Thanet, child poverty and staggering hikes in house prices… what a mess!

Margate has seen house prices soar by 55 per cent over the past 10 years

We are indebted to the local media for two stories highlighting some of the many issues affecting Thanet.
The district is usually at the wrong end of socio-economic statistics, so it comes as no surprise to learn it has the highest proportion of children living in poverty in the county, even taking into account a 4 per cent fall on the previous year (2017-18).
The figure of 35 per cent equates to a staggering one child in three (some 11,500) living below the breadline in Thanet, the Kent Messenger Group reports.
This compares with a Kent average of 28 per cent and figures from the ‘right’ end of the table: Tunbridge Wells (22 per cent) and Sevenoaks (23 per cent).
Now consider the issue of rising property prices in Thanet – indeed the entire Kent coast, where it costs an average of £150,000 more to buy a home than it did 10 years ago.
House prices across Thanet rose by an average of 48 per cent over the past decade; in apparently trendy Margate, the hike was 55 per cent, from £151,520 to £235,012.
The spiralling increase is, of course, fired largely by London and puts the prospect of local people buying their first home ever-further out of reach.
It is against such a backdrop that the government’s much-criticised housing methodology is anticipated to produce an Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) of 17,140 new homes in Thanet between 2016 and 2031.
It is a number that is highly unlikely to be fulfilled; in the region of 8,500 homes were built in the past 20 years, so the rate would need to more than double for the OAN to be achieved.
And when such a shortfall occurs, a local authority is unable to demonstrate a five-year housing supply, leaving the door wide open for speculative developers to try their luck at just about anything, no matter how inappropriate or undesirable.
There is a growing belief among some commentators that the ludicrous housing targets being imposed on some (but by no means all) local authorities are designed to do just that: effectively put planning powers in the hands of developers. Or is that a conspiracy theory too far?
CPRE Kent has long advocated the building of social housing for local people, highlighting the fact that developers’ keenness to put up four- and five-bedroom houses at prices beyond the wildest dreams of many is going to do precious little to ease the much-reported ‘housing crisis’.
Thanet residents concerned at the manner in which property prices are being skewed are often told of the ‘trickle-down effect’: the notion that an influx of cash-rich newcomers shares the posterity far and wide.
The idea would in truth seem to hold little truth, at least if those child poverty figures are anything to go by.

  • The saga of Thanet planning rarely makes uplifting reading, but for more see here, here, here, here and here

Monday, June 10, 2019

Climate change? No problem, apparently, in government push to further develop Thames estuary

The proposed Lower Thames Crossing is intended to fuel urban growth in the estuary

