CPRE Kent is dismayed to learn of a decision by Maidstone Borough Council officers, outside the scrutiny of elected councillors, that results in a loss of £469,000 necessary infrastructure funding promised to a local community. The story began when MBC approved the building of 53 houses on the non-allocated greenfield site of Loder Close, Lenham, back in 2019. Concerns were raised at the time by the county council and residents that this development would place unfunded pressures on local infrastructure. These concerns were dismissed, with elected councillors being promised within the cabinet report that the development “will provide reasonable and appropriate contribution to other infrastructure by CIL payments”. Except it turns out this advice was wrong. Fast-forward to March 2021 and, after a change of developer, the plan had now changed, with more affordable housing being provided. The new developer asked MBC whether it would require a new planning application. Amazingly, it was told it did not. This is amazing is because it exempts the developer from making any infrastructure payments. This includes £159,00 the county council said was required for additional primary-school places and £197,000 it has identified as necessary for new secondary-school places, as well as contributions towards community learning, youth services, the library and social services. This included up to £50,000 that would have otherwise come to the local parish to spend on a much-needed and now-delayed pre-school. While CPRE Kent clearly supports the need for genuine affordable housing, we ask ‘Won’t those future occupiers also require doctors, school places and other community facilities?’. With the rights and the wrongs of this decision remaining open to debate, CPRE Kent is heartened to see Lenham Parish Council continuing to challenge MBC on this. There is, however, a much wider picture to be addressed. That is development being forced on communities without the necessary community infrastructure being secured or provided. That is plans being changed that clearly impact on communities, though without further democratic input being sought from that community. That is the fact that current rules allow for any type of residential development being approved without having to make a fair contribution towards already overstretched community facilities. Overall, Loder Close represents a clear example of why communities do not trust developers or councils when they promise future infrastructure impacts will be “mitigated”.
The deadline for comments on Canterbury City Council’s public consultation on its preferred option for its new Local Plan closes at 9am on Monday, August 9. The deadline has been extended by a week in response to glitches with the council’s online consultation portal. CPRE Kent has submitted comments on behalf of its members objecting to the council’s preferred option of building 14,000-17,000 homes – which is 8,000 more than required under the government’s standard methodology for calculating housing numbers, for the period to 2040. We have advised the council that a careful balance needs to be struck between taking economic advantage of Canterbury’s heritage and undermining it with too much and with inappropriately sited development. Unfortunately, like many of the residents in the Canterbury area, we have had difficulty interpreting the full implications of the council’s development proposals. The written summary details for the preferred option makes no reference to the provision of the proposed two new roads/bypasses – to the north-west and south-east of the city – referring obliquely to “upgrade of the A28 to allow traffic to bypass the city centre” instead. CPRE Kent has questioned whether addressing congestion and pollution on the ring road by building a pair of bypasses will be effective – bearing in mind that it would appear that a high proportion of this traffic is generated by local people travelling into Canterbury for work, leisure, shopping and education. Building up to 8,000 more dwellings than required to fund a roadbuilding programme to bypass the city centre will, CPRE Kent believes, place undue burden on local communities, the countryside setting of Canterbury, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and surrounding Areas of High Landscape Value. We have pointed out to the council that development to this degree would have an adverse impact on dark skies, tranquillity and best and most versatile agricultural land – which has a vital role to play in absorbing carbon and preserving biodiversity, including the biodiversity in soils. Once it is built over, soil biodiversity is lost. Sadly, the council seems to have cornered itself into a position whereby 20th-century solutions are being applied to 21st-century issues.
To learn more and contribute to Canterbury City Council’s consultation on the Local Plan, click here
To read more about development pressure and planning in Canterbury, click here
A revised version of the National Planning Policy Framework has been published this month (July) – see here. The new incarnation follows this year’s consultation, which focused primarily on incorporating design codes and building-beautiful recommendations. The full government consultation response can be found here, while the original comments made by CPRE to the consultation are here. The changes are largely incremental and as anticipated though are to be formally applied from the date of publication (Tuesday, July 20) for both Local Plans not yet at examination and planning decisions. For immediate practical purposes, all paragraph numbers from paragraph 53 onwards have now changed – here is a tracked versionillustrating the differences between the February 2019 version of the NPPF and this latest edition.
