A scheme for 165 new houses near Cranbrook in the High Weald AONB has been ‘called in’ for review by a planning inspector after Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s planning committee resolved to approve the scheme. Berkeley Homes had been granted permission to build 36 homes at Turnden, in the Crane Valley between Cranbrook and Hartley back in February 2019. The developer then expanded its proposed scheme to add 165 more homes – which was also backed by the council. The development follows the council’s granting of outline permission for 180 dwellings at nearby Brick Kiln Farm. CPRE Kent supported Natural England in objecting to the proposal and asking Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to call in the decision. This has now happened. John Wotton, chair of CPRE Kent, said: “Major developments on greenfield sites in the High Weald AONB should not be happening. Allowing the Turnden scheme would set a precedent that could lead to harm to our precious protected areas throughout the country. “This scheme will destroy a piece of medieval farming landscape, obliterate historic settlement patterns and suburbanise the rural setting of Cranbrook. Spreading spoil from the development over adjoining fields will only cause further harm to the environment and the enjoyment of the countryside by local people.” CPRE will be working with the local action group, Hartley Save our Fields, to oppose the granting of permission and will support Natural England and the High Weald AONB Unit when the case comes before a planning inspector later this year. We are also opposing the allocation of the site for development in Tunbridge Wells’s new Local Plan.
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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.
It’s been described as “the biggest threat to Tonbridge and our Green Belt in a generation” and indeed plans from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council for mass housebuilding seem set to change landscape and life in west Kent in an almost unimaginable way. The proposals for 2,800 new houses at Tudeley and another 1,500 at East Capel sparked the creation of Save Capel and last month John Wotton, CPRE Kent chairman, gave a speech to the campaign group pledging this organisation’s support in the bid to halt a policy destined to ruin the quality of life for so many. Here is that speech, made on Wednesday, September 18, in full: “CPRE is the countryside charity. It exists to protect the English countryside, to make sure it is valued and accessible to all and that it supports a viable and sustainable rural economy. “Here in Tunbridge Wells, we are privileged to live in the beautiful and historic farmed and wooded landscape of the Weald of Kent. We are all custodians of the countryside, none more so, I would suggest, than our local planning authority. “So, how does the draft Tunbridge Wells Local Plan measure up in terms of protecting our cherished countryside? Not well, in my estimation. “The plan is, of course, the product of a broken planning system, driven by political and commercial interests that are wholly divorced from the needs of the population as a whole and wishes of local communities, including this one. “It is inconceivable that Tunbridge Wells Borough Council would have come up with a plan of this nature in the absence of the housing and other targets imposed by national planning policy. “There is now no pretence that the targets are based on genuine predictions of household growth and housing need, for the most up-to date Office of National Statistics data on population growth and household formation have been ignored by national government, in order to adhere to a totally arbitrary and unachievable target of building 300,000 homes a year (that is homes built anywhere and of any type, regardless of housing need). “The rationale for this target has been challenged in recent research by Ian Mulheirn, published by the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, which concludes that no more than 160,000 homes per year need to be built to cater for housing need. “This topic is highly controversial, but for us in Tunbridge Wells, the key point is that the right homes for the people in this borough are built in the right places. “The homes which are built should be affordable to those in need of a home and built in the most environmentally sustainable places, not simply the sites that yield the highest profit to developers. “This means that houses should preferably be built on brownfield or urban infill sites, or as limited urban extensions, always making the most efficient use of land, rather than in new settlements on greenfield sites, and especially not in protected landscapes. “The council seems to agree with this in principle, but not in practice. CPRE naturally wishes to see Tunbridge Wells adopt a sound Local Plan as this will give the local authority a measure of control over future development and better defences against inappropriate, speculative development proposals. “However, a sound Plan is not a panacea. Factors beyond the council’s control may (and probably will) undermine the Plan during its 15-year life, probably sooner rather than later. “These factors include changes in the deliverability of individual sites, failure to build out planning applications which have been granted and, in these