The government’s backing of proposals to target the Thames estuary for massive development flies in the face of wider calls to tackle climate change, says Hilary Newport, director of CPRE Kent.
In June last year the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission published a report calling for the building of more than a million homes and the creation of 1.3 million new jobs in east London, Essex and Kent.
The commission, an advisory body to the government that was announced in the 2016 Budget and tasked to “develop an ambitious vision and delivery plan for north Kent, south Essex and east London up to 2050”, had also urged that ‘joint spatial plans’ be created in both Essex and Kent, which it said should take more of London’s housing need.
It also called for greater strategic planning and the creation of development corporations “with planning, and compulsory purchase powers to drive the delivery of homes and jobs aligned to major infrastructure investment”.
Responding in March this year, James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, stressed his support for the commission’s recommendations.
“The Thames estuary has long been a gateway to the UK economy and has enormous untapped potential, which has the power to benefit those that live and work in the area,” he announced.
“Having considered the recommendations of the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission, I have announced a number of steps we are taking to unlock an even brighter future for the estuary’s economy, marking the beginning of a new and bolder approach by this government to support the area.”
He said government “expects all local authorities to plan for the number of homes required to meet need in their area” and “would encourage cooperation between the London boroughs and neighbouring authorities in Kent and Essex and welcome further engagement with those places, including with groups of London boroughs, in exploring how we might support them to plan for and deliver significant increases in the provision of homes”.
The government is also “committed to exploring the potential for at least two new locally-led development corporations in the Thames estuary”, “subject to suitable housing ambition from local authorities, and we encourage local areas in the estuary to come forward with such proposals”.
The response included a commitment of £1 million to establish a Thames Estuary Growth Board to “oversee and drive economic growth plans for the area” and £4.85 million “to support local partners to develop low-cost proposals for enhancing transport services” between Abbey Wood and Ebbsfleet.
The wish to impose high levels of growth on an already desperately overcrowded part of the country is alarming and of course would entail substantially expanded infrastructure, most contentiously a Lower Thames Crossing, a road that would exacerbate traffic congestion in north-west Kent, according to  Alex Hills, chairman of Dartford and Gravesham CPRE.
“The A227 section that runs from the A20 to the A2 and that paces through Vigo, Culverstone, Meopham and Istead Rise is facing a massive increase in traffic,” he said.
“With 3,000 houses planned for Borough Green and Gravesham Borough Council pressing to build on Green Belt in the area, this road already faces a huge hike in traffic. A new Thames crossing would drastically increase it yet further. Highways England has admitted that the new crossing will increase the traffic using the A227.”
Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, concurred: “A new crossing, should it be built, is projected to reduce traffic flows at Dartford by a pitifully low 22 per cent. That is a minuscule benefit, but the environmental and community harm caused by the biggest UK road project since the building of the M25 would be substantial.
“A new crossing would be all about intensifying overcrowding in the South East and opening up countryside development. It is now beyond dispute that increasing road capacity results in more vehicle journeys – we cannot build our way out of congestion.
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that we need to take immediate action to curb catastrophic climate change, yet here we are stuck with the government’s obsession with a new Thames crossing to help pave the way for colossal levels of business-as-usual development.
“To say the government’s focus on new road capacity is out of date is to hugely understate the problem. Rather than investing solely in new roads, it should be promoting better public transport links, rationalising the over-reliance on road-based freight movement and supporting planning policies that support walking and cycling.”
The revised focus on the estuary comes after the previously mooted Thames Gateway project stalled, partly through a downturn in the economy and partly through the ditching by the coalition government, which came to power in 2010, of regional planning.
Now, perhaps ironically, there are concerns among some in the planning world that local authorities in north Kent have not engaged in joint strategic planning in the same manner as their counterparts in south Essex and the capital.
Six local authorities in south Essex have come together with their county council to form the Association of South Essex Local Authorities and pledged to prepare a joint plan.
Catriona Riddell, of the Planning Officers Society, which represents local-authority planners, said: “I think the south Essex part of the Thames estuary is way ahead of the game in terms of what it’s doing on strategic planning.
“The London Plan will cover the London bit of the estuary and you’ve got the south Essex joint plan being prepared. You’re going to have to have something in north Kent. You can’t have two out of three areas doing formal joint strategic planning without north Kent doing the same. That is a big hole at the moment.”
She says north Kent authorities have not worked together partly because of lack of agreement about whether a strategic plan should cover the whole of the county or just the northern part focused on the estuary.
“I suspect they will have to think quite quickly now because of the government’s response,” she said. “I don’t think they will have much leeway in terms of not doing something.”
Stuart Irvine, of planning consultancy Turley, added that the growth board would have influence with government, which could sway spending decisions. “It does potentially have the ear of government, which could be useful from a financial and infrastructure perspective,” he said.
“That could have a big influence on how Kent’s planning authorities choose to behave. If funding is channelled through the growth board, I think north Kent will have no choice but to change direction towards the Thames estuary.”
Some see the introduction of a growth board and emphasis on strategic plans as a renewed willingness by government to embrace regional planning again.
“We’ve got a similar approach being taken on the Cambridge-Oxford corridor,” said Thames Estuary Commission chairman John Armitt. “You need to look at it on that regional level.”
And at last year’s Conservative Party conference, planning minister Kit Malthouse said government wanted local authorities to come together in “regional groupings” and prepare strategic plans in return for Whitehall infrastructure cash.
Ms Riddell is not convinced, however, stressing that fewer than half of the councils in the Thames estuary would be represented on the new growth board.
“I find it really ironic that they abolished regional strategies and assembles because they were apparently unaccountable,” she says. “They’re reinventing regional planning but with less accountability and political representation than we had in 2010.”
Similarly, CPRE Kent’s Hilary Newport believes the future of the Thames estuary needs broader consideration.
“Sustainable transport should be prioritised over new road-building,” she said.
“If growth in the estuary is to continue, we need significant investment in the area’s public transport, walking and cycling options.
“As CPRE’s policy on transport makes clear, we need to manage our existing road network better, rather than expand it. As such, we would prefer investment in the estuary’s railway network, such as an extension to Crossrail, to be prioritised over the building of a Lower Thames road crossing.”
As for the push to focus development on the estuary, Mrs Newport said: “There needs to be wide-scale public engagement and consultation on the overall growth proposals, allowing alternative options to be considered before policy decisions are made.
“We believe that there should urgently be a full Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry into the proposals, to look at the potential impact on both the local environment and on the economies of more deprived regions in England.”