The Planning Bill highlighted in last week’s Queen’s Speech (Tuesday, May 11) has been blasted by CPRE, the countryside charity. Tom Fyans, CPRE campaigns and policy director, said: “The Planning Bill looks set to prioritise developers’ needs over local communities, provide no new environmental safeguards and could slow the delivery of genuinely affordable homes in many areas. All in all, it risks creating a free-for-all for development. “We know from painful experience that without the right checks and balances in the planning process, developments can lead to a huge and unnecessary loss of countryside while doing nothing to tackle the affordable housing crisis or level up. “That’s why we urgently need more joined-up thinking from the government if we are to address the nature and climate emergencies. On the one hand, we’ve got the Environment Bill being touted as world-beating legislation to leave nature in a better state than we found it over the next 25 years. On the other hand, we have a Planning Bill that looks set to take us back to a deregulated dark age of development. “The government must urgently rethink the Planning Bill. If not, we’re facing an open season for developers on large parts of the countryside, and a fatal weakening of local communities’ right to be heard on the future of their area.”
Tonbridge and Malling’s draft Local Plan is struggling after inspectors suspended public examination due to concerns the borough council had failed in its ‘duty to co-operate’ with neighbouring Sevenoaks District Council. In response, Tonbridge and Malling has written to the Secretary of State asking him to intervene and instruct the inspectors to continue their examination. Its draft Plan, which proposes at least new 6,834 homes until 2031, has fallen foul of planning inspectors who claim Tonbridge and Malling has failed to work sufficiently closely with Sevenoaks and consider whether it could have taken any of Sevenoaks’s ‘unmet’ housing demand. The Planning Inspectorate told Tonbridge and Malling to withdraw its Plan or it would recommend the Government reject it. The council fears a reassessment could mean substantially higher housing targets. The council asked the Planning Inspectorate to issue its final report on its examination of the Plan before asking Robert Jenrick to intervene to review the inspectors’ decision.
When Swale Borough Council confirmed it was to skip consultation on its Local Plan and go straight to a final version, CPRE Kent raised serious doubts about the legality and soundness of the Plan. As we near the end of the one and only opportunity to comment on the council’s final version of the Plan, it remains that:
A number of important documents, for example a rigorous transport plan and a finalised air-quality assessment have yet to emerge. The latter is critical given that allocations at Teynham will feed extra traffic into AQMAs.
There seems to be no coherent plan for infrastructure delivery – a key component of the plan given the allocations being proposed near the already crowded junction 7.
There seems to have been little or no cooperation with neighbouring boroughs or even parish councils within Swale itself.
The removal of a second consultation might have been understandable if this final version of the Plan were similar to that being talked about at the beginning of the consultation process. It is, however, radically in the following ways:
There has been a major shift in the balance of housing allocations, away from the west of the borough over to the east, especially around the historic town of Faversham. This is a move that raises many concerns.
A new large allocation, with accompanying A2 bypass, has appeared around Teynham and Lynsted, to which we are objecting
Housing allocations in the AONB around Neames Forstal that were judged “unsuitable” by the council’s own officers have now appeared as part of the housing numbers
Most of the housing allocations being proposed are on greenfield sites, many of them on Grade 1 agricultural land – a point to which we are strongly objecting
The haste with which the Plan is being prepared is especially worrying given the concentration of housing in Faversham. If the town is to take a large amount of new housing, it is imperative that the policies concerning the area are carefully worked out to preserve, as far as possible, the unique nature of the town. The rush to submit the Plan is likely to prove detrimental. As Swale does not have a five-year land housing supply, it is open to speculative development proposals, many of which would run counter to the ideas contained in the current Plan. Some are already appearing. This is a common situation, and one that, doubtless, is a reason behind Swale’s haste. Our overriding fear, however, is that this emphasis on haste is ultimately going to prove counterproductive. This is because it is our view that the Plan, in its current form, is unlikely to pass independent examination. We are urging Swale to listen to and act upon the comments being made about the plan and to return the plan to the council with appropriate modifications before submitting it to the Secretary of State. Essentially, this means treating the current consultation not as the final one but as the ‘lost’ second consultation. The consultation ends on Friday (April 30) and we would strongly urge residents to make their opinions known if they have not already done so.
