Tunbridge Wells housing numbers too high

We have responded to the latest consultation on Tunbridge Wells local plan challenging the huge housing numbers planned which would cause severe environmental damage, loss of countryside, green space and ancient woodland.

CPRE Kent’s Tunbridge Wells committee has raised many concerns in its comments on the Issues and Options consultation.

We dispute the need to provide 650 to 700 houses per year. Given that employment growth in the borough in the 21 years from 1991 to 2013 was zero, the jobs forecasts which project an ever-rising volume of employment seem unduly optimistic and if the increase in jobs is not forthcoming, this volume of housing development could turn the borough into a dormitory for businesses elsewhere. The population and household formation forecasts on which the housing need assessment is based may also be too high.

View from Horsmonden Church by James Stringer

Committee chairman Elizabeth Aikenhead said: “Most importantly, housing development on this scale together with its infrastructure clearly cannot be accommodated in a borough with so many environmental constraints without causing serious damage to the environment.”

It is also contrary to the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework. CPRE Kent does accept that there will have to be new development within the borough but this should continue to be at no more than the rate previously required under the Core Strategy. Even that amount of development will be very difficult to provide without serious environmental damage.

Lamberhurst in Spring by Jonathan Buckwell

Taking the proposed Strategic Options one by one, Continue reading

Autumn/Winter Kent Voice out now

The new edition of Kent Voice is packed with articles and updates on our campaigns, including our recent victory at the Court of Appeal with the quashing of planning permission for 600 homes in the AONB at Farthingloe.

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There are lots of interesting articles ranging from the difficulties in getting rural affordable homes built, keeping garden chickens, light pollution and the heritage of hops and orchards in Kent. plus we are encouraging people to try to recruit more members so have included a membership form and also an article on volunteering with us – do take a look.

To read Kent Voice click here.

Victory as judges quash planning permission at Farthingloe

We are delighted that we have today (14 September) won an important victory in our lengthy legal battle to save an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at Farthingloe near Dover.

Two judges at the Court of Appeal have quashed the planning application to build 521 homes and a 90 apartment retirement village.

Lord Justice Laws and Lord Justice Simon allowed the appeal against last December’s judicial review on the basis that Dover District Council’s planning committee failed to give legally adequate reasons for granting permission, contrary to an officers’ recommendation which had made “trenchant criticisms” of the density, layout and design of the proposed development.

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Council planning officers had made huge efforts to mitigate the harm while ensuring the scheme was still financially viable. They recommended a reduction in the number of homes to 375 and changes to the density and design to protect the most sensitive part of the landscape. This was ignored by both the developer, China Gateway, and the planning committee.

CPRE Kent Chairman Christine Drury said: “This is excellent news – we have been absolutely determined to save this beautiful and historic area of countryside. The developer and planning committee knew the scale of the development – one of the largest ever proposed for an AONB – would cause severe damage but rejected all efforts to mitigate this. This case is not just important to the people of Dover but for the principles of planning law because AONBs have the highest possible level of protection.”

In his judgment, Lord Justice Laws acknowledged that it was “an unusual case” and that “the scale of the proposed development is unprecedented in an AONB”. He said: “A local planning authority which is going to authorise a development which will inflict substantial harm on an AONB must surely give substantial reasons for doing so.”

He went on to conclude: “I consider that the Committee (Dover Planning Committee) failed to give legally adequate reasons for their decision to grant planning permission.”

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CPRE Kent, Natural England, the Kent Downs AONB Unit and the National Trust all opposed the decision at the time and it is astounding that the case was not called in by the Secretary of State despite the strongest advice to do so from his own advisors.

Christine Drury added: “This is exactly why CPRE is here – we will never give up on the countryside. I would like to thank our legal team, our members and everyone who supports us in our campaigning.”

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Read the judgment here.

September 14th 2016

Landscape Heritage?