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Overwhelmed by the development onslaught? This piece sheds a little light on what’s going on…

A countryside under siege (pic Susan Pittman)

Many of us are aware that our natural environment is threatened like never before. We experience it through the constant grind of cement-mixers and bulldozers, but sometimes the bureaucratic process is not so clear. Here planning expert and CPRE supporter Michael Hand casts some light on what is driving the current onslaught.

We are under relentless and unparalleled pressure to accommodate significant growth, in particular to meet the demand for new housing.
However, many developments are concentrating on three- and four-bedroom executive homes and not enough ‘affordable’ housing is being delivered.
Much of the South East is experiencing pressure for this unprecedented growth in housing, driven by the ‘housing crisis’ and associated government policy to increase the delivery of new homes by setting higher targets for local authorities to meet.
As guardians of the countryside, local members of CPRE Kent have a key responsibility in upholding the core values of the organisation and defending the beauty of the county against poor-quality and inappropriate new developments.
There are 13 Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) in Kent and in many Local Plans have not been adopted.
This void in the planning framework has resulted in opportunistic and speculative applications (by companies such as Gladman Developments Ltd) seeking to exploit councils’ inability to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land.
The effect, already adverse, has been exacerbated by a recent change by the government to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) through publication of a revised version on February 19.
Key changes include an amendment to specify that 2014-based population projections will provide the demographic baseline for the standard method of calculating local housing need rather than the lower 2016-based household projections, which could be used as a reason to justify lower housing need.
This clarification followed the publication of a major revision of the NPPF on July 24, 2018, which, inter alia, clarified the definition of ‘deliverable’.
To be considered deliverable, sites for housing should be available now, offer a suitable location for development now and be achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years.
As a consequence, it may be harder for LPAs to provide a five-year housing-land supply, as for example Local Plan allocations cannot generally be used in the calculation, except where “clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years” exists.
The 2018 revision also introduced the Housing Delivery Test for LPAs, a failure in delivery of which kick-starts the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.
The first round of Housing Delivery Test results was published in February this year, with 108 councils falling short and 86 required to add more land for housing to Local Plans as a result.
For a number of authorities, this confirms the need to apply a 20 per cent buffer to their housing requirement, with potential ramifications for their ability to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply.
A result of these changes is that speculative applications will still be common practice in the future – and that is why CPRE Kent needs to keep building a strong presence to monitor and respond to inappropriate development proposals.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Setting up the planning system to fail

Here come the diggers!

