Laying the building myth to rest

And the build goes on… but it’s not of much use to local people wanting a home

In this concerning piece, Richard Thompson, CPRE Kent planner, spears the ridiculous notion that simply building more houses will make them more affordable. He highlights that this concept underpins the standard methodology for calculating housing, which, if left unchallenged, will lead to yet more sacrifice of greenfield land to unaffordable market housing without the needed delivery of truly affordable housing.

An article published in the county’s media as winter drew to its close highlighted the absurdity of government thinking that private-sector housebuilding alone would solve the housing affordability crisis.

The fact is, while ever-more houses are being built, the gap between house prices and earnings is still increasing, while much-needed affordable housing is simply not being built.

A stark example of this national policy failure at the local level can be found by looking in detail at the provision of affordable housing in the Canterbury district over the last 10 years.

Within Canterbury district, the average cost of a new-build dwelling has increased from £160,476 in September 2011 to £317,381 in September 2021. That’s almost a doubling of prices in 10 years.

Unsurprisingly, this market price is not affordable for most Canterbury residents. In fact, Canterbury City Council itself considers an income of more than £75,000 would be required to buy a house at this price without assistance.

It believes this equates to only 2 per cent of the population of Canterbury. Or, put another way, 98 per cent of Canterbury residents cannot afford a new-build home on the open market in the district on their incomes alone. Assistance therefore comes via affordable home-ownership ‘products’ such as Help to Buy and shared-ownership schemes. These all fall within the formal planning definition of affordable housing as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). However, many of these affordable home-ownership products are still not actually affordable to most Canterbury residents.

The table below assesses each of the different affordable home-ownership products against the income required to afford them and then considers what percentage of the district would not be able to afford these products.

Affordable Home Ownership Options SchemeIncome RequiredHouseholds Unable to Afford (all households)Households Unable to Afford (private renters)
Help to Buy: Equity Loan (20%)£67,01895%98%
Help to Buy: Shared Ownership (50%)£60,41993%97%
First Homes (30% discount)£52,56790%94%
Help to Buy: Shared Ownership (25%)£50,79090%93%
Rent to Buy (80% of median rent)£23,32332%46%

Yes, you have read correctly – it is the council’s own assessment that 98 per cent of Canterbury residents who currently rent are considered unable to afford the government’s flagship Help to Buy: Equity Loan scheme. Across all the schemes, at best, only 54 per cent of current renters would be able to afford the ‘cheapest’ rent-to-buy route to home ownership.

For those left, the only option is to rent. However, paying open-market rents is deemed unaffordable for 45 per cent of households in Canterbury.  

For this group, there are two types of rental products that fall within the formal planning definition of ‘affordable housing’. The first is affordable rent, which in Canterbury is some 86-97 per cent of the cheapest market rents, ie not necessarily that affordable and subject to usual market price rises. The second is the social rent, which is set according to a complex formula but is typically between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of market rent. This is the cheapest route to accommodation and in Canterbury is about £435 a month.

It is unsurprising then that the council considers the most pressing affordable housing need for Canterbury is for the genuinely affordable social rent homes. It considers 231 social rent homes are now required a year. There is then a lesser need for affordable home-ownership products (156 required a year) and then affordable rent homes (77 required a year). In total that’s 464 affordable homes required a year in Canterbury.

However, Canterbury City Council, like most Kent councils, does not generally build houses. Rather, the current model is that a developer is expected to use a small proportion of the financial gain it gets from a grant of planning permission to provide a certain number of affordable houses alongside the market houses it sells. In Canterbury, the target is that 30 per cent of all homes built should meet the NPPF planning definition of affordable (though until 2017 was set at 35 per cent for the Canterbury Urban Area).    

So how many affordable homes have been provided in Canterbury under this model over the last 10 years? The next table sets out how many of each type of affordable house has been built over this period and quite clearly shows it to be nowhere near enough.

YearAffordable rentAffordable home ownershipSocial rentTotal
2011/12183393144
2012/13105358121
2013/1410105070
2014/15400040
2015/162030050
2016/173810048
2017/18936045
2018/191937056
2019/20405544139
2020/213522057
Total239286245770

That’s barely a current year’s requirement of social rent homes built in total over the last 10 years. Amazingly, in six out of 10 years not a single social rent home was built. With an overall total of 6,097 new homes having been built within the Canterbury district across this period, that equates to 12.6 per cent affordable homes built across all types against the target of 30-35 per cent.     

So why are the required affordable houses not being built by the development industry? For many, the main reason is that current government policies allow levels of affordable housing to be reduced if a development is not deemed ‘viable’.

