Ashford council told to drop 500 new properties from Local Plan

The Hothfield area is the greatest beneficiary from the inspectors’ report, with some 400 homes slashed from the building target (pic www.hothfield.org.uk)

Inspectors have ordered Ashford Borough Council to chop some 500 new properties from its Local Plan.
Sites at High Halden and Hothfield are to be deleted altogether, while five plots in other villages must be reduced in size.
The new Plan, which identifies where 13,521 homes will be built up to 2030, was approved by the council in December last year, but it must now be amended.
The Hothfield area is the greatest beneficiary from the inspectors’ conclusions, with a total of 400 proposed homes axed at Tutt Hill, near Holiday Inn, near Hothfield Mill and near Coach Drive. It is believed isolation from the village and damage to trees were the primary reasons for their exclusion.
Fifty properties at Stevenson Brothers petrol station between High Halden and Bethersden also failed to convince the inspectors.
Sites at Brook, Mersham, Aldington and Wittersham all have reduced numbers of houses to be built.
Thankfully, the inspectors have said the borough does not to add sites to compensate for those that have been dropped.

Monday, October 15, 2018

As plans for massive resort falter, what is the future for Swanscombe?

There were grand plans for the resort (pic LRCH)

Announced to huge fanfare in 2012, the proposed London Resort theme park at Swanscombe appears as far from fruition as ever, a fact noted gloomily in a report advocating colossal urban development in north Kent.
The developer behind the theme park, London Resort Company Holdings, has revealed that it is delaying its application for a Development Consent Order until 2019.
It reportedly did not “sufficiently estimate” elements that could affect its plans for the 535-acre site.
In an indication of the extraordinary development pressure on the area, LRCH has pointed to three neighbouring proposals, including proposed changes to the A2 and the Lower Thames Crossing, for the delayed application.
Whatever the reasons, it seems support for the developer is waning.
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson said: “Dartford is losing patience with LRCH and its proposed theme park.
“This latest delay is just one in a series of postponements that has created uncertainty for the existing businesses on the Swanscombe peninsula and makes LRCH look incapable of ever delivering this project.
“I have always felt the jobs that could come from a leisure facility on the peninsula would be very welcome, but I have yet to see evidence of how the local area would cope with the extra people and vehicles it would bring.
“The concept of a theme park was initially welcomed by local people, but this uncertainty is becoming intolerable.”
The delayed submission date will presumably not go down well with the Thames Estuary Growth Commission, which is calling for “a minimum” of a million homes to be built in the estuary by 2050.
This advisory body to the government declares in its 2050 Vision report that a DCO application for London Resort should be made “as soon as possible”.
“Should an application not be submitted by the end of 2018, the government should consider all the options for resolving the uncertainty this scheme is creating for the delivery of the wider Ebbsfleet Garden City,” it says.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Estuary growth commission points to a very crowded north Kent… and beyond

The landscape of the North Kent Marshes – this is Faversham Creek – will never be the same if the growth commission has its way

If you thought development pressure on Kent could not get any worse, there is some sobering reading from the Thames Estuary Growth Commission.
This advisory body to the government is urging “joint spatial plans” to be created in both Kent and Essex to support the building of more than a million homes.
The two counties should take more of London’s housing need, says a commission report.
The formation of the commission was revealed in the 2016 Budget and tasked by the government to “develop an ambitious vision and delivery plan for north Kent, south Essex and east London up to 2050”.
Its 2050 Vision report, published in June, says “a minimum” of one million homes will be needed to support economic growth in the Thames estuary by 2050; this equates to 31,250 homes a year.
However, it says that “between 2012/2013 and 2014/2015, on average, fewer than 10,000 homes were built per annum against Local Plan targets of 19,495 per annum”.
It continues: “Low land values, challenging site conditions and a limited number of house builders are all contributing to the delivery gap.”
The report says that, using the government’s methodology for calculating housing need, “around two thirds of these [one million] homes should be delivered in east London”.
However, the commission “believes that solely focusing on homes in London is unsustainable and that more of these homes should be provided in Kent and Essex”.
It claims there is “scope for the Thames estuary to be even more ambitious in responding to London’s ever growing housing need”.
This should be enabled by greater strategic planning across the area, according to the commission, which supports work already being carried out by local authorities in the ‘South Essex Foreshore’ area, which covers the Basildon, Castle Point, Southend-on-Sea and Rochford council areas.
Those local authorities “should continue to work with other authorities within the housing market area/neighbouring areas, Essex County Council and Opportunity South Essex to produce an integrated strategy for delivering and funding high-quality homes, employment, transport and other infrastructure”.
The report backs the same approach for the ‘North Kent Foreshore’, which stretches the definition of Thames estuary to the limit in covering the Medway, Swale, Canterbury and Thanet local authority areas.
It seems the sky’s the limit for the commission, which says the joint plan “should also be ambitious – going above the minimum housing numbers set by government – to attract substantial infrastructure investment from government”.
2050 Vision warms to its task in saying that, if joint plans “demonstrate sufficient growth ambition – going above the minimum threshold set out by government for local housing need; and being given statutory status – government should reward this ambition with substantial infrastructure investment and freedoms and flexibilities”.
There is also backing for new development corporations “with planning, and compulsory purchase powers to drive the delivery of homes and jobs aligned to major infrastructure investment”.
You have been warned.