Consultation on Dartford Borough Council’s pre-submission version of its Local Plan closed today (Friday, April 9, 2021) and CPRE Kent feels this has been largely a positive example of Plan-making within the constraints of the planning system. By focusing development on well-connected brownfield sites within the town of Dartford and at Ebbsfleet Garden City, the Plan is essentially a genuine example of a brownfield-first strategy. Coupled with strong Green Belt protection policies and policies responding to the climate-change emergency, there is a lot to commend. Of course, there remains areas where things could be better. We have taken exception to the continued support of roadbuilding within a borough that has some the worst air quality in the South East and the council’s continued support for the Lower Thames Crossing. We have called on the authority to be bolder with measures to truly respond to our biodiversity crisis, along with further strengthening of active-travel measures. We were disappointed not to see a policy protecting intrinsically dark landscapes. We have reminded it about the implications of Natural England’s designation of Swanscombe Marshes and land to the south as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Overall, though, there was certainly as much good as there was bad. We now must just hope that this good work is not undone should the proposed London Resort theme park be consented.
Oh dear, what a muddle! No sooner had plans for almost 1,100 new homes at Sturry been approved by Canterbury City Council than permission for part of a nearby relief road was refused at county level. The city council’s desire for a relief road intended to ease congestion at the A28 Sturry level crossing had been central to its backing for the housing. It was Tuesday, February 9, that Canterbury’s planning committee gave outline permission for 630 new homes and a primary school at Sturry and full permission for 456 homes at Broad Oak, where more than 800 square metres of commercial space at Broad Oak won outline permission. Developers of both housing schemes – which were treated as one strategic site – were each to put £8.8 million towards the relief road, with another £1.2 million provided by the builder of the Hoplands Farm housing estate at Hersden. However, the county council’s refusal to back a critical part of the scheme means more than £5 million earmarked for the road by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership will now not be forthcoming. It is understood that the spine road through the Sturry development, which was approved by city councillors, will still be built. However, on Tuesday, March 9, a three-lane viaduct over the River Stour to a new roundabout at Sturry Road fell foul of County Hall, which slated the proposal to stop traffic heading towards the city from using the level crossing, the prospect of drivers using rat-runs to avoid the link road, potential danger to pedestrians on Sturry Hill and the impact of the viaduct on boats on the Stour. CPRE Kent had earlier objected to both housing projects, along with many others, including Sturry and Broad Oak Action Group, the Woodland Trust and Sturry Parish Council. Sturry resident Peta Boucher is one of many who had campaigned against the housing schemes’ shortcomings. She is among those who suspected deeply flawed development would be pushed through because Canterbury planners feared losing the SELEP funding, which had a mid-February deadline. Sharon Thompson, KCC head of planning applications, had stressed the potential problems of refusing permission for the viaduct. “The housing developments will still go ahead regardless,” she said. “In the event of refusing the application, all of the housing growth in the north-east of Canterbury would use the existing and constrained highway networks. “KCC and the Planning Inspectorate have identified that network as being inadequate to take that growth.” In other words, if traffic congestion at the Sturry level crossing is bad now, the scale of the impending housing development is going to make it a whole lot worse. Last word to Ms Boucher, speaking after the city council had approved the mass housing development back in February: “Its acceptance is a depressingly stark example of how strategic planning should not be done.” Can anyone seriously argue?
Swale Borough Council has agreed to extend its current Local Plan consultation until Friday, April 30. The decision was made at a meeting of full council on Wednesday, February 24, and all residents in the borough will receive letters telling them about the state of the Plan. However, councillors did not agree to have the outcome of the consultation reported back to them before submitting the Plan for examination. This was contrary to what CPRE Kent had suggested. An amendment supporting such a report was rejected by 24 votes to 18 – a disappointing outcome, we believe.