Richard Bate, planning professional and long-time CPRE Kent supporter, delivers a withering analysis of government housing policy

How often have you heard it said that if only the planning authorities would release more land for housing, then the builders would build more houses and prices would come down?
This is the fundamental belief across the government at present. To the Treasury this is the simple law of supply and demand. Furthermore, given that the market knows best and the planning system gets in the way of the market, it must be right to pull the teeth of the planning system. This is what the government has been doing.
The inconvenient reality is that housebuilders do not wish to reduce house prices discernibly.
At the site level they anticipate particular sale prices for particular products, subtract construction costs, financing and profit, and bid for the land as a residual cost.
If house prices come down, profits erode and enthusiasm to build deteriorates. That’s what happens in recessions. Strategically, businesses do not deliberately flood their own market with the objective of reducing their own sale price.

Release more land for housing?
Giving builders more land may help them to supply more houses, but only up to a point.
Firstly, there has to be a market at their chosen sale price. The government has generously aided this process through Help to Buy and other mechanisms, enabling purchasers to pay inflated prices.
The Chartered Institute of Housing has shown recently that more government subsidy is being ploughed into home ownership than into ‘affordable’ (sub-market) housing to rent. It’s hardly surprising house prices don’t come down.
Secondly, ‘more land’ has ceased to be the solution, because builders can’t use it fast enough. Data commissioned by the Local Government Association shows that planning permissions each year far outstrip completions, that unimplemented permissions are rising, and the period from permission to completion is lengthening.
Third, the greater the choice of sites available to builders, the more they can cherry-pick the financially attractive ones – often greenfield sites rather than recycling the urban sites the planning system would largely prefer. So planning is already less effective.

How many houses?
Despite plenty of planning permissions, annual completions in all tenures are below the estimated growth of some 230,000 a year in numbers of households in England.
Government policy is for the completion of 300,000 dwellings annually, almost twice the number achieved in 2017. You can guess its preferred means of achieving this aspiration: release more land!
To arm-twist planning authorities, the government changed the rules on housing need and supply in February this year.
Housing need is to be calculated by a new ‘standard method’. This is based on the well-established (but still volatile) household projections prepared by the Office for National Statistics every two years.
The 2016-based projections were generally lower than the 2014-based projections, so the government has decreed that the older set will be used. Never mind not using the most up-to-date information if it is inconvenient to the outcome…
The housing need figure for each authority is then adjusted to take account of affordability (a specific ratio of house prices to incomes). All but about five local authorities in the country have affordability ratios above the threshold at which, under the government’s method, their housing need figures will be raised. (The local housing need figure is capped at 40 per cent above the average annual housing requirement set out in existing Local Plans.)
The policy therefore builds into planning practice the government’s belief that releasing more land will bring down house prices.
Unsurprisingly, there is no mention of the degree to which affordability ratios are expected to fall for a given stimulus of land supply. The number of plots that must be provided will generally be well above the number of dwellings needed to match the household projections, so land must be made available for households that are not projected to exist.
Each authority must supply land for at least five years’ worth of building at the required rate.
The government wants ‘concealed’ households to obtain more readily their own homes and households to form that have allegedly been deterred from forming by the shortage of dwellings.
This is more economic gibberish.
The concealed and unformed households are in that position because they cannot afford to buy or rent on the open market and would be unable to obtain subsidised housing, so their needs will only be met by greatly increasing the provision of sub-market housing, ideally traditional social housing.
That is irrespective of the volume of land release. The extra sub-market housing planned is far short of real needs.

Is it all planning’s fault?
The government’s coup de grâce is on housing delivery. Instead of being assessed for their land supply, local authorities will be assessed on the number of dwellings built in their areas. This is despite local authorities barely building any houses these days: that’s the task of builders.
When housebuilding rates in a local authority fall below 85 per cent of its assessed requirement, the government assumes (again) that this is for want of land. The authority will then be obliged to find a 20 per cent extra ‘buffer’ of additional deliverable housing sites.
On current figures, that affects 86 councils in England: in Kent – Gravesham, Medway, Swale and especially Thanet. The instruction to release more land for housing at repeated stages in the process inevitably threatens more countryside, with builders likely to play the system to achieve that result.
The government is setting up requirements that it must know are wholly undeliverable for many local authorities. When housing supply falls short of the new proposed ‘needs’, the  government will berate the authorities and claim it’s all the fault of their planning practices.
That will make it easier to impose yet another round of significant weakening of planning powers – which are obviously getting in the way of housing the nation.
Meanwhile, the original culprit, high house prices, which could be tackled by policies on the ‘demand’ side rather than the ‘supply’ side, will go unchecked. Further, the government has announced its intention to fuel the fire with yet another extension of Help to Buy, beyond 2021.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