febrile political times, changing requirements of national policy. “As soon as the council’s housing policies are shown to be out of date, the developers will again have the whip hand. “A ‘Sound Plan’ is therefore not to be bought at any price and the price of this draft Plan is, in CPRE’s view, far too high. “Tudeley Village is just the most egregious example of the sacrifice of greenfield sites for substantial housing development in the Green Belt, in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and elsewhere in the borough. “This sacrifice is made in pursuit of housebuilding objectives that, even in the unlikely event of their being achieved, would do little to meet the genuine local need for housing, at prices local people can afford. “The council say that they place the highest priority on protecting the AONB and then the Green Belt, but this is not the impression I gain from the proposed site allocations throughout the borough. “If Tudeley Village is intended to relieve the pressure on the rest of the borough, it does not achieve this, even in protected areas. In my own parish of Cranbrook and Sissinghurst in the AONB, for example, the housing allocation exceeds assessed local needs by about 50 per cent. “What can the council do, though, in the face of seemingly implacable national policy requirements? “In our view, national planning policy does allow Tunbridge Wells to provide for less than the so-called objectively assessed housing need, in view of the high proportion of the land in the borough which is protected as Green Belt or AONB. “This ability is fundamental to the effective protection of the Green Belt and AONBs. If it were not there, the Green Belt and AONB would be less protected in those districts in which they form a large proportion of the land area than in those where only small areas are protected. “This is not the law, or the policy of government. “The council say that they have not even considered the possibility of providing for less than assessed housing need, because their Strategic Housing Land Assessment shows that the borough can accommodate this need. However, it is hard to see how they have reached this conclusion. “Their Sustainability Assessment shows that the council’s housing objective is compatible with only five of the 19 sustainability objectives they have set themselves and incompatible with nine of them. “It is the only objective in the Plan which fails the council’s sustainability tests in this way. This is a fundamental contradiction in the Plan. It does not provide for sustainable development in Tunbridge Wells on the council’s own terms, and it must be changed. “I haven’t said much about how the technicalities of planning policy apply to the overarching subject of the climate emergency, which rightly moves ever higher up the political agenda, including the planning agenda. “It is far from clear to me that the council gives adequate weight to mitigating climate change in this Plan. That is a wider topic than we can embark upon today, but an aspect of it is specifically relevant to the Tudeley Village proposal. “Under the government’s climate change guidance, planning authorities are advised that the distribution and design of new settlements and sustainable transport solutions are particularly important considerations that affect transport emissions. “The planning inspectors have within the past week rejected the draft West of England Spatial Plan, saying that high levels of dispersed development across the West of England, unguided by any strategy, would not be sustainable. I understand that this Plan included a number of so-called ‘garden settlements’ on greenfield sites. “It would seem that garden settlements are going to be looked at closely by inspectors and this should make Tunbridge Wells Borough Council think twice before trying to meet its housing objectives in this way. “Tudeley Village is the poster child for the unsustainability of this draft Plan. It represents unsustainable, environmentally harmful destruction of the countryside, replacing a beautiful, unspoilt and protected site with a dormitory for City commuters and their families, heavily reliant on their private cars for transport. “It will destroy local communities and ruin local residents’ lives. It must be stopped and CPRE Kent will support you in your campaign.”
You can read the latest Save Capel newsletter here
Under threat again? Farthingloe Valley, on the outskirts of Dover
Plans to develop the Farthingloe Valley in the Kent Downs AONB appear to be resurfacing.
When, in December last year, the Supreme Court confirmed that planning permission for more than 500 houses and a 90-apartment retirement village at Great Farthingloe Farm, together with associated development at nearby Western Heights, remained quashed, the decision of CPRE Kent to challenge Dover District Council’s granting of planning permission back in 2015 was vindicated.
The Supreme Court was confirming the Court of Appeal’s verdict that DDC planning committee had not given legally adequate reasons for approving the application. DDC had challenged that Court of Appeal decision, necessitating the Supreme Court case.
Now, however, the applicant, China Gateway International, has requested DDC provide a scoping opinion for an updated environmental impact assessment in preparation for a renewed application at the site.