By Rose Lister

In my last article I asked what you think of when someone mentions heritage. Have I opened your eyes to the idea that heritage covers more than just bricks and mortar? Now let me ask you, what about hills? What of the valleys and rivers that stand stretching and winding through our county? What of the farmlands that make us the Garden of England? Our landscape is something we all use and rarely consider to be an inheritance, a place of magnificence that holds the secrets of our past. Our landscape feeds us, clothes us and gives us shelter. It gives us the air we breathe. Do we really appreciate it?

In recent years our built heritage has been making waves in the planning system showing that what we created in ages past is precious. Don’t you think that the landscape this lies in deserves to make the same waves? Areas such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty have long been recognised and now the settings of historic buildings are also making their mark. In 2014 Barnwell Manor in Northamptonshire won an appeal case that affected the setting of a Grade I listed building. 2015 saw a home win for CPRE Kent when the Waterside Park application was quashed due to the developments negative effects on the setting of the Grade I listed Leeds Castle.

Leeds Castle Aerial Shot, photo Leeds Castle Foundation

However, although landscape that was the main issue, it was the attachment to the heritage asset that made it worth saving. Surely the same curtesy should be extended to our landscape heritage?

Since 2014 CPRE Kent has been fighting a battle to save our landscape heritage. The Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has been the subject of a skirmish between developers and defenders. The prospective development at Western Heights and Farthingloe is threatening our landscape heritage. Much of the AONB is carefully managed – it is home to much of Kent’s historic fruit farming industry, it thrives with ancient woodland, the landscape holds the stories of generations long gone, even some of the species that live there are endemic. As such this beautiful and versatile landscape has been threatened for the very reason it was designated. It is a beautiful place and people will pay a premium to live in it.

Farthingloe view from Western Heights, photo CPRE

Farthingloe view from Western Heights, photo CPRE

Continue reading

Battle to save Farthingloe is of national significance

Our nationally significant battle to save an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at Farthingloe appeared in the Observer on Sunday and the Guardian online.

Farthingloe view from Western Heights, photo CPRE

Farthingloe view from Western Heights, photo CPRE

Director Hilary newport told the newspaper: “It’s an indictment of our planning system that an organisation like ours is the only one fighting to protect landscapes that should be sacrosanct. We will not give up on the outstanding countryside which is such a fundamental part of our country.

“The unredacted document shows this was a case in the national interest and should not have been left to a local planning committee to determine. There is a real need for more housing, and no one wants to embalm the countryside, but surely this should not be in our most precious, protected landscapes. We feel a sense of utter betrayal that the designation of AONB was ignored in these decisions. What hope is there for the wider countryside if even here there is no protection?”

Lorraine Sencicle, a local historian, said: “The Farthingloe valley is an important part of British history. It is almost pristine, and connected directly with the great church and monastery of St Martin’s in the town centre. You listen to the stupid arguments justifying the development like, ‘Oh well, we need some big executive houses, then big executive people are going to live in them and spend their money in the town,’ and you think, ‘Wake up!’”

Emma Marrington, CPRE’s senior rural policy campaigner, said: “The high court decision over the Dover scheme could set a dangerous precedent for AONBs across the country. Excessive and unsustainable housing targets are being used to justify development in protected areas when we should be focusing on redeveloping brownffield land for the homes we need. Our beautiful and treasured landscapes are meant to receive the highest levels of protection under national planning policy. We need to make sure that this level of protection is enforced.”

To read the full article click here.

Ferbuary 8th 2016.

Developing new homes AND our heritage

Rose Lister, who has joined our team at CPRE Kent as an intern specialising in heritage, shares her thoughts below on the planned development of Connaught Barracks and the heritage implications.

Heritage can mainly be seen in our built environment, however it is all that is green and growing and all that flurries and scuttles too. Our rivers and wildlife, green open spaces and villages are where we find our identity. England’s green and pleasant land is so rarely found in our towns and cities, but as the pressure to build expands ever outwards and threatens our environmental heritage it is important to realise that what we have is precious and worth fighting for.