To read the 2050 Vision report, click here

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Don’t forget, now is the time to comment on the Thanet Local Plan

What future for the Isle of Thanet?

We have covered the tortuous tale of Thanet District Council’s draft Local Plan with some intensity over recent months, so we’ll keep this reminder brief…
You have some five weeks to view and comment on the draft Plan, which was approved by the council in July and is intended to provide the isle’s planning blueprint until 2031.
This ‘pre-submission stage’ began on Thursday, August 23, and ends at 5pm on Thursday, October 4, with comments received going straight to the planning inspector; respondents might be then invited to speak at the Plan’s Examination in Public.
To view the Local Plan and make comments, visit here

It is also available at The Gateway in Margate, Pierremont Hall in Broadstairs, Custom House in Ramsgate and in any public library in the district.

For (a lot of) background on the Thanet Local Plan, visit herehere, herehere and here

Friday, August 31, 2018

Sevenoaks draft Local Plan: a briefing and CPRE Kent observations

What future for the Green Belt in Sevenoaks district? (pic Susan Pittman)

Sevenoaks District Council’s Local Plan strategy

The draft Local Plan (2015-35) sets out the council’s strategy of:

  • providing 13,960 homes to meet its local housing need
  • focusing growth at existing settlements and maximising supply (through increased density)
  • redevelopment of previously developed land (and of locally-defined brownfield land in sustainable locations)
  • development of greenfield Green Belt land only in exceptional circumstances, where social and community infrastructure is being proposed in addition to housing, which could help address evidenced infrastructure deficiencies in the local area

 

Locally-defined brownfield land
Sevenoaks District Council is seeking to introduce the concept of locally- defined brownfield land as a means of gleaning as many housing sites as possible to contribute towards the requirement of 13,960 homes.
This definition goes beyond the (Nationally Planning Policy Framework) NPPF definition of previously developed land (PDL) – and could have serious repercussions for other Kent Green Belt authorities.

Locally-defined exceptional circumstances
The council is also seeking to include a local definition of exceptional circumstances.
The draft NPPF states that Green Belt boundaries should only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified.
The council is exploring in its draft Local Plan whether its Green Belt boundaries should be altered to meet its housing need. Twelve exceptional-circumstances sites have been put forward for consideration.
The council acknowledges that Sevenoaks is a highly constrained district, with 93% being Green Belt and 60% (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) AONB.
It is explained at para 1.14 of the draft Plan that consultation is taking place on all these sites to receive stakeholder comments… and that the inclusion of these sites in this consultation does not guarantee their inclusion in the final draft Local Plan.
The table below lists the 12 exceptional-circumstances sites.

Location                               Policy            No. of units            Site area (hectares)

Sevenoaks
Sevenoaks Quarry                 MX43             600                            94

Land west of Chevening        MX49             26-30                        1.7
Road, Chipstead                    HO53

Land east of London             MX50             40                              8.5
Road, Dunton Green             HO70

Swanley
Land between Beechlea       MX54a/b         750                            39.5
Lane and Highlands Hill,      HO188
Swanley

Pedham Place, Swanley/      MX48             c2,500                       117.6
Farningham/Eynsford

Edenbridge
Land south and east of        HO189 &        515                             27.2
Four Elms Road or              HO190
———————————— MX25 &
———————————–  MX26
———————————— HO223

