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.

  • You can read more on this story here and here

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Can you sponsor Vicky in her 2.6 Challenge?

The challenge is being taken on across the country

The financial problems faced by many charities due to the Covid-19 lockdown have been well charted, but one staff member at CPRE Kent will be taking on the 2.6 Challenge to raise funds for the countryside charity.
“I will be running round my paddock 26 times for CPRE Kent because I want to help protect the countryside and fauna,” said Vicky Ellis, who has set herself the target of raising £500.
The 2.6 Challenge has been established to help charities through this lockdown period, which potentially could prove terminal for some.
It was set up by JustGiving and “the organisers of the UK’s biggest mass participation events, who have come together to create The 2.6 Challenge, a nationwide fundraising campaign to raise vital funds to help save the UK’s charities”.
It launches on Sunday (April 26), which had been the date of the London Marathon before its postponement; this is the world’s largest one-day fundraising event, last year pulling in more than £66.4 million for thousands of charities.
In response to that loss, organisers have been encouraging people to take part in the challenge on Sunday, although people can take part up until Sunday, May 3.
The JustGiving website says: “All that people need to do is think of an activity that suits their skills based around the number 2.6 or 26. The campaign is open to anyone of any age – the only requirement is that the activity must follow the government guidelines on exercise and social distancing.”
Vicky, who will be tackling the challenge on Sunday with her friend Catherine Avery, said: “I run virtually every day, but with lockdown I have decided for this 2.6 Challenge to keep it local and run round my horse’s field 26 times.
“I may get a funny look or two from my horse and donkey as they wonder what it is I’m up to. The total in laps equates to around five miles.”

  • To sponsor Vicky, please click here
  • You can of course take on your own 2.6 Challenge for CPRE Kent. To do so, or just to learn more about it, click here

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

How the coronavirus crisis is hitting rural communities: letter goes to government

Countryside living can appear idyllic, but rural issues are being exacerbated by the pandemic

The specific impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on rural communities have been highlighted in a letter to government.
Addressed to George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the letter is signed by the chairs of ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), Plunkett Foundation, Rural Services Network and the Rural Coalition, of which CPRE is a member.
It says: “Communities and individuals everywhere are affected, in cities, towns and villages, but we thought it might be helpful to share with you some of the particular impacts on rural communities and where help is needed.
“We would urge you, as part of your rural affairs brief, to ensure that your colleagues across government take account of the rural dimension in both tackling the virus and in the mitigating measures.”
Subjects covered include the economic impact on high streets in rural towns, on tourism and leisure businesses and on workers whose employment is often seasonally related and linked to the land.
The potential social, mental-health and well-being effects on people in the countryside, some of whom are socially isolated anyway, are also put into focus.
Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said: “When a village hall, pub or shop has to close, the village loses a lifeline.”

  • To read the letter to the Secretary of State, click here

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Let’s all look out for each other: a message from CPRE’s chief executive

Crispin Truman: ‘We are committed to doing our bit’

The coronavirus outbreak brings with it unprecedented challenges for organisations and individuals alike. Our first thoughts, of course, are with all those infected by the virus, and their loved ones.
For us as CPRE, the countryside charity, the welfare of our staff and volunteers is paramount. That’s why our staff are working from home for the foreseeable future and all CPRE meetings and events, nationally and locally, that were due to take place over the coming months have been postponed, or are taking place online. We are committed to doing our bit to help slow the spread of the virus.
But we are still here and working for our vision of a thriving beautiful countryside. We at CPRE are rapidly reviewing our plans for 2020 in light of the coronavirus outbreak. We’re determined to find new and creative ways to help our members, supporters and volunteers through this difficult time.
With Public Health England advising us all to avoid unnecessary physical contact, vulnerable people living in rural communities – including more elderly people – are of particular concern to CPRE.
Through small acts of kindness, whether it be a kind message or a phone call to someone you know is in need, we will be able to ease the burden on those most vulnerable and support each other through the coming months. Let’s all look out for each other.
With best wishes to you and your loved ones,
Crispin Truman OBE
chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Thames Crossing consultation extended to April 2