Connaught barracks

That is not to say that we cannot develop our heritage. Development is needed and is indicative of a healthy society. Rather we would see that it is done right. A golden example of this is the prospective development of the Connaught Barracks in Dover. The sight ticks so many boxes that it is the perfect place for a local planning authority to regenerate.

  • It is a brownfield site.
  • It has been empty and unused for a decade.
  • The majority of the buildings are of little historical and architectural value.
  • It is not in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Fort Burgoyne 3 by Wevsky Fort Burgoyne 2 by Wevsky

Fort Burgoyne photos above by Wevsky

 

That said it is home to a Victorian fort, Fort Burgoyne. Though overgrown and derelict, the fort is part of our military history and should be treated with respect. Therefore the question is not should Connaught Barracks be developed but rather can it be done right?

Continue reading

Seeking leave to appeal Judicial Review decision on Farthingloe

As you know CPRE Kent is challenging Dover District Council’s decision to grant planning permission for more than 600 homes on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) at Farthingloe.  We took our challenge to the High Court for Judicial Review on 15/16 December. The judge agreed that this was an important case, but did not accept our arguments in favour of protecting the AONB.  We are continuing to challenge this very wrong decision.

Farthingloe, photo by Vicky Ellis

Farthingloe, photo by Vicky Ellis

We have today (January 6th) applied to ask the Court of Appeal to consider the issues raised by the Farthingloe application, which the High Court acknowledged were “important”. Dover District Council’s planners recognised that the Kent Downs AONB would be seriously damaged if this development goes ahead, without any mitigation of the harm that would be caused. Planning permission was granted on the basis of a “composite” planning application which would include the housing development at Farthingloe and a contribution to work at the Western Heights Drop Redoubt. We maintain that this was unlawful, went against planning regulations and must be fought. We have decided to take this next step because protection of the Kent countryside, particularly the designated landscapes of AONBs which should be protected by law, is fundamental to our cause.

We will update further when we hear back from the Court of Appeal.

For more on the Judicial review see here and here.

January 6th 2016

Disappointment at judgement over building in AONB

High Court judge Mr Justice Mitting has rejected CPRE Kent’s grounds for Judicial Review of the decision to grant planning permission for more than 600 homes in the AONB at Farthingloe, Dover. But he said the charity was right to bring the case to test the planning system.
The plans at Farthingloe include 521 new houses, a 90 apartment retirement village, health facility and conversion of a farmhouse into a bed and breakfast, a thatched barn into a pub/restaurant and a stable block into a shop. All this development wopuld be on AONB land which is supposed to be protected under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).An additional 31 homes are planned at Western Heights, as well as Victoria Hall being redeveloped for nine residential units and a 130-bedroom hotel, plus converting the famous Drop Redoubt into a new museum and visitor centre.
Dover Farthingloe from Mount Road Vic 030
CPRE Kent is not opposed to the principle of new housing development in the district but this should be in the right place, not on an AONB. And we are in favour of the proposed improvements of heritage assets, but this cannot justify the destruction of the AONB.

CPRE Kent Director Dr Hilary Newport said:
“We are utterly dismayed and disappointed at the judgement. It is vital that we protect Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty for future generations and to allow this intensive building at Farthingloe makes a mockery of the whole planning system which is supposed to provide the highest level of protection for AONBs. The reality, when tested through the courts, is that it has failed to protect the AONB.

Continue reading

Important Judicial Review

A High Court judge will today and tomorrow consider whether the decision to grant planning permission for more than 600 homes on an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty near Dover was lawful.

We have taken the plans for Farthingloe and the Western Heights to Judicial Review in a last ditch attempt to protect this beautiful and iconic landscape.

South across the valley to site B from Little Farthingloe Farm 2

View across the valley at Farthingloe, photo Brian Lloyd

Dover District Council has granted planning permission for 521 houses and a 90 dwelling retirement village in the AONB at Farthingloe and a large hotel on the historically important Western Heights.