Land at Crouch House        MX51              250                             18.4
Road or                              HO158

Land at Breezehurst            MX10             450                             18
Farm

and
Land west of Romani          MX44             80                               6.7
Way

Westerham
Land north and east of        HO371 &       600                             21.8
Westerham                          HO372
————————————-HO373 &
———————————— HO374
———————————— EM17

Fawkham/Hartley
Corinthian and                     MX52 &         Corinthian 570        74.6
Banckside                            MX53             Banckside  230
———————————— HO162 &
———————————— HO163

Halstead/Pratt’s
Bottom

Broke Hill golf course        MX41             800                             60.2

Subtotal       6,800

CPRE Kent observations on the Sevenoaks Local Plan

In general, CPRE Kent supports a development strategy that meets the following criteria:

  1. Prioritises the redevelopment of appropriate, sustainably-located previously-developed land. It does not support development on locally-defined brownfield land in unsustainable locations.
  2. Does not lead to the loss of best and most versatile agricultural land, Green Belt, AONB and other designations.
  3. Focuses growth at existing settlements and maximises supply through increased densities at sustainable locations.
  4. Recognises the acute need for rural affordable housing.

 

CPRE Kent is concerned about the level of housing proposed. It is noted that the 2015 SHMA sets out objectively assessed need based on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 2012-based sub-national population projections and 2012-based household projection figures.
These figures will need to be reviewed in light of the 2016 mid-year figures and the household projections (expected next month).
Following the decline in population (2012-2016), it would seem reasonable to assume that household projections will also be in decline. However, we wait with interest to see what the government’s stance on this will be.

CPRE Kent has serious reservations that the construction industry will be capable of delivering the proposed level of housing. Average housing completions for the district are noted as 250dpa (dwellings per annum) over the last 10 years. With the suggested local housing need of 13,960, this would rise to 698dpa.

CPRE Kent has serious reservations over the need to deliver homes in accordance with the standard methodology for calculating local housing need, for the following reasons:

  1. The NPPF states that the government attaches great importance to the Green Belt – it states that “once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, through the preparation or updating of Plans. Strategic policies should establish the need for any changes to Green Belt boundaries, having regard to their intended permanence in the long term, so they can endure beyond the Plan period”.
  2. One of the Green Belt purposes is to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land. Resisting development in the Green Belt will help encourage the bringing forward of previously developed land in the urban area.
  3. New housing in the Green Belt is likely to be for large properties that won’t meet the demand of local people who genuinely require housing in the villages and settlements within, or washed over, the Green Belt.

CPRE Kent does not consider that allocating land to meet local housing need with the promise of social and community infrastructure sufficiently demonstrates exceptional circumstances.
CPRE Kent is concerned that the harm caused to the purposes of the Green Belt designation and other considerations would not be outweighed by the requirements of the local housing need requirement.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018 

The Medway plan… some good, some bad?

The Medway… what does the future hold?

CPRE Kent has applauded Medway Council’s intention to protect the north of the Hoo peninsula – that wonderful swathe of Cliffe and Cooling Marshes, one of the last remaining areas of tranquillity in the county.
Taking part in the consultation on the Medway Development Strategy, we were keen to applaud this and similar countryside protection policies but did object to some potential scenarios presented in the strategy.
We recognised the constraints facing the council in the development of its new Local Plan, particularly in relation to housing development, but maintain that the government’s proposed methodology for calculating local housing need is flawed.
The methodology is based on market demand rather than need, providing no understanding of how Local Plans can reflect a move from these abstract targets to a realistic, deliverable and sustainable housing requirement.
In Kent, particularly, the methodology is leading to disproportionately high targets that will be impossible to deliver sustainably.
We welcomed the council’s renewed commitment to delivering regeneration of brownfield sites but retain significant concern at the inclusion of Lodge Hill as a strategic option for housing.
We acknowledged the presence of a residual brownfield footprint at this site but stressed that the National Planning Policy Framework is clear previously developed land should be re-used “provided it is not of high environmental value”.
Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill’s designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest precludes it from being realistically considered as still brownfield.
The future of the site has received intense media coverage, not least because, with 85 pairs, it hosts the largest population of nightingales in the country.
The development masterplan indicates significant building incursion on the SSSI, while earlier work in support of a withdrawn application made it clear it would not be possible to adequately mitigate harm to the nightingale population.
We suggested that proposed development at Hoo St Werburgh should be broadly supported by the local community and must deliver genuinely affordable housing for local needs, while we also highlighted the fact that the whole region is classified by the Environment Agency as “severely water stressed”.
The future of Medway is clearly far from straightforward.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Thanet and its Local Plan… where are we now?