More time to have your say…

Public consultation on the proposed Lower Thames Crossing has been extended until Thursday, April 2.
A spokesman for Highways England said: “As a result of cancelling our last public information event and our remaining three mobile information centres, we recognise that some people may have not yet had the opportunity to speak to the team at an event.
“We are also conscious that the attentions of people and organisations will have been focused elsewhere over the past few days. Therefore we have taken the decision to extend the consultation until 23.59 on Thursday 2 April. 
“This is to give people additional time to complete their consultation response and to enable organisations to complete their governance processes, which may have been disrupted.
“Until that time people can continue to share their views online here, (www.lowerthamescrossing.co.uk/consultation-2020) by submitting a paper response form to Freepost LTC CONSULTATION or by emailing ltc.consultation@traverse.ltd”
Highways England is also opening a phone service for those who had planned to go to the remaining consultation events. Sessions will run from 2pm-8pm on Monday, March 23, and Wednesday, March 25; call 020 3787 4300.
CPRE Kent has already put together a substantive response to the consultation, which had been due to end on Wednesday, March 25.

  • To read more from Highways England on the project and the consultation extension, click here

CPRE Kent: statement on coronavirus

CPRE Kent headquarters at Charing (pic Google)

CPRE Kent has considered its position after government advice on the coronavirus pandemic and will be keeping its Charing office open with a skeleton staff.
Remaining staff members will be working remotely until further notice. Any changes to the situation will be communicated via this website and our social media outlets (Facebook and Twitter).
We wish you all peace, health and safety during this difficult time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Lower Thames Crossing public events cancelled but consultation remains open

You can still have your say on the LTC project

Given the government’s updated guidelines on tackling coronavirus, Highways England has taken the decision to cancel its remaining four supplementary consultation events.
However, the consultation remains open and people can continue to share their views online at www.lowerthamescrossing.co.uk/consultation-2020, by submitting a paper response form to Freepost LTC CONSULTATION or by emailing ltc.consultation@traverse.ltd

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Gravesham residents form group to fight council’s housing proposals

Shorne is one of Gravesham’s more attractive villages (pic Roy Dinnis)

In response to Gravesham Borough Council’s proposal to build 8,000 homes in the borough, many of which are planned to be built on the Green Belt, residents have formed an action group to examine and fight the proposals.
They have formed a group under the auspices of CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England). It has four aims:
• To defend the Green Belt
• To challenge the number of homes to be built
• Raise public awareness of air-pollution issues and how air quality can be improved
• Campaign for all new houses in Gravesham to be zero carbon
The challenges facing Gravesham are vast, but if we can all work together they have a greater chance of being resolved.
Alex Hills, chairman of CPRE Kent’s Gravesham committee, said: “We are holding a public meeting at Istead Rise Community Centre – all concerned residents should attend.
“This will be on a Friday towards the end of March and once the date is confirmed it will be published.
“Please email info@cprekent.org.uk or visit our website, cprekent.org.uk, for information.”

Monday, February 10, 2020

Legal challenge launched against plan to develop water meadows for car park extension

Beautiful… Wincheap Water Meadows

CPRE Kent is legally challenging the decision by Canterbury City Council to award itself planning permission for the expansion of a car park over an area of undeveloped riverside.
The local authority’s planning committee approved the council’s own planning application on Tuesday, October 15, meaning that, if it goes ahead, the Wincheap Park & Ride extension will cover a stretch of floodplain next to the River Stour, an area known as Wincheap Water Meadows.
This is a Local Wildlife Site, lies in an Area of High Landscape Value and is part of the designated Stour Valley Green Corridor.
The city council says it needs to extend the park & ride at Wincheap once a new A2 slip road has been built, but CPRE Kent, supported by the Save Wincheap Water Meadows campaign, says there are other sites that could be used or alternatively part of the existing car park could be decked.
CPRE Kent is now calling for a judicial review of the council planning committee’s decision and the way it was arrived at.
The legal challenge rests on three grounds:
• Failure to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment
• Legal errors in the Habitats Regulation Assessment
• Misleading claims that the site had been ‘allocated’ in the Local Plan and that it would not have a harmful effect on the landscape
Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said: “This is not the sort of action we take lightly, but sometimes a planning decision is simply wrong and we can’t stand by and watch a precious natural asset to so many people be destroyed.
“This is very much one of those occasions.”   
Although the application has been approved by the council’s planning committee, a final decision on the project will be taken by full council next year.
Save Wincheap Water Meadows is working with CPRE Kent and has pledged to raise £5,000 to help fund the initial phase of the legal challenge, paying the costs of preparing and filing the application for judicial review. 
A campaign spokesman said: “We need your support. Please help us to save this precious stretch of river valley for future generations.”