Little seems to have changed in relation to the application itself. The planning consultancy says in its scoping report: “The Farthingloe layout is currently being reviewed in consultation with Dover District Council and consultees.
“The layout will include minor changes to reflect comments made by the council and consultees following submission of the application in May 2012.
“Progress on the Farthingloe layout to date includes; a reduction in the area of land to be developed with an increase in accessible green space, and; reorganisation of the proposed built development to reduce the height of buildings in the south west corner and to comply with the required setback distances for the existing sewer in the north east corner.
“It should be noted that between submission of the application in 2012 and permission being granted in 2015, the proposed housing development at Western Heights was reduced from 93 units to 40.”
Dr Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said: “These plans are essentially unchanged from those initially submitted back in 2012.
“They remain as wrong and as unacceptable in an AONB now as they were then.”
CPRE Kent’s Supreme Court victory over the Farthingloe Valley was cited in the initial quashing of the plans for Little Densole Farm
A planned development in the Kent Downs AONB that had earlier been quashed by the High Court was last night (Tuesday, May 29) approved by Folkestone and Hythe District Council.
The scheme for 12 holiday lodges, tennis courts and a fishing lake at Little Densole Farm, Densole, had initially been approved by the council (when it was known as Shepway District Council) in February last year, but that decision, which had been recommended for refusal by the council’s own planning officer, was challenged by local businessman Tim Steer and in February this year it was overturned by the High Court.
The consent was quashed by Mrs Justice Lang on the basis of inadequate reasons for overturning the officer’s recommendation.
In making this judgment, she cited the case of Dover District Council v CPRE Kent, where at the Supreme Court we successfully defended the Appeal Court’s decision to quash a planning permission in the Farthingloe Valley near Dover.
In the Densole case, Mr Steer had based his bid for a judicial review of Shepway’s decision on three grounds.
Two of these were rejected by the court, but the one accepted by the judge was:
“The committee was under a common-law duty to give reasons for its decision, as it was not following the OR’s [officer’s report’s] recommendation, and the application concerned a protected AONB. It failed to provide adequate and intelligible reasons for its decision to grant planning permission.”
It is here that the Farthingloe case was cited.
Mr Steer was quoted in the Folkestone and Hythe Express as saying:
“We hope that in the future the council will take its responsibilities more seriously and carefully and follow planning policy and logic.”
Last night, however, the proposal – which was again recommended for refusal by a council planning officer – went back before the Folkestone and Hythe planning committee and was accepted by eight votes to one (with one abstention).
It is not immediately apparent how circumstances have changed, or in what way the overturning of the officer’s recommendation was explained sufficiently.
Graham Horner, Shepway CPRE chairman, said: “Disappointingly, this is what we expected, to be honest. One councillor gave a speech giving all the reasons the committee should override the officer’s recommendation.
“There was no logic to it, but they seemed to think that having a recreational area in the AONB would bring in people and money.
“The new officer’s report appeared softened from the initial one. Previously, it had been poorly defined as to what constituted a major development, but it was now decided that, no, this wasn’t a major development, so that cleared one of the major hurdles.
“Why would they change their view? There were no new drawings, no new reports. It was stated that the applicant had planted a lot of trees, but he was going to plant those anyway as part of the application!”
One councillor asked for a recorded vote, but that suggestion was not accepted as four members of the committee need to agree to it.
For more detail on the background to this story, see here
Brabourne Lees is close to the Kent Downs AONB. Could it soon be neighbouring a national park?
Could the Kent Downs and High Weald be among our next national parks?
The intriguing possibility has been raised by Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s launch of a review into the role of the country’s national parks and AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty).
Mr Gove wrote in the weekend’s Sunday Telegraph that the “the time is right” for such a reappraisal, almost 70 years after the creation of our first national parks.
The review, which was committed to in the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan published in January, will look at the possibility of expanding England’s network of national parks and AONBs.
It has been widely suggested that some of England’s 34 AONBs could essentially be upgraded and added to our 10 national parks. Our county has two AONBs: the Kent Downs and the High Weald, the latter shared with Sussex and Surrey.