 

Thanet goes big in its approval of greenfield development

Plans for Westwood Village were approved in February (pic Greenacre (Thanet))

Some of our Thanet readers might already be delighted by the decision to approve plans for the 900-home Westwood Village. After all, the substantial loss of farmland combined with potential traffic gridlock should be enough to gladden the stoniest of hearts.
Such joy can surely only be heightened by the news that the scheme is one of the largest to have been approved across the entire country this year.
Planning magazine has listed the largest planning consents to be granted during the first six months of 2019 – and Westwood Village, which lies essentially at the joining point of Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs – comes in at an impressive sixth place.
The plans, from Greenacre (Thanet) Ltd, were approved, with conditions, by Thanet District Council’s planning committee on Tuesday, February 26. The final agreement, incorporating legal provisions, will be concluded by officers.
As well as the 900 homes (of which 30 per cent are scheduled to be ‘affordable’), Westwood Village will include a 4,900 square-metre commercial centre, a local centre and a primary school.
As for what all those new households are going to do for work, answers on a postcard, please…
PS: The largest application to be approved in the Planning survey?
The intriguingly named Margarine Works development in Southall, west London, incorporating more than 2,000 homes, up to 10,076 sq m of flexible office/community space and 2,688 sq m of flexible retail space.

Monday, April 8, 2019

A million new homes, two development corporations… and a very special friend to make it all happen

Fly away! There won’t be much space left for wildlife in the Thames estuary if mass development proposals come to pass (pic GREAT)

Back in September, we wrote: “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 Essex and Kent 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.”
And last week (Monday, March 26) the government published its response to the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission report. Unsurprisingly, it is not an attractive read, either in style or substance.
The commission had been announced in the 2016 Budget and was tasked by government to “develop an ambitious vision and delivery plan for north Kent, south Essex and east London up to 2050”.
Sadly, the word ‘ambitious’ rarely spells good news… and, sure enough, a sift through the bureaucratic spiel reveals that the intention to target the estuary for mass housing development shines as bright (or as dark) as ever for this government.
You might recall that the 2050 Vision report, published in June last year, said “a minimum” of one million homes would be needed to support economic growth in the Thames estuary by 2050, equating to 31,250 homes a year.
It also called for greater strategic planning and the creation of development corporations “with planning, and compulsory purchase powers to drive the delivery of homes and jobs aligned to major infrastructure investment”.
Responding, the government has committed to “striking housing deals with groups of local authorities in order to support ambitious and innovative plans for additional homes in high demand areas”.
It says: “Through these deals, we are seeking to support greater collaboration between councils, a more strategic approach to decision-making on housing and infrastructure, more innovation and high-quality design in new homes and creating the right conditions for new private investment.
“We are encouraged by early discussions with authorities in Kent and Medway on how government can support this ambitious plan, and how we can best work together to secure the infrastructure it needs to plan for and deliver more homes.”
We are told the government “supports joint planning arrangements as defined by local partners and stands ready to offer support to places seeking to engage in developing compelling proposals which support housing growth over the longer term.
“These proposals or joint working arrangements should not be limited by the geography of the Estuary and we would encourage cross boundary working.”
Further, the commission “also recognised the importance of housing delivery both in East London and within the wider Estuary”.
It response says government “expects all local authorities to plan for the number of homes required to meet need in their area” and “would encourage cooperation between the London boroughs and neighbouring authorities in Kent and Essex and welcome further engagement with those places, including with groups of London boroughs, in exploring how we might support them to plan for and deliver significant increases in the provision of homes”.
The government is “committed to exploring the potential for at least two new locally-led development corporations in the Thames Estuary”, “subject to suitable housing ambition from local authorities, and we encourage local areas in the Estuary to come forward with such proposals”.
The government response also includes:

  • a commitment of £1 million to establish a new Thames Estuary Growth Board to “oversee and drive economic growth plans for the area”
  • a commitment of £4.85 million “to support local partners to develop low-cost proposals for enhancing transport services” between Abbey Wood and Ebbsfleet. The response says that any decision on future transport enhancements “would require a detailed evidence base that demonstrates that the scheme would be both technically feasible, offer value for money … and deliver ambitious new housing in the area.”
  • a commitment to create a Cabinet-level “ministerial champion” to act “as an advocate and critical friend for the region within government”.

With friends like that…

Monday, April 1, 2019

  • To read the 2050 Vision report, click here
  • For more on this story, see here

How demand for second homes in Thanet highlights flawed housing policy

The much-heralded revival of Margate has helped increase demand for second homes in Thanet

The ridiculous housebuilding targets imposed by Whitehall on our local authorities have been well charted, but few places highlight some of the inherent issues as much as Thanet.
Always something of a law unto itself, the district suffers a low-income, low-skills economy, with socio-economic stats that compare to the worst in the country, let alone the South East.
Alongside this, however, are property prices that, while still low in a regional context, are in truth eye-wateringly high. Many local people are not able to even consider buying a home.
This, of course, is presented by the government as a central tenet of its increased housing targets; it is saying house prices are too high for local people so we must build more.
It’s a simplistic argument that might be better suited to a school playground than the national political arena: houses are not tins of baked beans and simply putting up more of them is not going to bring a fall in prices.
A range of variable factors determines house prices.
Of course, in Kent one of those is proximity to London (another law unto itself, indeed almost another country in some regards).
Much of this county (widely regarded as the poor sister of the South East) has similar issues to Thanet, if to a lesser degree, in that local wages are never going to compete with those of London.
Even allowing for workers who commute to the capital for employment, too many Kent residents are priced out of housing by incoming Londoners. Building more houses isn’t going to affect prices if they’re simply going to be bought by people from the capital.
In Thanet, the situation is exacerbated by the number of properties bought as second homes.
Staggeringly, HM Revenues and Customs figures reveal that in 2017-18 more than a quarter (28 per cent) of residential properties bought in Thanet were procured as second homes.
The second-highest figure came from Canterbury, at 24 per cent, followed by Dover and Folkestone & Hythe (each 22 per cent). The least-affected district was Tonbridge & Malling at 15 per cent.
Increased stamp duty was expected to reduce the demand for second homes, but instead Kent saw a rise of 16 per cent in their purchase from 1916-17.
Most South East local authorities will struggle to meet their housebuilding targets, which in itself will herald a tranche of other issues, but it is clear that housing policy and its attendant methodology are missing the target when it comes to providing local homes for local people.
Second-home purchase is just one factor in that mismatch.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Cleve Hill solar farm: can this really be allowed to happen?

A kestrel hovers over the marshes… how much long longer will wildlife have a future in the area? (pic GREAT)