  • If you would like to contribute to the campaign to save Wincheap Water Meadows, please click here
  • For more on this story, please see here

Monday, December 9, 2019

General election: what we would like to see from our candidates and their parties

CPRE Kent is calling on all political parties to embrace the countryside charity’s vision for a countryside that is thriving and accessible and makes a significant contribution to reaching net-zero carbon.
We want to see sustainable rural communities, supported by investment from business and government, where people’s voices are heard in decision-making and local needs are met.

Our priorities are:
1. Tackling the climate emergency – the next government must commit to ambitious measures to reach net-zero emissions by 2045 through implementing changes to farming practices, the balance of our energy supply and by energy efficiency in homes.
2. A countryside for all of us – our countryside must be a source of well-being for everyone. The next government must improve access to green spaces, especially for children and those who do not have access, as well as helping create a litter-free future with an ‘all-in’ deposit return scheme for cans and bottles.
3. Planning for communities – the planning system is one of local democracy’s most powerful and effective tools. The government must support a well-resourced planning system that empowers communities and promotes development that responds to their needs. Green Belt should be protected and a strict ‘brownfield first’ policy committed to.
4. Creating thriving rural communities – the next government should commit to provide genuinely affordable homes and infrastructure, both digital and actual, such as rural transport that connects communities to employment opportunities and vital public services.

  • You can read the CPRE leaflet Our countryside: a manifesto for the next government here:

Friday, November 8, 2019

District chairmen’s reports… in their entirety!

Maidstone’s Gary Thomas is one of the district chairmen who contribute so much to CPRE Kent

In the Autumn/Winter 2019/20 edition of Kent Voice, we carried reports from our district and committee chairmen from around the county. Space restrictions meant we couldn’t bring you them in their entirety, so here they are…

Ashford – Christine Drury

  • CPRE Ashford would love to have more volunteers bringing their local knowledge to help us make relevant and constructive comments on planning applications, large and small. We also now have a separate meeting looking at wider issues that may help us make early suggestions for the next Local Plan, as well as immediate issues. If you are interested in either, please contact the office on 01233 714540.
  • Since the 38-minute high-speed train service to St Pancras started in 2009, the Ashford area has become a developers’ honeypot. That has been good for the long-awaited regeneration of the town centre, although it has lost its M&S and will lose its Debenhams. Flats are being built, a cinema and brewery have arrived and restaurants, leisure and culture are the next priorities for the town centre. We support this brownfield regeneration.
  • The Local Plan includes the development of large swathes of countryside to the south of the town, adjacent to the now-emerging Chilmington Green urban extension. Together these are now designated as South Ashford Garden Community. We have commented formally and are engaging to ensure these are well-planned developments including provision for cycling and walking, with 10-minute bus provision assured. Outline plans are too car-dependent.
  • The pressures outside Ashford town are now huge. The borough is one of the largest in the county and, like most of Kent, is more than 75 per cent countryside. Houses in villages sell at a premium. If developments comprise fewer than 10 properties and are in a small plot they avoid the 40 per cent affordable requirement. Cumulative impacts are being ignored. In the absence of buses, shops and local school places, they are car- and delivery-dependent, putting huge pressures on rural roads as well as being against the direction in which we need to move to be climate-behaviour-compliant. Ashford CPRE generally supports small infill development, but in combination with allocated sites the cumulative strain on parishes is destructive. Some are outrageously opportunistic: Wates’s proposal for a further 250 homes in Tenterden is not in the Local Plan and would destroy the character of a small town where the green spaces reach deep into its heart from the surrounding AONB. Tenterden already has a lot of approved development and an inadequate bus service.
  • We collaborate wherever we can in the borough – currently with Rural Means Rural and the Limes Land Protection Group in Tenterden. Do contact us if you are part of a group not yet working with CPRE.