Population growth, changes in technology and habitat decline were cited by Mr Gove as reasons to “look afresh at these landscapes”.
Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said: “I’m delighted that the review could lead to a strengthening of protection for our natural areas.
“However, it would also be good to see proper protection of the designated landscapes that we already have, notably in Kent our two AONBs.
“Further, it would be encouraging if the review of our planning system followed sustainable principles that had protection of our most treasured landscapes at their core.”
Emma Marrington, CPRE senior rural policy campaigner, added: “CPRE warmly welcomes the appointment of an independent panel to carry out this potentially game-changing review.
“National parks and AONBs are of huge importance to the nation; two-thirds of people in England live within 30 minutes of a national park or AONB, with visitors contributing more than £6 billion each year to the local economy.
“The review will also consider how national parks and AONBs deliver their responsibilities and are financed – these areas offer great value for money, with public spending on these landscapes less than £1 per person each year.
“It is also important that existing national parks and AONBs are well resourced and able to deliver their responsibilities effectively.
“This includes by ensuring they continue to have the highest level of planning protection in the revised national planning framework.”
Brabourne Lees sits at the foot of the Kent Downs AONB
These are lively days indeed for CPRE Kent.
No sooner has the dust settled from our appearance in the High Court, where we gave evidence in the successful battle for Pond Farm, Newington, and our Supreme Court victory in saving Farthingloe Valley from destruction by developers than we have a team involved in a public inquiry.
This time we are giving evidence to a planning inspector hearing the appeal by Gladman Developments Ltd against Ashford Borough Council’s refusal to grant planning permission for 125 homes at Brabourne Lees, a village at the foot of the Kent Downs AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).
The local authority is defending its decision and the hearing, at the Civic Centre in Ashford, is expected to conclude by the end of this week (Friday, January 19).
And – after that – we’re giving evidence in another public inquiry, this time into a proposed development at Charing. It’s scheduled to start on Tuesday, March 13, and expected to last six days.
All the best to our team… fighting, as ever, for Kent’s countryside and quality of life.
Saved! Farthingloe Valley, on the outskirts of Dover
CPRE Kent is delighted and relieved to announce that it has successfully defended the Appeal Court’s decision to quash a planning permission in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the Farthingloe Valley near Dover.
The Supreme Court agreed with the Appeal Court that the Planning Committee at Dover District Council did not give legally adequate reasons for granting planning permission for more than 600 homes, which they acknowledged would cause significant harm in a protected landscape.
CPRE Kent Director Hilary Newport said: “This is the best possible news: we have been absolutely determined to save this beautiful and iconic area of countryside. Such significant harm to the AONB cannot be justified purely for economic benefit. “This case is not just important to the people of Dover but for the principles of planning law; AONBs merit the highest possible level of protection. Today’s judgment confirms that not only was the decision flawed, but so was the planning committee’s decision-making process.” When the application was originally considered, Dover District Council planning officers recognised the adverse impact and put forward comprehensive proposals to limit the damage to the landscape. Councillors rejected those mitigation proposals and granted permission anyway. This permission was quashed by the Appeal Court in 2016 on the grounds that the planning committee did not give legally adequate reasons for permitting a scheme, against their officer’s advice, that they acknowledged would harm the AONB. The Supreme Court has now confirmed that the permission is quashed. Kristina Kenworthy of CPRE Kent’s solicitors Richard Buxton Environmental and Public Law said: “This decision brings much needed clarity to the need for public authorities to give reasons for their decisions. The Supreme Court has confirmed that planning is not a special case: the need for transparency and scrutiny means that people are entitled to know what has been decided and why, and if necessary enable effective recourse to the courts. This decision should lead to more rigour, better planning – and less argument.”
CPRE Kent Chairman Christine Drury said: “We will never give up on our countryside. This was a really bad proposal which the planning officer tried hard to improve, and it should never have received permission. I would like to thank our legal team, our volunteers, our members and everyone who support us in protecting our countryside.”
The future of Farthingloe Valley is in the spotlight today
We’re in the Supreme Court today for the latest stage of our battle to save the Farthingloe Valley in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) near Dover from entirely inappropriate development.