We have discovered that the Government’s planning experts had recommended in 2013 that the then Secretary of State for Planning Nick Boles “call in” the application because of the question mark over justification of building in the AONB.

We finally have a copy of the un-redacted letter (dated 19 June 2013) recommending this, obtained after a two year process of Freedom of Information requests.

The two statutory advice bodies, Natural England and Kent Downs AONB Unit, as well as CPRE Kent and the National Trust all requested that the outline planning permission be called in for a public inquiry. The planned development would have a major detrimental impact on the AONB, was contrary to national planning policy, was not sustainable and was not part of Dover’s agreed Development Plan.

In the advice to the Secretary of State, the planning casework officer said: “If you decide not to call-in this application, this could place the protected landscape of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at risk, leading to potential negative press coverage and reputation risk for the Government.”

There was shock and disappointment when the decision was made NOT to call in the application in July 2013. Planning permission was granted in April 2015.

“A Judicial Review is not a decision to be taken lightly,” said CPRE Kent Chairman Christine Drury. “But as this planning decision was so clearly wrong and so important it is now up to us to fight for the AONB through the Planning Court.  In planning law, AONB has the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty and we do not believe there are the exceptional circumstances to justify the destruction of this fantastic landscape.”

A High Court judge will consider the case for judicial review and hear the arguments on Tuesday and Wednesday this week (December 15th and 16th).  We expect the judgement early in the New Year.

December 9th 2015

Reaction to the Autumn Statement

CPRE has reacted to the Autumn Statement and Spending Review, where the Chancellor made a number of announcements on issues affecting the countryside.

Housing:

We have long been asking the Government to stop fixating on the planning system. Figures show that planning permissions are not the issue; the issue is that developers are not building the homes for which they have permission. Landbanking is a major problem and we are saying to developers to get on and build to deliver the housing we need.

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Paul Miner, planning campaign manager at the CPRE comments:

“Although we welcome a focus on brownfield development, we’re wary of moves to develop brownfield sites in the Green Belt – many Green Belt sites classed as ‘brownfield’ contain a lot of valuable open land, often historic parkland, which should be kept undeveloped. Continue reading

Why we are fighting to save the countryside at Farthingloe

You may have noticed some recent media coverage (BBC South East and Dover Express) where Dover MP Charlie Elphicke claimed CPRE Kent was against all development and was wrong to challenge the decision to grant planning permission for more than 600 homes on an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at Farthingloe (which he mistakenly claimed was brownfield land). Here CPRE Kent Chairman Christine Drury sets the record straight and explains why this campaign is so important for Kent:

We are absolutely not against development in Dover. Our planning expert, Brian Lloyd, spent a huge amount of time working on the Dover Local plan to help make it a good plan. We want Dover to  be successful as much as anyone. We also want the Western Heights to be conserved and restored: they are just as important as Dover Castle and both are incredibly important parts of our national heritage.

Dover Farthingloe from Mount Road Vic 030

What we have to challenge is when the wrong things are being proposed. The Farthingloe site was specifically rejected as an unsuitable site in the local plan process, and the statutory agencies Natural England and the AONB unit, as well as non-statutory bodies, the National Trust and ourselves, thought likewise. But it has fallen to CPRE to take the fight on. It is a pity Charlie Elphicke takes a challenge against one thing that is wrong as a challenge to everything. He is incorrect about it being a brownfield site. A key principle of all good construction projects is that civil engineers make as light an impact as possible on the ground they only need temporarily, and restore it afterwards. That was the commitment at Farthingloe, as it was at  many other sites along the subsequent Channel Tunnel Rail Link construction line through Kent. There will always be those who try to claim brownfield status. It is unfortunate and misleading that Charlie has taken up this line .