    Canterbury – Nick Blake
  • After Barrie Gore’s report in the previous edition of Kent Voice featuring the city council’s own application for a park-and-ride at Wincheap, it has reacted to a huge amount of objection but only by moving the edge back a few metres from the River Stour. This fails to recognise the impact on the Stour’s setting in this edge-of-city location. The floodplain is fairly narrow at this point, but the presence of trees means the river setting survives the proximity of Wincheap Industrial Estate. It seems our city council has no passion or eye for detail. Members of the planning committee will be in the difficult position of voting on their own council’s application. It is possible many might feel unhappy about the application but be compromised by the situation.
  • The so-called heritage champion is now also the leader of the council, which we feel is a potential conflict of interest. He has not championed any heritage cause – all we get are meetings and strategies but no positive action. The city has what look like effective policies to protect the environment, but they are not implemented. We focus so much on well-written documents, driven by hours at the desktop rather than going out and seeing.
  • Housing developments are stalled because of stakeholders not meshing together. At Sturry the council’s ‘green gap’ highlighted in the Local Plan is ridiculously narrow and will not prevent the visual merging of that village with Canterbury. The adjacent woodland that is to be retained has wedges of housing thrust into it and no plan for its maintenance. No countryside protection there!
  • The A28 Sturry relief road is short of finance and is set between planned housing developments. Have you noticed how much new housing is sited next to busy roads yet such locations have been shown to be bad for health? The nearby development at Hersden looks just like any other estate. Why do we have policies asking for local distinctiveness when we get the same mediocre housing all over the country? So not a jot of cheer from our city, I’m afraid.

Dartford and Gravesham – Alex Hills

  • The Bean interchange public inquiry began at the start of October. The Highways England proposals will not achieve their objectives, having a greater impact on the environment and residents than they should. Creating an additional eastbound slip road at Bean on to the A2 will have a negative impact on the strategic road network. It is concerning that no peak-flow forecasting work was done for the project or analysis of what the impact would be if the new Thames crossing was built and one of the crossings was closed.
  • It seems the only thing that will stop the new Thames crossing going ahead now is funding. This is totally wrong; however, now is the time to stop fighting the proposals and focus on making the project as good as we can. Getting as much of the road underground and minimising the impact on Kent roads must be our objectives. The crossing will have a large impact on Dartford, Gravesham, Maidstone, Tonbridge & Malling and even Dover.
  • It is not possible for the crossing to include a rail link due to topography on the Kent side and the required larger tunnel bore would cause the tunnel to rise.
  • There is a viable £3 billion project being developed that would see a new railway line linking HS1 with the London Gateway deepwater port in Essex. Having witnessed the problems CPRE has had over HS2 and how evidence has come to light showing the project is not in the national interest, I would urge caution with this scheme.
  • I would like to make a plea to not support any cycle lanes that are just painted lines in the road as research in this country and in Australia has proved it makes the road more dangerous for cyclists. The reason is that cars drive closer to cyclists when there is a painted cycle lane than when there is no road marking. Pedestrians, cyclists and motorists should be separated by some form of physical barrier.

Dover – Derek Wanstall

  • Dover District Council is progressing with its Local Plan review. At a recent meeting, concerns were expressed about infrastructure and the amount of traffic exiting Deal at peak times, which is causing frequent hold-ups at upper Deal roundabout and on the Dover, Deal and Sandwich bypasses towards Thanet. Of course, development on the edge of these towns exacerbates the problem.
  • Lydden Hill racing circuit will soon be up for discussion, with new plans for expansion being submitted. Noise and access is a serious problem, in conjunction with the proposed increase in race days, along with concerns relating to the AONB.
  • We await further news on Farthingloe and Western Heights. Nearby, The Citadel is up for sale as it is not being used for immigration detainees. With heritage refurbishment also on the agenda, perhaps the future of the whole area should be reviewed. It is good to see progress being made.
  • CPRE both nationally and locally is discussing ways of increasing membership, helping to keep our countryside for the future. Developers who try any way possible to achieve their ambitions by ignoring AONB and Green Belt designations must not be supported. CPRE has always stated its support for development but in the right places. Proposed developments should always consider properties for low-paid workers and people who wish to downsize.
  • Air pollution is a great concern, with more vehicles on the roads, engines left running in hold-ups and so on. Developers should plant more trees and retain them on development sites, improving the health of the nation. Sadly, the continual increase in the population only means an increase in the number of properties required.
  • Members and non-members alike are invited to the Dover AGM on Tuesday, November 5 (11am), at The Royal Hotel, Beach Street, Deal CT14 6JD. Refreshments and nibbles will be available.
  • Finally, at the Dover AGM I shall not be seeking re-election as chairman. With important issues in the area, hopefully a good turn-out will bring forth both a new chairman and a minutes secretary.