Manston has hogged the Thanet headlines for so long… perhaps too long?

We have reported the machinations of Thanet and its Local Plan before on this website – and the tale is set to develop as district councillors prepare for the latest stage in this lengthy saga.
To remind you of the backdrop, in January Thanet district councillors voted down the draft Local Plan that had been presented to them, the future of Manston airport the most high-profile issue contained within it.
The council’s cabinet had earlier approved the draft Plan, which included an allocation of 2,500 properties at Manston; this appeared to be endorsement of site owner Stone Hill Park Ltd’s plans to build 2,500 homes (a figure that could rise to 4,000), business units and sporting facilities there.
However, January’s vote by the full council saw that draft Plan rejected.
Divisive an issue as Manston is, many saw the voting as politically motivated and indeed the leader of the council, UKIP’s Chris Wells, stepped down from his role the following month, Conservative Bob Bayford subsequently taking over as leader of a minority administration.
No sooner had this unfolded than, in March, Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government – frustrated with the local authority’s “persistent failure” to produce its Plan – wrote to Cllr Bayford, announcing he would be sending Chief Planner Steve Quartermain to the isle to intervene.
It is understood that two government planners have been left effectively in situ to ensure the Plan is finally published. In other words, the government has taken over production of the Thanet Local Plan from the district council.
This month councillors will receive a set of papers briefing them on the forthcoming adoption of the Plan, which will map out the isle’s development until 2031 and is due to be published this summer.
There is uncertainty over how matters will proceed from here and to what degree Thanet councillors will have any say in the Plan’s adoption. Indeed, how much public consultation will there be?
What we do know, in a situation that still seems very from clear, at least to the wider public, is that the council has put together three options for the Manston site in the Plan:

  • Manston is designated for aviation use, with 2,500 homes allocated for other sites in Thanet. It is understood these are Westgate (1,000 extra homes), Birchington (600), Westwood (500), Hartsdown (300) and Minster (100).
  • A  decision on Manston is deferred by the council for two years, allowing RSP, the group behind plans for a cargo hub airport, to push for a Development Consent Order, which would force Stone Hill Park to hand over the site.
  • Manston would be recognised as appropriate for aviation use, but it would not be designated as such for two years.

Quite what’s going on with the third option might not be readily apparent, but, either way, Thanet CPRE hopes to be involved in the Plan’s development:
“We are looking forward to engaging with the Chief Planner,” said chairman David Morrish. “A lack of public consultation was highlighted by the DCLG earlier this year as a failing in the Thanet process, so we hope that doesn’t repeat itself this time round.
“And with crazily high – and unsustainable – figures of some 21,000 new homes being rumoured, it’s important as many people as possible get involved.”
It is also worth recalling the earlier words of Geoff Orton, Thanet CPRE secretary, in relation to Manston airport: “What would be the point of building 21,000 homes without it. If there’s no airport, what economic future does Thanet have?”
As for those ridiculous housebuilding targets, Mr Orton said: “The official figure of 17,000 was already a hike on the previous 12,000 – now we could be looking at a figure north of 20,000. And all this without the airport?
“Further, we’ve lost the deaf school in Margate, along with two care homes – and more rumoured to be going. And with retail becoming more automated, what are Thanet’s young people going to do for work?”

For more on this saga, see here

For more on the Manston airport site, see here

For CPRE Kent’s response to RSP’s Manston Consultation last year, see here

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Little Densole Farm: council overturns officer recommendation and approves AONB development

CPRE Kent’s Supreme Court victory over the Farthingloe Valley was cited in the initial quashing of the plans for Little Densole Farm 

