We have over the years fought many planning battles, and managed to ensure that much of our glorious countryside has remained as beautiful as it always has been. However, we have never found such an inappropriate and potentially destructive ‘Planning Strategy’ as the one Gravesham Borough Council has just finished consulting on.
We utterly condemn Gravesham Borough Council for its proposals to target land protected by the Green Belt for development when large areas of brownfield land in Gravesend and Northfleet stand empty and derelict. In their consultation on the future planning strategy for the Borough to 2031, the Council propose that they earmark land for nearly 1,000 new homes on areas currently protected by Green Belt status. Despite there being acres of derelict land in the Borough, the Council has slashed the number of homes that will be built on these sites, because it says they are not viable in the current economic climate. Instead, the Council says that the house builders have told them that it is greenfield sites in the villages that they want to develop, so they have dutifully obliged and have identified 15 potential greenfield sites. All but two of these would see significant changes to the boundary of the Green Belt.
CPRE Protect Kent sees this as putting developer’s profits above the public’s right to retain their Green Belt land.
This is of particular concern when Government Ministers have gone out of their way to stress the need to protect the Green Belt and to give priority to brownfield sites. Gravesham is a key part of Kent Thames Gateway, where it has been longstanding Government Policy to promote urban regeneration. We have supported that policy, and up to now Gravesham Borough Council has also supported it. It is clearly good and sensible planning to reuse derelict land rather than take our precious countryside, especially when it falls in the Green Belt. It is also the most sustainable approach to development, as it means that jobs, houses and services can all be linked by good public transport networks, such as Fastrack. But by accepting the house builders’ preference for building in the countryside, the Council is opting out of its responsibility to secure urban regeneration and sustainable development. Quite simply it beggars belief that the Council is taking this position. CPRE Protect Kent is not alone in being concerned about the Council’s change in policy direction. Residents and action groups from Higham and Culverstone are also angry that the Council is looking to promote development in the Green Belt. Together with CPRE Protect Kent the residents have been campaigning for weeks to persuade the Council to change its mind. The level of opposition to these proposals has been unprecedented and shows the strong depth of feeling that local people have about the Green Belt.
There is no justification for what the Council is proposing, but we are very concerned that they will not listen to people’s concerns as they intend to finalise their plans early in the New Year. The Council really do need to listen to the local communities and they must not rush to finalise the Plan as they intend. We have called for another round of consultation before the plan is finalised, and we hope the Council will see the importance of doing this.
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