Maidstone – Gary Thomas

  • The review of the Maidstone Local Plan is taking place, due to be in place for 2022. The responses to the recent Call for Sites are due to be publicised very soon. We have responded extensively to the review, both in writing and through meetings. The increased annual rate of building from 882 dwellings to 1,236 from the start of the new Plan in 2022 presents huge problems and is due largely to the government’s ‘adjustment factor’ imposed on local authorities. This appears to just make a bad situation worse by concentrating development so heavily in the South East. The failure to match the need for improved infrastructure alongside the increasing population is obvious, but Maidstone Borough Council has no responsibility for most of what is needed (for example traffic, roads, health, education, waste disposal and public transport) so this severe mismatch is set to continue.
  • Three proposals for large ‘garden communities’ are causing great concern. Two are from developers – one just north of the county showground, the other alongside Marden – and one apparently organised by the borough council (secretly!) for Lenham Heath. We will be responding more as the plans develop.
  • There are other planning applications in Lenham that are not in the Local Plan. Lenham Neighbourhood Plan appears to be being seriously delayed.
  • Two new Gypsy and Traveller applications feature large built ‘dayrooms’ on each pitch. Gypsies and Travellers have policies not available to the rest of the population due to their culture of living in caravans in the countryside, allowing them to continue in this way. Building ‘dayrooms’ appears contrary to the reason for this policy and is a development we think should be challenged.
  • The Glover review into national landscapes has, disappointingly, ruled out expansion of the Kent Downs AONB, at least for the time being.

Medway – David Mairs

  • A petition with hundreds of names was sent to Medway Council urging it to reject applications for large-scale development in and around “the important green lung” of Lower Rainham and Lower Twydall, including a proposal for 1,250 dwellings in the Pump Lane area and housing plans to the north of Rainham. If the proposals are accepted, they will remove a significant part of the greenfield buffer preventing a continuous urban sprawl between Lower Rainham, Twydall and Gillingham.
  • As with the rest of the county, Medway faces huge challenges if it is to retain substantial areas of countryside. CPRE Kent is, however, under-represented in the district, so we are keen to hear from anyone who lives in Medway and would like to get further involved with what we do. Please feel free to call the office on 01233 714540.

Sevenoaks – Nigel Britten

  • We have embarked on the final stage of the Local Plan, the examination in public. The central question for the inspector is whether the plan is ‘sound’, meaning whether it complies with policy requirements in all respects. Within that, the key issue is housing. The government’s formula for calculating housing need stipulates that 13,960 dwellings should be built during the 20-year Plan period, 2015-2035. Instead, the Plan proposes a total of 10,600, with the justification that in a district that is almost entirely Green Belt and two-thirds AONB there is nowhere to put so many houses. We have commented at all stages of the process and are grateful to our two professional planners at the CPRE Kent office, Paul Buckley and Julie Davies, who have given us invaluable support and been presenting evidence at the examination. One major purpose will be to challenge the intention at some future date to build some 2,500 dwellings on what is now Pedham Place golf course. Committee members have been attending on as many days as possible over the four-week period, commenting in particular on proposed sites at Edenbridge and Fort Halstead.
  • Threats to the countryside are everywhere. The committee is always ready to welcome new members, so we hope anyone reading this will think about giving a little time to help protect the district’s wonderful countryside.

Shepway – Graham Horner

  • Folkestone & Hythe District Council planners have published an initial response to Folkestone & Hythe’s planning application for Otterpool Park. It echoes many of the concerns we have raised, including requesting the applicant to provide more information on and/or reconsider:

• strategy for dealing with a major road (A20) cutting through the middle of the town

• more detailed proposals for the town centre (‘Tier 2’ design) and how it will integrate with the proposed public park, Westenhanger station, Westenhanger Castle and the A20

• the rationale for the ‘overarching spacial concept’ (for example, heights, legibility and key views)

• a ‘21st-century transport vision’ as opposed to ‘predict and provide’

• better non-motorised transport links within the development and to Sellindge and Folkestone

• merging of neighbourhoods planned south of the A20

• clarity on strategy for delivery: definition of ‘master developer’ and long-term stewardship/governance

• a more joined-up approach to green infrastructure and provision for leisure

• the level of detail to be agreed at this stage, especially for later phases

FHDC has bought Westenhanger Castle after a long negotiation. Objectors have branded this a waste of money, but it will open opportunities to integrate it better into the public realm.