A planned development in the Kent Downs AONB that had earlier been quashed by the High Court was last night (Tuesday, May 29) approved by Folkestone and Hythe District Council.
The scheme for 12 holiday lodges, tennis courts and a fishing lake at Little Densole Farm, Densole, had initially been approved by the council (when it was known as Shepway District Council) in February last year, but that decision, which had been recommended for refusal by the council’s own planning officer, was challenged by local businessman Tim Steer and in February this year it was overturned by the High Court.
The consent was quashed by Mrs Justice Lang on the basis of inadequate reasons for overturning the officer’s recommendation.
In making this judgment, she cited the case of Dover District Council v CPRE Kent, where at the Supreme Court we successfully defended the Appeal Court’s decision to quash a planning permission in the Farthingloe Valley near Dover.
In the Densole case, Mr Steer had based his bid for a judicial review of Shepway’s decision on three grounds.
Two of these were rejected by the court, but the one accepted by the judge was:
“The committee was under a common-law duty to give reasons for its decision, as it was not following the OR’s [officer’s report’s] recommendation, and the application concerned a protected AONB. It failed to provide adequate and intelligible reasons for its decision to grant planning permission.”
It is here that the Farthingloe case was cited.
Mr Steer was quoted in the Folkestone and Hythe Express as saying:
“We hope that in the future the council will take its responsibilities more seriously and carefully and follow planning policy and logic.”
Last night, however, the proposal – which was again recommended for refusal by a council planning officer – went back before the Folkestone and Hythe planning committee and was accepted by eight votes to one (with one abstention).
It is not immediately apparent how circumstances have changed, or in what way the overturning of the officer’s recommendation was explained sufficiently.
Graham Horner, Shepway CPRE chairman, said: “Disappointingly, this is what we expected, to be honest. One councillor gave a speech giving all the reasons the committee should override the officer’s recommendation.
“There was no logic to it, but they seemed to think that having a recreational area in the AONB would bring in people and money.
“The new officer’s report appeared softened from the initial one. Previously, it had been poorly defined as to what constituted a major development, but it was now decided that, no, this wasn’t a major development, so that cleared one of the major hurdles.
“Why would they change their view? There were no new drawings, no new reports. It was stated that the applicant had planted a lot of trees, but he was going to plant those anyway as part of the application!”
One councillor asked for a recorded vote, but that suggestion was not accepted as four members of the committee need to agree to it.
For more detail on the background to this story, see here

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Charing public inquiry: August date set for inspector’s decision

The future of open countryside at Charing was debated at the public inquiry

We expect to hear the result of the public inquiry into plans for a housing development at Charing by Wednesday, August 22.
The inquiry was sparked by Gladman Developments Ltd’s appeal against Ashford Borough Council’s refusal to grant planning permission for 245 homes at Pluckley Road.
CPRE Kent had given evidence as a Rule 6 party, permitted to cross-examine participants during the inquiry process.
Points raised by CPRE Kent included:

  • The appeal site is outside the village envelope and disconnected from the village centre
  • Few people in Charing use the village train station to get to work, questioning the scheme’s sustainability
  • Increased vehicle movements and the attendant risk to both drivers and pedestrians, including children coming home from school
  • The setting of the village on the edge of the Kent Downs AONB
  • The importance of the countryside in promoting health
  • The planned development would add an unsustainable 30% to the village population
  • The site is in a flood zone so could be flooded
  • The risk of contamination to boreholes providing water to local people

For more on this story, see
here 
and
here

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

NPPF consultation: forget the unwieldy title, this matters and you can influence it

The beauty of Walland Marsh (pic Richard Watkins, flickr)

National Planning Policy Framework… it’s an ugly brute of a name.
Even its shortcut, the NPPF, takes some tongue-twisting getting used to. But it is an important beast and plays a bigger part in our lives than many might think.
To put it at its simplest, the NPPF (we’ll stick with that for now) is the government’s planning rulebook.
It helps determine the principles of countryside protection, the delivery of affordable housing, the provision of infrastructure, the places from where we draw our minerals and aggregates – and very much more.
And right now the NPPF is being consulted upon, because it is going to change. And how it changes will affect us all.
A key driver of the proposed change is what is commonly referred to in the media as ‘the housing crisis’.
CPRE is the first to highlight the fact that too many people are excluded from the housing ladder, while homelessness is an undeniable problem in this country.
However, we don’t believe that the proposed changes, or reforms, to the NPPF will do enough to tackle those issues. Indeed, we suspect that while communities’ needs go unmet, the only people who will really benefit are housebuilders.
It’s a problem caused by the government’s misunderstanding of housing issues and its subsequent weakening of planning rules in a bid to encourage developers.
The ‘crisis’ is of course one of affordability and won’t be addressed by simply building more houses, which is the government’s current approach. Rather, it is a case of the type of homes we build, for whom we build them and where.
‘The right homes in the right places’ has long been a CPRE mantra, and we believe it is possible to build the homes England needs without swathes of our countryside being sacrificed.
We advocate ‘sustainable development’ (the last bit of jargon – honest!) that:

  • Supports local democracy by adhering to neighbourhood and local plans
  • Ensures realistic and high-quality development based on genuine need, not market demand
  • Delivers more affordable homes by closing legal loopholes that put developer profits first
  • Adopts a true ‘brownfield first’ approach to development
  • Protects our countryside for current and future generations

Many organisations, communities and individuals with many agendas are contributing to the NPPF consultation, and it is vital that CPRE and those who agree with our outlook also make their views known.
The future of the countryside you hold dearest could depend on the changes made to the NPPF, so we urge you to join us in fighting for the best possible outcome, for the countryside, for wildlife – and for people.
We’re asking you to write to your MP, asking them to put communities at the heart for the planning system in the revised NPPF.
You can do that here
Alternatively, given that some MPs do not respond to formatted messages, you might choose to write to them individually.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of this consultation. For those of us who love the countryside – indeed those of us who love this country, its people and its traditions – the new-look NPPF will have an impact way beyond anything its cumbersome name might suggest.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Charing inquiry ends… decision expected in July

The future of open countryside at Charing was debated at the public inquiry

The public inquiry into Gladman Developments Ltd’s appeal against Ashford Borough Council’s refusal to grant planning permission for 245 homes at Pluckley Road in Charing ended on Friday (April 27).
CPRE Kent been giving evidence as a Rule 6 party at the inquiry, which was held at Ashford Civic Centre. Rule 6 parties are permitted to cross-examine participants during the inquiry process.
We hope to hear the inspector’s decision in mid-July.
Points raised by CPRE Kent included:

  • The appeal site is outside the village envelope and disconnected from the village centre
  • Few people in Charing use the village train station to get to work, questioning the scheme’s sustainability
  • Increased vehicle movements and the attendant risk to both drivers and pedestrians, including children coming home from school
  • The setting of the village on the edge of the Kent Downs AONB
  • The importance of the countryside in promoting health
  • The planned development would add an unsustainable 30% to the village population
  • The site is in a flood zone so could be flooded
  • The risk of contamination to boreholes providing water to local people

For more on this story, see
here 
and
here

Monday, April 30, 2018

Public inquiry into Gladman plans for Charing resumes

The future of open countryside at Charing will be determined at public inquiry

The public inquiry into Gladman Developments Ltd’s appeal against Ashford Borough Council’s refusal to grant planning permission for 245 homes at Pluckley Road in Charing resumes tomorrow (Tuesday, April 24).
CPRE Kent has been giving evidence at the inquiry, being held at Ashford Civic Centre, which took a break on Wednesday, March 28.
Points raised by CPRE Kent in its evidence have included:

  • The appeal site is outside the village envelope and disconnected from the village centre
  • Few people in Charing use the village train station to get to work, questioning the scheme’s sustainability
  • Increased vehicle movements and the attendant risk to both drivers and pedestrians, including children coming home from school
  • The setting of the village on the edge of the Kent Downs AONB
  • The importance of the countryside in promoting health
  • The planned development would add an unsustainable 30% to the village population
  • The site is in a flood zone so could be flooded
  • The risk of contamination to boreholes providing water to local people

The inquiry is expected to finish this week.

Monday, April 23, 2018

For more on this story, see here

Istead Rise campaigners win battle to save land for community

Rachel Westlake, Terry Annable and Roger Francis spoke on behalf of those who objected to the application