The Judgment from the Court of Appeal in September last year said Dover District Council’s (DDC) planning committee had failed to provide adequate reasons for granting permission.
The scale of the development is unprecedented in an AONB and the harm that the development would do to the AONB is neither properly taken account of nor mitigated.
The council‘s officers set out the situation and proposed changes, but these were rejected by the committee without, as the Court of Appeal put it, explaining why.
It is CPRE Kent’s belief that the Farthingloe case never should have reached this far and DDC should have dismissed the application, which flagrantly ignores national planning policy, at the outset.
l CPRE Kent has been the only organisation determined to stand up and defend the protected status of this special landscape – but the outcome of the case will have national implications for what developers and local authorities can do to our landscape and countryside.
Fighting for our countryside is inevitably expensive at times like this. If you are able to donate a sum, however large or small, you can do so through our website: https://cprekent.org.uk/donate-to-cpre/
Plans for a sprawling development in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty were put in the television spotlight last night (Wednesday, October 4) – with CPRE Kent vice president Richard Knox Johnston explaining why the scheme should be a non-starter.
The proposals, put forward by developer Quinn Estates and landowner Highland Investment Company, are targeted for 300 acres of protected countryside at Highland Court Farm near Bridge. They entail 300 holiday homes, a retirement village, business centre, restaurant and market, along with clubhouses and pitches for Canterbury football and rugby clubs and an equestrian, walking and cycling centre.
It had been intended for Mr Knox Johnston to debate the plans face to face with Quinn Estates chief executive Mark Quinn on KMTV’s Chris & Co., but unfortunately Mr Quinn was not able to make the live scheduling and so gave his views earlier in a pre-recording.
Mr Quinn called for a “wholesale review of the AONB and the Green Belt” and said his scheme would stop 300 people buying second homes in the area, allowing “more homes for normal people with normal jobs”. He said his proposal would make “a massive difference to the housing crisis”.
He further claimed there would be “a lot of benefits from those tourists [staying at the complex] with very little pain”. Canterbury wanted to grow and encourage tourists but had “hardly any quality hotels”, said Mr Quinn. “We will give them 1,000 beds a night,” he continued, stating that tourists would not drive into town but catch a bus from the proposed development.
Asked how he would respond to environmentalists objecting to the scheme, Mr Quinn said it wasn’t him who had decided “to put a junction there”. “If it was that important, the land, why did they allow a road to go through it?” he asked.
As for his proposals for sporting facilities, he said Canterbury was the only city in the country “without a resident football club” and that was “something we should be ashamed of”.
“I think it will be a boon, I really do,” Mr Quinn concluded about his scheme.
Following on, appearing live, Mr Knox Johnston of CPRE Kent told host Chris Price about national planning strategy going back to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 that designated pieces of land not available for development.
“So this land is not available for any development on it,” he said. “If we don’t protect these AONBs, in due course we won’t have any left. There have to be very special reasons as to why you would want to do any building on that sort of site.”
Mr Knox Johnston stressed the value and attractiveness of Highland Court Farm, noting how the North Downs Way, public footpaths, a cycle path and bridleway all passed through the site, which was important to people in terms of mental health and relaxation.
Asked about Mr Quinn’s claim that the project would bring tourists into the county, Mr Knox Johnston said: “That’s a supposition that he makes. There’s no financial plan or structure to support this, and any business would have done that properly beforehand to show how it can be done.”
He also said claims that the project would create 1,500 jobs should be taken with “a great pinch of salt”, noting that Mr Quinn should have made clear precisely how that would happen.
Mr Knox Johnston highlighted the fact that Brexit would probably mean the country would need to keep as much agricultural land as it could, referring to Highland Court Farm’s history of growing soft fruit.
Finally, he dismissed the idea of an AONB rethink, saying the designated areas had all been carefully set out – and should stay there.
Richard Knox Johnston, CPRE Kent vice president, talks about the Highland Court Farm plans on KMTV Pic courtesy of KMTV
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.”