  • I have, wearing my parish councillor’s hat, toured new developments in the Cambridge area (Alconbury to Saffron Walden) at FHDC’s invitation. The economy around Cambridge is significantly different to that in Shepway. We saw some high-quality housing but learned it comes at a price unlikely to be sustainable in our area. Letchworth is a model for what is now called ‘land value capture’; the town owns almost all the land and takes in £12 million a year from rents and other sources to be used for maintenance and community projects. FHDC will not own all the land at Otterpool Park. At all projects visited, there was a design code that could be enforced by mechanisms with more teeth than planning conditions (such as financial penalties).
  • There is no news on the examination of the draft Core Strategy review, without which Otterpool Park should fail at the first jump.
  • FHDC has just published for consultation a draft Gypsy and Traveller Strategy to address a shortcoming of the Places and Policies part of the Local Plan.
  • Development of Princes Parade was formally given consent, despite a vote in full council to abandon the project.

Swale – Peter Blandon

  • Swale’s administration changed after May’s local elections and a new alliance is now in control. Several of its members have a track record of opposing large-scale developments and, true to form, they have now refused planning permission for two large schemes. These are:

• up to 675 homes at Wises Lane in Borden, with associated schools, surgeries and transport links. This is a deeply unpopular development that goes a long way to merging Borden with Sittingbourne.

• up to 700 homes at Barton Hill Drive, Minster, on the Isle of Sheppey

Both these proposals are on land allocated for housing in the adopted Local Plan and both had been recommended for approval by planning officers. In January, the previous administration had resolved to grant planning permission to the Borden development subject to a satisfactory S.106 agreement. However, when the new committee considered the scheme, it voted 13-2 to refuse permission. The developers agreed to a short extension to the application (it was originally submitted in October 2017) and, when that expired, immediately appealed on the grounds of non-determination. The appeal is to be decided by the Secretary of State rather than a planning inspector. The Barton Hill development had almost been refused in February with an 11-4 vote against it. But, as happens in Swale, the head planning officer called in the application, effectively nullifying the vote. The proposal returned to the committee in July with a recommendation to approve but was refused. The grounds given were harm to landscape; the setting of Parsonage Farm, a listed building; insufficient affordable housing; and transport.
The developer has said there will be an appeal, but so far none has been lodged.
So, developments totalling almost 1,400 dwellings have been refused since the change of administration. This is about two years’ housing under the adopted Local Plan and against a background of Swale failing the government’s Housing Delivery Test, meaning it must now apply a 20 per cent buffer to its housing land supply. So more sites will need to be allocated for housing. As both planning applications seem likely to go through on appeal, Swale’s new administration might be playing a dangerous game.

Thanet – David Morrish

  • Lots of valuable work done has been done for us by the team at Charing over the past six months; I and the committee thank them for their professionalism and dedication – we are fortunate to have such a good team to back us up.
  • The last days of our two big inquiries (Local Plan and Manston airport) were enlivened by the shock news from RiverOak, the applicant for the Manston Development Consent Order, that Stone Hill Park Ltd had agreed to the Acquisition by Agreement by RiverOak MSE Ltd on July 2 for the purchase of all the land SHP had owned at the airport site. This effectively means that the largest obstacle to the potential reopening of the airport (the opposition of SHP to RiverOak’s bid for a compulsory purchase order) has apparently been overcome. However, at the DCO inquiry, it was apparent that little progress had been made with regard to the acquisition of the many parcels of Ministry of Defence-owned land covered by the DCO, including the navigational apparatus. There is also the question of who are the RiverOak backers, which will not be answered in public until Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, has made his decision. Apparently, neither the counsel for SHP nor for RiverOak had been informed of any details of the purchase other than the price and the associated provision for SHP to retain all income from the ‘temporary’ lorry park at Manston should Brexit necessitate its use, so we await Mr Shapps’s considered judgement in the new year.
  • In the meantime, Thanet District Council planners need to decide how to revamp the draft Local Plan now that the housing land originally planned by SHP has been taken out of the equation. Meanwhile, housebuilding flatlines in Thanet (and newly-built houses await buyers) as, presumably, building operatives flock to more profitable pastures elsewhere in Kent.