The threatened land at the junction of Weald Close and The Drove Way

A campaign supported by CPRE Kent against a contentious development in Istead Rise has won the day, with the local authority refusing planning permission for the scheme.
The plans for two bungalows at the junction of Weald Close and The Drove Way – in what is termed a soft landscape community asset site – were rejected unanimously by Gravesham Borough Council’s regulatory board.
The decision follows a battle by local residents supported by CPRE Kent that attracted some 160 people to public meetings. Posters, leaflets and social media were all used extensively during the campaign.
Alex Hills, CPRE Gravesham chairman, said after last month’s decision: “Huge thanks must go to the councillors for taking the time to read the lengthy reports and for listening to the views of the local residents.
“Also thanks to the planning officers who pulled together the reports and gathered the valid points held within the 108 objections received from local residents.
“This amount of objections is amazing for an application for two bungalows, where normally the most you would expect is around three to six objections.
“It showed the councillors very clearly how much people value the open spaces in their area.
“As a very experienced campaigner for CPRE Kent, it proves that people can make a difference if they stand together and put forward valid reasons in planning law why an application should be rejected.
“Everyone worked very hard on the campaign gathering information and leafleting the local community to raise awareness of this application.
“Special thanks must go to Terry Annable, Frank Booker and Rachel Westlake for being the central driving force of the campaign.
“The application raised the issue of the status, importance and protection that is given to open spaces within built-up areas all over Gravesham.
“There are some local policies in the Local Plan that protect these spaces and there is another that supports infill development.
“The application came about because there is no legal definition or definition in the Local Plan of what is or is not classed as infill development.
“If the application had been approved, every open space in Gravesham would have been under threat from developers.
“CPRE Kent supports infill development on land within built-up areas that is surplus to requirements or serves no purpose, but it has been proven that open spaces like that at Weald Close do serve an important and much-valued purpose.”

Monday, April 23, 2018

Farthingloe court victory crucial in halting AONB development at Densole

The Supreme Court victory at Farthingloe is helping protect countryside across a wider area

CPRE Kent’s Supreme Court victory over Farthingloe continues to have ramifications far and wide, but this recent story comes from close to home. It has a satisfactory conclusion, but some of the events that unfolded during the planning process are disturbing.
In February last year, Shepway District Council’s planning committee approved plans for 12 holiday lodges, tennis courts and a fishing lake at Little Densole Farm, Densole, in the Kent Downs AONB.
This decision was made despite the council’s own planning officer recommending the scheme be refused, while both CPRE Kent and the Kent Downs AONB Unit had objected to it.
Happily, a businessman who lives close to Little Densole Farm challenged the council’s granting of planning permission and the case went to judicial review at the High Court in January this year.
The judgment was handed down the following month, with Mrs Justice Lang quashing the planning consent on the basis of inadequate reasons for overturning the officer’s recommendation.
In making this judgment, she cited the case of Dover District Council v CPRE Kent, where at the Supreme Court we successfully defended the Appeal Court’s decision to quash a planning permission in the Farthingloe Valley on the outskirts of Dover.
The Supreme Court had agreed with the Appeal Court that Dover District Council’s planning committee had not given legally adequate reasons for granting planning permission for more than 600 homes, which it acknowledged would cause significant harm in a protected landscape.
In the Densole case, the claimant [Tim Steer] based his bid for a judicial review of Shepway’s decision on three grounds.
The first two were:

  • “The council failed to consider or apply NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] when deciding the application.”
  • “The council reached an irrational conclusion that the proposed development would not harm the Kent North Downs AONB.”

These were both rejected by the court.
Firstly, there was confusion caused by Shepway’s inadequate minutes of meetings, which meant the judge could not be certain NPPF had not been referred to in the meeting.
However, the further conclusion here is that there needs to be a higher standard of minutes at planning meetings.
The second ground, meanwhile, was rejected because of the difficulty of establishing proof. Mrs Lang said in her judgment: “There is a high threshold to surmount before a finding of irrationality can properly be made. The burden of proof rests upon the claimant, and I consider he has failed to establish irrationality.”
All of which brings us to the third ground, the one that was accepted by the judge:

  • “The committee was under a common-law duty to give reasons for its decision, as it was not following the OR’s [officer’s report’s] recommendation, and the application concerned a protected AONB. It failed to provide adequate and intelligible reasons for its decision to grant planning permission.”