In the simplest terms, a development is not deemed viable if it can be demonstrated a developer would make a profit of less than 15-20 per cent once all set costs are accounted for. Significantly, one such set cost is an agreed premium to buy the land by the developer that is usually 20 times the existing value of the land though can be as much as 40 times! Added to this, the greater the perceived need for housing, the lower the ability of the council to negotiate, particularly if the council is subject to the ‘tilted balance’ presumption in favour of granting planning permission.

While the intricacies of viability appraisals are a topic of concern in themselves, the fact is housebuilder profits are soaring all the while the current system is not delivering affordable homes on the ground.

In 2021, when not a single social rent home was built in Canterbury, the four biggest UK housebuilders – Persimmon, Berkeley, Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Homes – reported pre-tax profits of £784 million, £504 million, £492 million and £264 million respectively.

If we delve into this a little deeper, we can see it is developer profit margins alone that have soared over the last 10 years, with the costs of buying development land and cost associated with physically building houses broadly staying the same. This can clearly be seen in the below chart taken from housebuilder Persimmon’s 2021 financial results presentation dated March 2, 2022. The chart gives a total cost breakdown of an average Persimmon new-build home showing that the gross profit element has gone from accounting for £20,763 of the cost of a new-build house in 2010 to £74,481 per house in 2021. That’s more than a tripling of profit margins.            

Despite this, the development industry maintains the problem is simply that not enough homes are being given planning permission. The argument goes that if they were given more permissions to build more houses, then of course more affordable houses would be delivered and market housing would become more affordable.

While the above record in Canterbury suggests otherwise, this argument is flawed for other reasons.

For starters, it can be argued that there is already sufficient planning permission or land available to build on. In Canterbury, there is either an existing planning permission or an identified Local Plan land allocation for 12,334 new homes. Specifically with respect to affordable housing, as of March 2021, there were 1,757 social/affordable rental units with permission in the pipeline. This is more than double the number of affordable homes built in Canterbury over the last 10 years. Despite this, Canterbury has just failed the government’s Housing Delivery Test for not building enough houses, meaning the district is now subject to the presumption that planning permission will be given even if in conflict with the adopted Local Plan. As has been pointed out by CPRE Kent, this is absurd.

There is also the small matter that housebuilders are quite simply not going to build at a level that over-supplies a local housing market, forcing them to reduce prices and lower profits.

The absorption concept was most recently highlighted by Sir Oliver Letwin in his government-commissioned independent review of buildouts. Here he found the “fundamental driver of buildout rates once detailed planning permission is granted for large sites appears to be the ‘absorption rate’ – the rate at which newly-constructed homes can be sold into (or are believed by the housebuilder to be able to be sold successfully into) the local market without materially disturbing the market price”. Alongside this, there are practical constraints such as the current labour and materials shortages.

However, and perhaps most significantly, it is housing market demandrather than need that drives affordability. Currently this demand is being fed as much by monetary policy and financial markets as by physical shortages. Low interest rates and readily available mortgage credit, coupled with state assistance policies such as Help to Buy equity loans, are arguably allowing those already in the position to buy a house to offer ever more. They are often bidding against others in a similar position, pushing the market prices up in the process. Meanwhile, those not already in a position to buy get left even further behind.

So why does this matter?

At the superficial level, CPRE Kent and other similar organisations are often accused of denying local communities much-needed housing when we object to yet more greenfield land being lost to market housing. Taking the Canterbury example, however, the council itself is accepting the new-build market housing dominating the supply is simply not affordable to most existing residents in the district. For those existing residents, they are losing greenfield land important to them to satisfy a wider market demand rather than for their direct benefit.

At the far more important level, though, this matters because the government’s current standard method for calculating how many houses a district needs is linked directly to housing affordability within that district. That is, the bigger the gap between new-build house prices and median earnings in a district, the higher the housing number for that district is. And the government rationale for this is that by building more houses, the cost of housing will come down…

This problem is increasingly urgent. The government affordability data are released on an annual basis, with the 2022 data due on March 23, just before we went to print. On release of these data, housing targets for each council can change overnight. With it reasonable to assume that the gap between house prices and earnings is likely to have widened over the last year for much of Kent, the consequences for the county could be dire.   

The need to revisit the standard methodology for calculating housing is urgent. The need to rethink how we deliver truly affordable housing in a way that doesn’t sacrifice greenfield land to bolster developer profits is arguably even more urgent.  

‘Affordable housing’ schemes

The formal planning definition of affordable housing is set out in Annex 2 of National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and, at almost 500 words long, is rather complicated and hard to understand.