Tonbridge and Malling – Mike Taylor

  • It has been a troubling time, largely due to Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council’s deeply flawed draft Local Plan. It has fragmented the borough into areas that support parts of it but who are terrified that any revision will fall on them and areas that have been unfairly loaded with housing proposals. Despite lodging the Plan in January, there is no sign of the appointed inspectors accepting it, which has left the door open to the usual suspects like Gladman to attempt ‘windfall’ applications because of the swiftly diminishing housing land supply.
  • The latest bombshell for TMBC is that the inspectors will split the examination into two phases, if it ever happens. Phase 1 will examine three issues – procedures, Green Belt and selection – while Phase 2 will not proceed until the inspectors are satisfied with Phase 1. We have long said that TMBC’s selection process was deeply flawed, allocating some 4,000 homes in the Green Belt while ignoring plots in the Call for Sites that were deemed ‘suitable and achievable’ and non-Green Belt, which could have provided 11,700 homes. This tends to explain the inspectors’ requirements for the Phase 1 examination.
  • It has been difficult here because traditionally we have been composed largely of parishes in the north-west of the borough, one of the areas hit hardest by the Local Plan proposals, but we are aware it would be desperately unfair to use our position on the committee to push through an official CPRE response that has a strictly local benefit, and so we have limited the number of meetings held in recent months.
  • While the government continues to swear it will protect the Green Belt, many refusals for Green Belt development are being overturned after higher intervention and so we have supported parishes in drafting a petition that demands the government properly defend Green Belt nationally: see here

Tunbridge Wells – Liz Akenhead

  • The draft Local Plan has at last been published, with Regulation 18 consultation to run to Friday, November 1. We are struggling to get to grips with its 518 pages, along with the 217 pages of almost unintelligible Sustainability Appraisal (in which the economic and social elements are generally held to outweigh the environmental) and hundreds of pages of other supporting documents such as the final Strategic Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (SHELAA), the Distribution of Development Topic Paper and the Draft Infrastructure Delivery Plan.
  • The Plan states that overall some 5.35 per cent of the Green Belt within the borough is to be de-designated and that “in accordance with the NPPF the Plan does not designate other land as ‘replacement’ Green Belt to replace that to be removed, but rather sets out how compensatory improvements to the environmental quality and accessibility of remaining Green Belt land can be made”. On a first reading, I have not noticed much evidence in the Plan that these improvements will materialise.
  • In a borough where 70 per cent of the land is AONB, 22 per cent (some of which overlaps with the AONB) is Green Belt, 16 per cent is ancient woodland, 7 per cent is floodplain, almost all ‘rural fringe’ land has already been allocated, brownfield opportunities are limited. With a reluctance to build high-rise in historic town centres, there are no painless ways of accommodating the housing numbers required under the government formula together with their associated development. Surely if there is anywhere the government’s policy exception to the requirement to provide for the full Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) for housing should apply, it ought to be Tunbridge Wells, with its protected areas such as Green Belt and AONBs. However, not only does the draft Local Plan aim to meet the full OAN, it proposes to exceed it by 9 per cent!
  • As well as massive development at Paddock Wood (4,000 dwellings in addition to the 1,000 already allocated there but construction reported to be halted because of problems with foul drainage) and 2,500-2,800 dwellings proposed at Tudeley, up to 800 dwellings will be allocated in the AONB at Cranbrook and some 700 in the AONB at Hawkhurst. New secondary schools are planned on AONB and Green Belt land at Spratsbrook Farm/Ramslye Farm south of Tunbridge Wells (with more than 200 dwellings as well) and on Green Belt land containing ancient woodland on the edge of Tonbridge. The villages have smaller allocations.
  • In addition to safeguarding land for the dualling of the A21 from Kippings Cross to Lamberhurst, three new roads are proposed to serve the proposed new developments, which will partly pay for them: an offline A228 Colts Hill bypass; a partly new, partly upgraded road (whose alignment remains to be decided) between Tonbridge and the new A228 bypass to serve the proposed Tudeley settlement; and a new road at Hawkhurst to partially bypass the Highgate crossroads. Very little information has been provided about the environmental effects of or justification for these new roads.
  • We shall be responding robustly to these issues, but the draft Plan is not all bad: many of the proposed Development Management Policies deserve support and where this is the case we shall give it.

Environment – Hilary Newport

  • The environment committee has a new chairman in David Wood, who took on the role after Graham Warren stood down after 16 years in the position. Graham was given a gift as a sign of appreciation for his contribution to CPRE Kent and, in particular, this committee.
  • The main topic has been the proposed Cleve Hill solar farm and committee members have made a range of contributions to the ongoing CPRE Kent submission to the public examination.
  • Graham Warren prepared a report for the campaign group at Dunsfold, Surrey, contesting plans for shale-gas exploration there.
  • Other issues covered by the committee have included land use, food security, waste and water resources.