The Covid-19 crisis has curtailed public involvement in almost all aspects of life, so it is important for us all to see that fairness and the democratic process do not suffer as a result, as a CPRE planner explains…
Are you still getting your say at planning committee? Since Saturday, April 4, 2020, councils have been able to hold public meetings virtually – using video or telephone conferencing technology – hence removing the requirement for physical attendance at meetings. The decision was announced by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to in a bid to ensure effective local decision-making and transparency during the coronavirus pandemic. Did you know that not all planning (and other) applications must go before councillors at a committee meeting? Under the 1972 Local Government Act, local planning authorities can discharge some decision-making to an officer – in the case of planning applications this is what is commonly known as a delegated decision. Planning permission can still be granted (or refused) for individual schemes. The only difference is that, compared with a committee decision, the process is faster because there is no need to wait until the next planning committee comes round. As it is up to individual councils to draw up their own delegation scheme, decisions that can be delegated in one authority may not in another. Unless a local planning authority has changed its delegated scheme, all planning decisions that would normally have gone to a planning committee continue to do so. While the decision-making format will not have changed, it is possible that meetings may have been cancelled in the early days while councils made the necessary arrangements to move committee meetings online. It might not be the same for all councils, but I know one Kent authority minutes at the beginning of each session that meetings are being conducted in accordance with the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panel (Coronavirus) Flexibility of Local Authority Police and Crime Panel Meetings (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 No. 392. And that in welcoming councillors and members of the public the chairman states which council officers are in attendance. The procedure for my local council is that members of the public are advised in the normal way of the committee date for schemes in which they are interested. As usual, the procedure for speaking at committee is explained. In accordance with the regulations, interested parties are invited to dial in to the meeting and, where pre-arranged, get to speak for their allotted time. In addition, participants are asked to provide a written copy of the statement they wish to make so that in the event of technical difficulties their views can be read out. At this specific council, members of the public can not actually see what is going on at the meeting (they dial in by phone). Any papers that are likely to be viewed by councillors at the meeting are added to the council’s website in advance. Audio recordings of the meetings held are posted on the council’s website within 10 days of the meeting.
CPRE Kent and others have raised deep concerns regarding the lack of consultation undertaken by Swale Borough Council on its Local Plan. We therefore welcome the recommendation to councillors to extend the current consultation until Friday, April 30. This is to be considered by all council members tomorrow evening (Wednesday, February 24). However, as it stands, there is no formal requirement for the outcome of the consultation to be reported to councillors prior to the Plan being submitted for independent examination. This is why we have today written to Swale councillors urging they consider the consultation responses before making a final decision that the Plan is ready for formal submission. In the report to members accompanying tomorrow evening’s recommendation, Swale describes itself as a listening council. This simple positive step is the least that they can do to demonstrate this.
Richard Thompson, CPRE Kent planner, shows how developers benefit from their own failure to build houses while our communities lose ever more green space
While the Housing Delivery Test might seem a dull and dry topic, often buried in the darkest, deepest recesses of a council’s website, its consequences should not be ignored. When CPRE Kent reported on the 2019 Housing Delivery Test results, it was a bleak picture. Well, last month the 2020 Housing Delivery Test results were published. And the situation for Kent has worsened yet further. The test works by comparing how many homes have been built in each council district against how many homes the district is deemed to have needed over a three-year period (though reduced this year for a month to allow for the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic). These homes-needed figures will either come from a council’s Local Plan if it was adopted within the last five years or, more commonly for Kent, be based on the government’s ‘top-down’ standard method formula for calculating housing numbers. If at least 95 per cent of the homes deemed needed have been built within a council’s district over that period, the council is regarded as having passed the test. More than 85 per cent though less than 95 per cent, the council is put on the naughty step and has to write an ‘action plan’ in which it promises to try harder. If less than 85 per cent though more than 75 per cent, the consequences become serious as an extra 20 per cent is added to the number of homes that will need to be built in that district. This makes it increasingly hard for councils to demonstrate they have a five-year supply of houses – and where a council cannot demonstrate a five-year supply it becomes subject to the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”. If fewer than 75 per cent of homes deemed needed have been built, that council area automatically becomes subject to the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”. This means that if a site can be considered to deliver ‘sustainable development’, then planning permission should be granted, even if there is no support from the council for housing in that location or the site sits outside the Local Plan. As set out in the table below, the combination of the 2020 Housing Delivery Test results and accepted lack of five-year supply by councils now means the majority of Kent is subject to the presumption. Further, Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone and Hythe are all in precarious positions should developers seek to challenge the five-year supply position (note that both Canterbury and Tunbridge Wells only just avoided falling into the 20 per cent buffer requirement because of the Covid adjustment).