On the lorry park, that was a necessary campaigning phase in Dover Port taking greater responsibility for the wider impacts across Kent of the huge volumes of lorry traffic passing through Dover:  Their latest plans do make more provision for trucks needing to park up, though this will no doubt be an ongoing issue.

We do  acknowledge progress and we continue to work hard to get the right things to happen.  But we will continue to challenge when we see the wrong planning decisions being made. We will see in December whether the courts agree. We did not take this action lightly but if CPRE does not take a stand to save our countryside who will?

Dover is a really important part of Kent – we will continue to campaign to look after it as we try to do for all of Kent. We have fantastic countryside and a great county which we need to protect for future generations.

November 17th 2015

CPRE Kent opposes significant development at Lydden Race Circuit

CPRE Kent is opposed to the planned erection of a huge redevelopment of Lydden Race Circuit including two hospitality buildings, two grandstands, administration facilities, engineering units and access road.

The application (DOV/15/00827) represents a significant and harmful intensification of use at this site, will be detrimental to landscape of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and will impact the well-being of communities and the quiet enjoyment of the countryside.

Apex festival at Lydden Race Circuit, photo Beetle Challenge, flickr

Apex festival at Lydden Race Circuit, photo Beetle Challenge, flickr

Rather than being restricted to race days the proposal would mean intensified daily use of the site for activities including driver tuition and testing, race days, craft fairs and car shows. This will mean persistent disturbance to nearby residents and a loss of tranquillity in the AONB.

The proposals include an extended car park and, together with better facilities, this would mean more visitors and hence more vehicle movements on rural lanes, causing further erosion of tranquillity. The additional activity is likely to cause traffic congestion with increased local air pollution. Continue reading

Autumn Winter 2015 Kent Voice

The Autumn Winter edition of Kent Voice should be arriving on your doorstep any time now.

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It contains lots of interesting articles on subjects ranging from the Magna Carta to grazing management of some of our most beautiful countryside as well as all the latest campaigns news. Find out about good news fro the Romney Marsh, good news on Waterside Park, and our latest efforts to save the AONB at Farthingloe.

There is also information on the AGM coming up on 20th November and events and outings coming up over the next year.

To read click on the photo.

Plans for 450 homes “unjustified”

Plans to build 450 homes on Green Belt land in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at Fort Halstead near Sevenoaks have been slated as totally unjustified by CPRE Kent.

Sevenoaks District Council has not considered alternatives to this mass housing plan which a developer claims is needed to secure employment prospects at the site.

Our comments come as part of the consultation into modifications to the council’s Allocations and Development Management Plan. A planning inspector has ruled that the site should be used for employment purposes, but accepted that would need “some level” of residential development to make it viable. However, officers misrepresented this to council members and said the inspector had accepted “significant residential development”.

CPRE Kent is very concerned that the Council then simply accepted the developer’s figure of 450 homes and relied on the developer’s own assessments rather than doing its own research, as asked for by the inspector.

“We agree that the site should continue to be used for employment,” said CPRE Kent Senior Planner Brian Lloyd. “However, it cannot be justified to build 450 homes in a remote area, without services and facilities, to support them. The council needs to carry out a proper assessment of how many homes are required and come up with alternative plans more in keeping with this sensitive site.”

If 450 homes were built it would equate to 15.5 hectares of residential development, plus additional land for open space and a village centre, all to achieve just four hectares of land for new employment.  We fail to see how this would comprise an ‘employment-led’ development, as claimed by the council.

We are also doubtful of the claims that the area cannot attract businesses when its proximity to the M25 would make it attractive to potential employers. We ask why more remote sites in less prosperous parts of Kent, such as the Kent Science Park near Sittingbourne, are thriving and growing without the need for residential development to support them?

The site is in a prominent and sensitive position on the top of the scarp of the North Downs. Currently the development is low density and activity is largely confined to daytime.

“Building 450 homes would change the character of the site dramatically and forever,” said Brian Lloyd. “There must be better options.”