Huge turnout at CPRE Kent election debate

Around 130 voters turned out last night to hear the Maidstone and the Weld candidates discuss issues ranging from local plans to infrastructure to climate change.

The debate at Oakwood House was organised by CPRE Kent to ensure that protection of the countryside is high on the political agenda.

L-R from front: Hannah Patton, Richard Knox-Johnston, Jasper Gerard, Helen grant, Christine Drury, Eddie Powell, Allen Simpson, Paul Hobday

L-R from front: Hannah Patton, Richard Knox-Johnston, Jasper Gerard, Helen grant, Christine Drury, Eddie Powell, Allen Simpson, Paul Hobday

CPRE Kent Vice President Richard Knox-Johnston, who chaired the event, said: “The beauty of England’s countryside is a national treasure renowned throughout the world. But with short-term economic needs dominating the political agenda, the countryside is under increasing pressure. While housing and infrastructure are undoubtedly needed, inappropriate siting incurring loss of the countryside is often the result; despite alternative options that can deliver the development we need while safeguarding a beautiful and living countryside. “

CPRE is calling on all parties to develop better policies so we have:

  • the right housing in the right places
  • the right transport and energy for the right reasons
  • a beautiful countryside to sustain us all

polling station 2 ballot box

Below is a selection of quotes from the candidates :

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Allen Simpson, Labour:

“Protecting the Weald is hugely important, but it is clear that house building is both needed and inevitable. If we try and prevent building or fail to agree a plan, we will see poorly thought through development across the Weald without the right infrastructure and in the wrong areas. A better solution is a garden suburb which could consolidate home building in an effective way, with all the necessary infrastructure and transport, while minimising the impact on the wider Weald. The alternative isn’t conservation, but development by stealth.”

Hannah Patton, Green:

“Greenfield sites, especially grade 1 farmland, should not be built on, as the need for agricultural land is too high and ancient woodland must be protected from development. We plan to minimise encroachment onto undeveloped Greenfield sites wherever possible by reusing previously developed sites that have fallen into disuse. I will take action on empty homes to bring them back into use, there are an estimated 6000 empty homes in Kent. Using Empty Property Use Orders will give more powers to the council to take over the management of long term empty, privately owned homes. In Maidstone there should be a focus on smaller, affordable homes and social housing close to the town centre, rather than large executive homes in rural areas. A minimum of 80% of any new build homes should be affordable homes or social housing. ”

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Paul Hobday, National Health Action party:

“Austerity is a political ideology dressed up as economic policy and is neither necessary or desirable…. It’s a devious way to get us to accept that we can’t afford services like public toilets, road cleaning or the NHS. All this has an impact on rural England, whether it’s failure to sort out potholes, or dredging rivers to prevent flooding…. My answer to the housing problem is to invest, invest and invest and do it fairly openly equally prioritising those without a decent roof over their heads first before you look at houses as investments not homes.”

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Helen Grant, Conservative:

“When I was a little girl I witnessed first hand the effect of Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy policy on the estate where I lived with my mum. I saw people excited, empowered, even liberates to be able to buy their homes after a lifetime of renting…. Thankfully in the last five years we have been able to get Britain buying again and we’ve delivered 700,000 new homes. We want to go even further that this and build 200,000 more for first time buyers. But it’s vitally important these homes are built in the right locations, in the right numbers, with the right infrastructure. This is why it is important to have a planning system that is locally led through neighbourhood and lo0cal plans, where communities and councillors can control what is happening. Personally I believe the Green Belt must be protected as much as possible, especially when there are so many alternatives to deal with demand.”

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Eddie Powell, UKIP:

“Developers shouldn’t be able to build in or within the site of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. People move to villages to enjoy village life and the countryside and everybody has nimbyism in them, We are proposing a brownfield revolution and development will be sustainable with the right infrastructure, roads, sewers, schools and so on. The infrastructure should ne in place before any development is agreed.”

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Jasper Gerard, Liberal Democrat:

“Maidstone has a neglected feel and the people of Maidstone feel angry. The new local plan is proposing 18,600 new houses, 90% of them on greenfield sites. maidstone and the Weald is under siege. The Weald is a precious place but very vulnerable. But we do need new homes. We need a regenerated town centre, car free, a place where people would want to come with companies offering high quality employment opportunities and the countryside outside protected.”

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The candidates discussed issues ranging from landbanking (developers sitting on land with planning permission but failing to deliver the actual homes); migration to Kent (from other parts of the UK, especially London, as well as the EU); population increase; devolution and the West Lothian question; how many MPs there should be in Parliament.

The Maidstone and the Weald constituency covers the Borough of Maidstone wards of Allington, Barming, Bridge, Coxheath and Hunton, East, Fant, Heath, High Street, Loose, Marden and Yalding, North, South, and Staplehurst; and the Borough of Tunbridge Wells wards of Benenden and Cranbrook, Frittenden, and Sissinghurst.

To read CPRE’s election manifesto click here.

29th April 2015

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