What does this mean in practice? Only that the majority of Kent is now at increased risk of speculative planning applications for developer-led interpretations of ‘sustainable development’. CPRE Kent has long campaigned that the standard method for calculating the number of homes is a blunt instrument that fails to recognise local constraints and actual housing needs. Yet the revision made to the standard method in December 2020 is likely to further increase pressure on Kent to take some of London’s deemed increase in housing need. It is also our view that the Housing Delivery Test and five-year supply requirements are fundamentally flawed. The reality is that the supply of homes is all but controlled by the housebuilders, who clearly will only build what the local market will absorb. Yet if this building rate falls below these unreasonable targets, often the only response a local authority can have is to grant yet more planning permissions or allocate yet more land for increasingly unsustainable development. And so the cycle continues. Or, put another way, while the development industry is rewarded for failure to build houses with an increasing suite of sites where ever-greater profits may be made, communities suffer the real-world consequences of yet more precious green spaces being allocated for development.
After last week’s full council vote, the Swale Local Plan is now out for consultation. Residents and other interested parties have until Tuesday, March 23, to submit their comments. CPRE Kent and others have cautioned against going to this formal stage of consultation without undertaking the Draft Issues and Options consultation that had previously been promised. It remains an overriding concern that this decision may inadvertently delay the Plan, either by hostile third-party challenge or through failure of the legal and procedural test at the Local Plan examination. The latter happened recently with the Tonbridge and Malling and Sevenoaks Local Plans. Of course, a delayed Plan means a greater risk of speculative applications in the meantime. These fears are compounded by the lack of the necessary evidence base to inform this consultation, most notably the absence of the required Sustainability Appraisal. It is extremely concerning that a decision to go to consultation has been made before this important work has been finalised. We would urge Swale Borough Council to ensure the required six weeks is available to consider this evidence once it is completed. More generally, CPRE Kent will be considering the detail of Swale’s Plan and supporting evidence over the coming weeks. Our early concerns, however, include:
The lack of meaningful consultation undertaken so far. This is particularly the case for the development now being proposed at Teynham and Lynsted
The lack of traffic modelling. This is a significant evidential requirement that goes to the heart of the soundness of the Plan and runs across many separate issues. The need and importance of such evidence is clearly set out in planning guidance
The uncertainty as to what infrastructure is required to deliver the Plan. Most notably, this includes whether a bypass at Teynham is required and the extent of improvement at junctions 5 and 7 of the M2
The chosen distribution of development leading to a worsening of air quality in the borough’s Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs)
The coalescence of the two contrasting parish settlements of rural Lynsted and more urbanised Teynham.
This list is not exhaustive and represents our initial views only. We would, however, strongly encourage all of you who care for the future of Swale to consider carefully the proposals and make your opinions known. The consultation document can be found here
Flower-rich grassland is a scarce habitat today following the ‘improvement’ of so much grassland for agriculture. But some residents on the Kent Downs in Lenham were fortunate – they had such a beautiful meadow just next door. They treasured the meadow and for many years looked after it for the elderly neighbour who owned it. At some stage it was used as grazing for rare livestock and for traditional haymaking. When a new individual bought the house and the meadow, he wanted to pull down the house and replace it with an ‘eco-house’. The neighbours were supportive. They are people who have the environment in mind. However, they were not prepared for the beautiful meadow being turned from THIS:
The new owner dumped tons of excavated spoil on the meadow. Such an action is illegal and would require permission from the county council to open a site for the disposal of inert matter. It also is a breach of the planning permission granted by Maidstone Borough Council for the construction of the eco-house. Sadly, enforcement officers were slow to act. To add insult to injury, the developer put in a planning application to turn the spoil into a pond. In the opinion of Henny Shotter, of CPRE Kent’s Maidstone committee, who got involved in the matter, the application was an attempt to legalise the status quo of the site. Fortunately, the borough council acknowledged that a pond on a hillside meadow in the AONB is a feature alien to the character of the landscape and refused planning permission. CPRE Kent hopes the council now takes enforcement action and asks the developer to restore the meadow. If this does not happen, a dangerous precedent will be set that undermines completely the effectiveness of the planning authority.