We recently detailed the threat posed by plans for the UK’s largest solar farm on the North Kent Marshes, near Faversham.
Then the plans covered 890 acres of Graveney, Nagden and Cleve Marshes – that figure has since expanded to 1,000 acres, to allow, according to developer Cleve Hill Solar Park Ltd, for “expanded habitat management areas” dedicated to wildlife.
The increased acreage would also allow the developer to work with the Environment Agency on maintaining flood defences, the extension covering “the area where any maintenance might be needed”.
A second public consultation ended in July and drew more than 700 “pieces of feedback”, resulting in the anticipated application to the Planning Inspectorate for a Development Consent Order being delayed from August to October 31, 2018.
CPRE Kent is vehemently opposed to Cleve Hill Solar Park due to its scale, its position within the North Kent Marshes, which are internationally important for birds, and the drastic effect on the landscape.
“If I was to think of the worst possible place to put a solar farm, it would be here,” director Hilary Newport had said when the proposal was announced.
“We absolutely support the provision of renewable energy, but solar panels should be on roofs, not trashing landscapes in an astonishingly beautiful part of the North Kent Marshes.”
Dr Newport’s view strikes a chord in this part of the world. As a Faversham resident noted on social media: “If we are to lose Nagden Marshes, Graveney Marshes and Cleve Marshes to the biggest solar farm in the UK, why are the hundreds of new houses being built in Faversham not having solar rooftops?”
If that is possibly the definition of a rhetorical question, the destruction of such a huge expanse of land in an area so important for wildlife and people alike is anything but a light-hearted matter.
CPRE Kent’s response to the second public consultation totalled almost 1,700 words, our primary concerns focusing on the following areas (more may be added after scrutiny of the DCO application):

  • Damage to landscape, including tranquillity and dark skies
  • Inadequate assessment of flood risk and potential conflict with the Environment Agency’s ‘managed retreat’ strategy
  • Impacts on soil microclimate and hydrology
  • Ecological impacts
  • Damage to heritage assets caused by construction traffic
  • Loss of agricultural land
  • Threats to animal welfare

With government offering little or no incentive for solar energy to become an integral requirement for housing development – the export tariff, the money given to householders with solar panels for the electricity they provide to the national grid, ends on March 31, while it has announced that it will not be subsidising any renewable-energy projects until at least 2025 – can such an environmentally damaging proposal as Cleve Hill be justified?
CPRE Kent recognises the challenges of climate change and the government’s commitment to meeting carbon-emission targets but does not consider that the renewable-energy benefits of Cleve Hill outweigh the damage it would cause the North Kent Marshes.
We also question the sustainability of reliance on lithium-ion battery technology, with its own remote but concerning ecological impacts.
More broadly, Kent could not be accused of failing to contribute to the country’s renewable-energy needs. The website MyGridGB’s UK Renewable Energy Map shows that, in October 2017, this county had 36 solar farms either active, in construction or awaiting construction. Neighbouring Surrey, by comparison, had just two… and one of those floats on a reservoir.
Further, Kent hosts five wind farms, including, in London Array, the second-largest offshore site in the world. A sixth is planned.
Cleve Hill lies on the boundary of Swale and Canterbury districts, and two councillors from the latter local authority have pointed out in the local press that, in terms of providing ‘green energy’, “the Canterbury area alone is punching six times its weight against the national average”.
Michael Wilcox is chairman of GREAT (Graveney Rural Environment Action Team), which has been fighting the solar park plans at Cleve Hill and has been encouraged by the response to the consultation.
“I think they’ve been overwhelmed by the feedback, which has led to the delayed application,” he said.
“We haven’t really seen any changes from the developers since the consultation, so we don’t really know what’s going on, but both Kent Wildlife Trust and our local MP Helen Whately have openly come out against the scheme.”
There is a belief among some that the Cleve Hill application is a ‘done deal’, that conversations behind closed doors have secured a decision in the developer’s favour, but Mr Wilcox does not see it that way:
“I think opposition is building. I thought it might have been a done deal, a tick in the box for the carbon targets they’re chasing, but as the months have gone past it’s become glaringly obvious that it’s not green energy if you’re destroying countryside and harming wildlife. “This looks and feels like a dense industrial development and I think people question if this is the answer.
“I want to be clear: we are not against solar energy, but this kind of thing is dirty solar. Why new homes are not incorporating solar panels is a mystery – when a house is being built is the easiest time to put in solar.”
The loss of wildlife is one of the most distressing aspects of the Cleve Hill project for Mr Wilcox, who lives in Nagden.
“It’s this little pocket of land that somehow missed being designated as worthy of protection. If it’s solely down to land management, then there’s the lovely story of Elmley over on the Isle of Sheppey, where 40-odd years ago some of the site was farmed for arable and the production of barley or corn but has now been converted back and forms part of a nature reserve.
“The land here has been identified for managed retreat and conversion towards intertidal saltmarsh, but under this scheme it would be killed by a whole load of steel.
“Apparently the developer has described it as just muddy fields, but on those muddy fields there are nesting lapwings, skylarks and reed buntings, while they form part of a wider expanse necessary for birds of prey such as marsh and hen harriers.”
When considering how Cleve Hill Solar Park would look, you need to disregard anything you might already have seen elsewhere.
“It would entail about a million panels packed very densely. Rather than the familiar south-facing setting, they would have an east-west orientation and look like a factory,” said Mr Wilcox.
“The normal appearance of a solar farm is quite benign, but this design made me question the whole proposal as it’s so dense and has panels up to 4.3 metres high – as high as a London double-decker bus.
“South-facing panels have substantial space between them so they don’t shade each other, whereas east-west ones are about blanket coverage that can absorb more radiation early and late in the day.
“These would be angled at about 12 degrees – almost flat – whereas south-facing panels are 30-40 degrees.
“The panels planned for Cleve Hill would be 24 metres across with just three 30-centimetre gaps to let the rain drip off. The rows would be up to half a kilometre in length and there would need to be 2.5-metre spaces between the rows to allow for maintenance.
“In short, the ground would be receiving barely any sunlight and effectively die.”
The developer says it is looking to include “battery storage technology” in its scheme although it has not decided on the details.
“It’s likely the battery would need about nine hectares, together with a new bund around it,” said Mr Wilcox.
“The battery storage could make this more about price speculation than energy production – a similar installation in Australia is reported to earn huge profits by selling energy when it’s more expensive.”
A verdict on the proposed Cleve Hill Solar Park could be expected from the Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Energy and Strategy in late 2019. For the wildlife that depends on this special place and for the people who love it, there can only be one acceptable answer.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Lower Thames Crossing: is it only going to make things worse on our roads?

