this reason the government is supposed to be working towards reducing UK emissions by 60%.  Air pollution reduces brain function and development in children(5). A new tunnel and the associated road network leading to and from the tunnel will only lead to a worsening of air pollution levels in Kent and Essex.

Alex Hills said: “The increasing evidence on the effects of air pollution on people’s health makes the government’s insistence on a new road crossing indefensible. There needs to be a proper study into the alternatives. We have called for a sustainable transport strategy to ease congestion not just here but on the M20 and at Dover too.”

(1)Highways England document volume 6.4.3.6

(2)In 2015 the Supreme court ruled the UK had been in breach of the Ambient Air Quality Directive 2008/50/EC since 2010

(3)Royal College of Physicians-Channel 4 Despatches 22.2.2016

(4)Queen Marys Hospital London, Professor Jonathan Grigg and Edinburgh Royal Infirmary Professor David Newby, Channel 4 Despatches 22.2.2016

(5)Pompeu Fabra University Barcelona Professor Jordi Sunyer- Channel 4 Despatches 22.2.2016

For more information on our policy position click here.

February 25 2016.

Consultation on Proposed Changes to National Planning Policy

CPRE Kent has commented on the consultation on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework which covers the following broad areas:

  1. Broadening the definition of affordable housing. We believe the inclusion of starter homes within the definition of affordable housing raises significant concerns about the availability of properly affordable homes for rent or intermediate ownership in our rural areas.  This impact will be even more pronounced if ‘right to buy’ is extended, and the new starter homes are not retained in perpetuity for people with a local connection.

housing image for NPPF

  1. Increasing the density of development around commuter hubs.  We agree with the principle of higher density around commuter hubs, but a lot more work needs to be done to define what a commuter hub is, and to ensure that the location has access to a range of services.
  1. Supporting sustainable new settlements, development on brownfield land and small sites, and delivery of housing agreed in Local Plans.  Due to the settlement pattern in Kent, and the reductions in staff and resources in local authorities, new settlements are unlikely to be appropriate.   We do support, however, a strengthening of policy to encourage development of brownfield sites in sustainable locations and where they are not of high environmental value. Unintended consequences of changes to policy are, however, an issue and we are very concerned about the proposals to strengthen the policy on small greenfield sites for housing.  A presumption in favour of small urban edge sites, for example, will be harmful to the setting of our settlements and the delivery of exception sites for affordable homes.
  1. Supporting delivery of starter homes.  We believe there are a host of potential unintended consequences by setting an unrealistic time limit on the retention of land for employment uses.  The uptake of employment land can be very cyclical and councils need to be able to plan for the future.   Balance is key and although some employment sites might be suitable for delivery of starter homes, Council’s need to be able to protect land, if necessary, from higher value uses. It is essential that brownfield land in the Green Belt can be classed as ‘inappropriate’ if development would damage openness or land of high environmental value.

You can read our full response by clicking here.

February 22nd 2016.