As Canterbury continues its descent from revered cathedral city to soul-crushing urban sprawl, a dispute over hundreds of planned houses highlights the sorry state of an overly complicated and disjointed planning system. Many were delighted when a proposal for 650 homes at Sturry, north-east of the city, was rejected in November by Canterbury City Council’s planning committee – citing policy law that had not been addressed – but it has returned with the number of homes reduced slightly to 630 and some rejigging that has still not tackled the issues highlighted by councillors. The Environ Design (Sturry) development forms part of the same strategic site as a separate proposal, from Barratt and David Wilson Homes for 465 properties at neighbouring Broad Oak. Central to the debate is the council’s desire for a relief road intended to alleviate congestion at the A28 Sturry level crossing. Proposals for a relief road have been around for some 30-40 years, so it has come as little surprise to see it raise its head again. Developers from several sites will have to pay a contribution towards the road; with regard to the Sturry and Broad Oak elements, this would be paid once 500 houses had been built and sold within an agreed timescale. South East Local Enterprise Partnership has earmarked £5 million for the road, about a fifth of which has already been spent on design. The proposed development site has a chequered history. In 2005 the council concluded it was not sustainable for housing and did not allocate it in the Local Plan. It took a similar view in both 2010 and 2014 before, in 2017, allocating it as a way of funding the relief road. Concerns over traffic, issues with environmental impact, absence of affordable housing, excessive density and poor design all counted against the scheme when it was refused in November. Just possibly, it would be encouraging to think, they realised the proposed road would do little more than shunt traffic congestion a mile or two down the A28 (it would re-emerge close to Canterbury sewage works). Sturry resident Peta Boucher is one of many who have campaigned against the proposed development’s shortcomings. She said: “This and other nearby applications are not just about relieving traffic at the crossing – they’re about opening up new developments in the area. “The road, with its 22,000 movements a day, would be built through the middle of the new estate. It would be huge, noisy and polluting, complete with a viaduct near the sewage works. “The Local Plan suggested a figure of 1,000 houses between Sturry and Broad Oak, but that figure has already been pushed up. “The scheme abuts ancient woodland [Den Grove Wood], where up to 50 per cent of the trees could be axed for roads reaching into the new housing. There would be a buffer zone around the wood – which will be closed to public access – but it would do nothing to protect the wildlife within the area or to create safe natural corridors. Councillors were concerned about dog mess killing the woods, but we have more serious concerns. “There is serious lead pollution on the former shooting ground that forms part of the site – you really would not want to build there. We are not against new housing in the area, but we want good housing with proper facilities for all. This proposal will double the size of the villages without adding any new infrastructure. “We know we need housing, but we need excellent housing. Apart from the fact no affordable homes are proposed, the density is far too high and some properties would be sandwiched between the road and the railway. “A tiny community hall is planned on a roundabout, making it almost inaccessible! The developers say they will build a primary school, but they’re not needed as we already have Sturry and Hersden primaries. They’re not planning any playing fields for the estate residents as they will supposedly be provided by the new school. “Open space would be limited because the woods will not be open to the public, while allocated space would have SuDS [sustainable drainage systems] and sewage pits in them. “Natural England has had well-documented concerns over foul water being released to the River Stour, while Southern Water has said there is no capacity for this development. “To deal with some of this, two huge sewage tanks are proposed – one at Sturry and the other at Broad Oak. These would be emptied once a month and of course the waste transported through the estate.” Phew! And the list is far from exhaustive… Ms Boucher is among those who suspect a deeply flawed development will be pushed through because Canterbury planners fear losing the SELEP road-funding, which has a mid-February deadline. “We’re being sold down the river for £5 million,” said Ms Boucher. With reports in local media that the council leader has written to members of the planning committee “reminding” them of their obligation to hold to the Local Plan, the signs are perhaps ominous. Either way, the whole sorry saga is a mess – this is not how strategic planning should be done. Further, the amount of mitigation work necessary to address the damage caused by this desperately poor scheme, should it be accepted in its current form, would blight the area for years.