The below non-exhaustive list, however, sets out the most popular schemes that currently fall within this formal planning definition of affordable housing:

Type or tenureDescription
Social rent  These properties are provided by local authorities and some registered providers. The rent for these properties will be set at a level dictated by the national rent regime. Social rented properties are the most affordable and what people usually understand as being meant by ‘council housing’.  
Affordable rent  These properties are provided by local authorities and registered providers and are subject to a control that in theory requires the level to be no more than 80% of local market rent. In practice and, as demonstrated in Canterbury, this is not always the case.  
Shared ownership  Previously known as ‘part buy, part rent’, households buy a share of the property and the remaining share is rented. In time, future shares can be purchased and the property could be bought outright/subsequently sold at market rates (though some restrictions might apply in very limited circumstances).  
Shared equity  The applicant purchases a share in the property and no rent is paid on the remaining share, but the purchaser is able to buy further shares in the property until it is owned outright. The house can subsequently be sold at market rates.  
Help to Buy equity loan  The government provides households with an interest-free loan of 10% or 20% of the cost of a new home for a period of five years; purchasers require a mortgage and at least a 5% deposit. The house can subsequently be sold at market rates  
First HomesFirst Homes is a new scheme designed to help local first-time buyers and key workers on to the property ladder by offering homes at a discount of 30% compared with the market price. It is intended that the discounts will apply to the homes forever.  
Build to Rent and Rent to Buy  These properties are usually built as blocks of flats. The property is rented for a set period during which time the tenant saves enough for a deposit to purchase the property at the end of the rental term.  

References

[1] www.kentonline.co.uk/kent/news/32-per-inch-who-are-pricey-kent-new-builds-for-261858/

[2] UK House Price Index – HM Land Registry Open Data

[3] Canterbury City Council Housing Needs Assessment 2021 –https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1BCdWC6ME7X_b6szgA1E5knDlsta1ooTY

[4] again taken from the September 2021 Canterbury Housing Needs Assessment

[5] See – https://lichfields.uk/media/6509/fine-margins_viability-assessments-in-planning-and-plan-making.pdf

[6] Canterbury Authority Monitoring Report 2020-2021

[7] Sir Oliver Letwin’s final report – www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-review-of-build-out-final-report

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Vast Canterbury housing scheme blocked… for now

‘We are more determined than ever to create a beautiful and sustainable community,’ says a council spokesman (pic Corinthian Land)

The giant ‘garden city’ planned for countryside to the south of Canterbury has been stopped in its tracks by a High Court ruling.
The 4,000-unit Mountfield Park scheme would have destroyed more than 550 acres and was first backed by the city council in December 2016, but legal challenges delayed matters until a 7-5 vote in December to approve it by the council’s planning committee.
The decision gave developer Corinthian detailed permission for 140 homes and outline approval for another 3,860. It was claimed 30 per cent of the development would comprise affordable homes.
However, on Wednesday last week (October 20), the council quashed its earlier decision to approve the scheme. It made the move after a judge accepted Canterbury resident Thomas Lynch’s attempt to take its approval to judicial review.
Mr Lynch launched his review bid in March this year, based on three tenets:

  • The council had failed to comply with its Local Plan
  • The council had failed to sufficiently assess damage to Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve
  • The council had not provided financial viability assessments relating to delivery of affordable housing.

High Court judge, the Honourable Mr Justice Waksman, decided Mr Lynch’s case could proceed on all three grounds. And, rather than take on the legal challenge, the city council conceded the case and agreed that planning permission should be quashed. It should be noted that the council conceded two of the grounds but not the Stodmarsh element.
The council paid Mr Lynch’s legal costs. He is reported to have raised almost £30,000 from supporters in his effort to bring the review – money he says will be reimbursed once he receives the money from the council.
He told Kent Online: “My main issue has been with the city council and its members, who steamrollered this decision through, totally ignoring the views of residents who they are supposed to represent.
“I fully expect Corinthian to come back with revised plans and I will take advice at that stage on what further action, if any, we will take.”
The original planning permission for the development had lapsed last year, but it was voted through again in December.
Corinthian says it intends to submit a revised masterplan next year. “A spokesman said: “Elected councillors have now voted twice for affordable, sustainable and beautiful new homes in Canterbury, and it is disappointing to see those much-needed homes delayed again.
“The application will be considered by committee for a third time in the next few months. We are confident that we will be able to get going with making this wonderful new place in the new year.
“In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with residents and with Canterbury City Council, who are determined to see sustainable, affordable homes built for local people in east Kent.”
The city council took a similar tack, its spokesman Rob Davies saying: “Following recent legal action, the planning application for the South Canterbury urban extension will be considered afresh by our planning committee.
“We are more determined than ever to create a beautiful and sustainable community. We expect this to be early next year.”