Historic Buildings – John Wotton

  • The Historic Buildings Committee again partnered with the Kent School of Architecture and Planning to make the annual Gravett Award for Architectural Drawing. From a large field of entries on the theme of Norman architecture, the judges, chaired by architect Ptolemy Dean, chose Ayako Seki as the winner for her drawings of Dover Castle. She was presented with the award at the school’s end-of-year show and prize-giving.
  • The proposed development at Prince Parade, Hythe, between the Royal Military Canal and the sea remains a concern to the committee. We objected to the application and the council’s granting of planning permission to itself remains controversial, especially after May’s local elections. The branch will be supporting a campaign to save Princes Parade.

Sevenoaks leader savages ‘huge abuse of the process’ after council advised to withdraw Local Plan from examination

Sevenoaks District Council has responded fiercely to the recommendation from a government inspector that it should withdraw its Local Plan from examination.
Inspector Karen Baker wrote to the local authority on Thursday, October 17, saying: “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…
“Furthermore, I have significant concerns about the soundness of the Plan in respect of a number of areas including the approach to sustainability appraisal, the chosen strategy for growth, the assessment of the Green Belt and housing supply and distribution…
“I am currently preparing a short letter setting out my concerns which will be with you shortly. I will not reach any final conclusions on the way forward for the examination until I have had the opportunity to consider your response to that letter…
“… I consider it is necessary for me to advise you that, at this point, I consider the most appropriate way forward for the Sevenoaks District Local Plan would be for the council to withdraw it from examination.”
Unsurprisingly, the missive has not been met with unbridled joy by the local authority.
A stinging statement on its website from council leader Peter Fleming says: “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.
“The inspector had our submission for six months and asked over 500 questions. What’s more, the draft Plan was independently verified and found sound by three external parties including the government’s own Planning Advisory Service.
“Had there been a fundamental problem, I would have expected the examination not to have gone ahead from the start.
“As a council we decided early on that we would follow an evidence-led approach, not prejudging any site and going where our Plan-making policy and the evidence took us.
“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.
“But the most damning comment has to be left for the inspector’s approach to publish her brief note before allowing the council to either see her full reasoning or have a chance to respond. This suggests her mind is far from open and she and her masters have made their minds up.
“Sevenoaks District Council will stand up for its residents and the district’s environment against what we believe is a huge abuse of the process by the Planning Inspectorate and the government department responsible.
“We will not allow them to run roughshod over the huge weight of evidence we have amassed, community views we have collated and the few powers we have left as a planning authority.”

Monday, October 21, 2019

Maidstone council under fire at meeting on proposed Lenham new town

Feelings ran high at Lenham Heath during the meeting

Gagging orders on borough councillors and landowners, the threat of compulsory purchase orders, secretive meetings in Ebbsfleet, non-consultation with parish councils and communities… Maidstone Borough Council was accused of all these and more during a heated meeting last night (Tuesday, October 15) on proposals for a Lenham ‘garden town’.
The hall at Lenham Heath was not large enough to accommodate everyone who had come to this first protest meeting against the potential new town. People stood outside and listened to claims of misbehaviour by the council in relation to the plans.
None of the parish councils of Egerton, Charing, Boughton Malherbe, Harrietsham or Lenham had been consulted on the garden-town proposal.
County councillor Shellina Prendergast and a representative for local MP Helen Whateley confirmed they too had only learnt from the media what was ‘planned for’ Lenham.
Tom Sams and Janetta Sams, who had organised the meeting, stated that they could disclose everything they knew on Monday, November 4, but not before.
They and fellow independent councillor Eddy Powell were challenged over supporting the proposals from the council, where the Liberal Democrats rely on the support of the independents for their controlling administration.
Much emphasis was put on whether MBC was within its rights to behave in the way it had done, while it was accused of predetermining a process that should be decided democratically.
Henny Shotter, a CPRE Kent member, said at the meeting: “The whole proposal is bonkers. No roads, no sewage infrastructure, this proposed development is the furthest possible from any employment centre in Maidstone, Ashford, the Medway Towns or Tonbridge and Malling.
“The suggestions to build a high-speed railway station so close to Ashford or a motorway interchange are financially unrealistic. They just cloud the fact that the proposal, as far as we know it, is completely and irredeemably unsustainable.”
If you want to support the action group, please get in touch with Kate Hammond on 07925 607336.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019