It is here that the Farthingloe case is cited. Without that ruling, the challenge to the granting of planning permission at Little Densole Farm would have fallen short.
Despite what was ultimately the right result for the countryside – and a scathing verdict on Shepway planning committee’s failure to provide “adequate and intelligible reasons for its decision” – it is concerning that the challenge had to be brought by a member of the public financially able to do so.
Mr Steer, who reportedly paid some £35,000 to bring his challenge, is quoted in the Folkestone and Hythe Express as saying:
“We hope that in the future the council will take its responsibilities more seriously and carefully and follow planning policy and logic.
“I have had to buy this victory. And I think it is perverse that even though I have won this case on one of three counts I have to pay out.
“This means that if people see a council decision they believe is unlawful they need to find up to £40,000 to legally challenge it.”
The inadequate minuting of planning committee meetings also raises worries about the democratic process at Shepway, a spokesman for whom said the local authority hoped to establish a system of recording and broadcasting meetings from April.
Hopefully, such an approach will avoid the sort of ‘confusion’ that occurred in this case, where – as detailed in the judgment – Shepway planning committee chairman Dick Pascoe, when asked to explain why an application recommended for refusal was in fact being approved, apparently replied that “he wanted to overturn everything that was recommended to be refused”.
Cllr Pascoe ‘clarifies’ this extraordinary statement at a subsequent meeting thus: “To clarify… what I stated was, all the reasons for refusal of the application, were my reasons for approval.
“So all you have to do is to just turn the wording around and that was the words I used and I am seeing nods as well, that’s what I actually asked for. That the reasons for approval, were it to be opposite of my reasons for approval and that is why this is staying as it is because this is exactly what I said and asked for…”
Got that?
Either way, let’s all be grateful for Farthingloe and, in this case, Mr Steer, who fought for the Kent countryside – and an AONB – in a manner his local authority chose not to. We live in worrying times…

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

CPRE Kent responds to PM’s housing speech

Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, on Politics Today
(image: BBC)

CPRE Kent has given a guarded response to Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech today (Monday, March 5) in which she highlighted planning reforms and stressed the need to stop housebuilders ‘banking’ land by not building homes for which they had planning permission.
Mrs May told the National Planning Conference in London that the National Planning Policy Framework was to be revamped, via consultation, confirming up to 80 proposals put forward last year. These include:

  • Councils having to adopt a new nationwide standard showing housing need in their areas
  • 10% of homes on major sites being made available for affordable ownership
  • Builders being more open about commitments to affordable housing at the planning stage
  • Infrastructure being considered pre-planning
  •  Councils considering overturning planning permission after two years if building has not started
  •  Ancient woodland and aged trees being protected

Mrs May attacked the attitude of developers who had a financial incentive in hoarding land with planning permission for homes, condemning specifically bosses receiving bonuses “based not on the number of homes they build but on their profits or share price”.
“In a market where lower supply equals higher prices, that creates a perverse incentive, one that does not encourage them to build the homes we need,” she said.
Referring to the issue of land-banking, Mrs May said: “I want to see planning permissions going to people who are actually going to build houses, not just sit on land and watch its value rise. I expect developers to do their duty to Britain and build the homes our country needs.”
Giving the view of CPRE Kent, director Hilary Newport, who appeared today on the BBC’s Politics Today show, said: “Nothing is wrong about building new houses, but the crisis is one of affordability, not availability.
“Simply building more and more houses is not going to bring down affordability. What we need is more homes in the right places and that requires social policy.
“What we are keen to see are proper policies that make houses more affordable.
“I think we need to consider a return to social housing because it is impossible for people to get a foot on the housing ladder in London and the South East.”
Mrs Newport also addressed the issue of protecting the Green Belt.
“It is difficult to see how it can be [protected] when you look at how many houses places like Sevenoaks needs with huge targets,” she said.
Mrs May’s speech comes shortly after the release of a study by CPRE and housing charity Shelter showing how housebuilders are using a legal loophole to avoid building affordable homes in the countryside.
Looking at eight rural councils over the course of a year, the analysis shows that half the affordable homes councils were required to build were lost when viability assessments were used.
Developers use ‘viability assessments’ to argue that building affordable homes could reduce their profits to below some 20%, giving them the right to cut their affordable housing quota.
This results in developers over-paying for land and recouping costs by squeezing their affordable housing commitments.
Both CPRE and Shelter are calling on the government to use its review of planning rules to close the loophole.
Crispin Truman, CPRE chief executive, said: “The lack of affordable housing is often overlooked as an urban-only problem. It cannot be ignored any longer. Too much of our countryside is eaten up for developments that boost profits but don’t meet local housing needs because of the ‘viability’ loopholes.
“CPRE is calling for urgent action from the government to close these loopholes to increase the delivery of affordable housing – otherwise rural communities risk losing the young families and workers which they need to be sustainable.
“We must ensure that we are building housing that people need and can afford across England – including the countryside.”

See CPRE Kent director Hilary Newport on Politics Today here

Monday, March 5, 2018