Travelling could be grim on the A227 if a range of development proposals comes to pass (pic Google Earth)

The Lower Thames Crossing, should it be built, would merely exacerbate traffic congestion in north-west Kent, says Alex Hills, chairman of Dartford and Gravesham CPRE.
“The A227 section that runs from the A20 to the A2 and that paces through Vigo, Culverstone, Meopham and Istead Rise is facing a massive increase in traffic,” he said.
“Work by the Gravesham Rural Residents Group (GRRG) has proved that lorries are already using this road as a cut-through.
“With 3,000 houses planned for Borough Green and Gravesham Borough Council pressing to build on Green Belt in the area, this road already faces a huge hike in traffic. A new Thames crossing would drastically increase it yet further.
“The road has pinch-points at Wrotham Hill, near Culverstone Green primary school, Meopham Green, the listed George Inn and the shops near Meopham station.
“These pinch-points make it unsuitable for large HGVs, which is why we are calling for a weight restriction to be put on the road, along with other traffic measures.
“The safety of the children attending the two schools and residents’ health and well-being on the road must take priority. To put things in perspective, it can take minutes to cross the road now, so any increase in traffic is going to really impact on people’s lives.”
Given the potential effect on the area, Alex wants to see Highways England provide the appropriate mitigation if the new crossing becomes a reality.
“Highways England has admitted that the new crossing will increase the traffic using the A227, yet it is reportedly not going to pay for the required mitigation measures.”
CPRE Kent is requesting clarity on the issue of mitigation and wants to see a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis as part of that process.
Alex concluded: “It is not right that Kent County Council should be forced to pay for problems caused by a Highways England project that will not solve the problems at the Dartford crossing, will increase traffic congestion and will increase air pollution.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

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