  • For more on Mountfield Park, see here

Monday, October 25, 2021

Canterbury: the council cornering itself into a position where 20th-century solutions are being applied to 21st-century issues

Much of the still-beautiful environment of Canterbury and its countryside will be lost if the city council follows its ‘preferred option’

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

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

‘A depressingly stark example of how strategic planning should not be done’: Canterbury councillors back ‘deeply flawed’ housing plans

Life in Sturry and Broad Oak is going to be very different

Almost 1,100 homes will be built on the outskirts of Canterbury after councillors made a U-turn from their previous decision.
The city council’s planning committee had in November refused a scheme for 650 new homes in Sturry, a decision that sparked the withdrawal of a linked application, for 456 properties at neighbouring Broad Oak.
Last night (Tuesday, February 9), however, both schemes, which comprise one strategic site, came back to the committee, which at its ‘virtual’ meeting approved them by seven votes to five.
The Sturry plan had been marginally revised, the number of properties being cut by 20 homes to 630. A new primary school and – perhaps critically – funding towards a Sturry relief road were part of the wider package.
Planning officers said earlier reasons for refusal, including concerns over traffic, issues with environmental impact, absence of affordable housing, excessive density and poor design, had all been tackled.
CPRE Kent had objected to both proposals, along with many others, including Sturry and Broad Oak Action Group, the Woodland Trust and Sturry Parish Council.
The Sturry development won outline permission only, while the Broad Oak element’s 456 properties were given full permission. More than 800 square metres of commercial space at Broad Oak won outline permission.
CPRE Kent has been working on the proposals with Sturry and Broad Oak Action Group, which gave the following reaction to the Canterbury City Council verdict:
“We are deeply disappointed by the decision of the planning committee to push through this deeply flawed application for hundreds of houses on the edge of the city.
“The committee’s justified concerns over traffic, issues with environmental impact, absence of affordable housing, excessive density and poor design all cited in November’s decision to refuse the application are still just as relevant.
“Issues with planning law have not been addressed, while the developer’s slight reduction in the number of properties does not change the fact that the Environ Design (Sturry) scheme remains wholly unacceptable.
“We believe it has been accepted because of council fears that SELEP [South East Local Enterprise Partnership] funding for a related Sturry relief road would be lost if it were not approved by SELEP’s mid-February deadline.
“The new road is not even about relieving traffic at the Sturry level crossing – rather it is about opening up potential housing sites for miles to the east of the city. The resultant urban sprawl does not bear thinking about.
“Additionally, the new road, which will run through the middle of the estate, will do little more than shift traffic congestion a mile or two down the A28 towards Canterbury.
“We are concerned for the residents living in the new estate who will have to endure an extremely busy road effectively on their doorsteps – traffic will have to include the transfer of sewage from the tank built to deal with its waste.
“Such issues alone could make the new properties close to unsaleable anyway, while potential new residents might also notice the lack of any playing fields and the fact that the suggested tiny community hall sits on a roundabout, making it effectively inaccessible.
“There are serious concerns for neighbouring Den Grove Wood, where the council has not heeded or acted on Natural England’s standing advice for ancient woodland.
“We have never denied the need for new housing in our city, but we should be pressing for the highest of standards – not the lowest, which is what this scheme represents.
“The level of mitigation work necessary to address the damage caused by it will blight the area for years. Its acceptance is a depressingly stark example of how strategic planning should not be done.”

  • For more on this story, click here

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

‘We’re being sold down the river for £5 million’… the residents battling a deeply unpopular housing scheme

Sturry and Broad Oak face the prospect of more than 1,000 new houses (pic Google Earth)

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.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Canterbury City Council backs 4,000-unit housing development on farmland

This is apparently what Mountfield Park will look like… seemingly it is what the cathedral city deserves (pic Corinthian Land)

Some 550 acres of farmland south of Canterbury are to be lost to a giant housing scheme.
Canterbury City Council has approved the 4,000-unit Mountfield Park “garden city”, which developer Corinthian Land says it will begin building next year and finish within 15 years.
Access will be primarily through New Dover Road, with Nackington Road and Pilgrims Way providing alternative routes. There will also be a 1,000-space park-and-ride site and a new junction on the A2, together with shops, office space, sports pitches and two primary schools.
The scheme had first been backed by the city council in December 2016, but legal challenges delayed matters until Tuesday’s (December 22) 7-5 vote to approve by the council’s planning committee.
Corinthian now has detailed permission for 140 homes and outline approval for another 3,860. The developer says 30 per cent of the development will comprise affordable homes.

  • For more on Mountfield Park, see here and here

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Canterbury council revokes its own permission for Wincheap park & ride extension

The beautiful River Stour glides past the Wincheap meadows

Canterbury City Council has announced its intention to revoke its permission to extend the Wincheap park & ride over an area of valued water meadow. This follows CPRE Kent’s legal challenge to the permission on three grounds:
• Failure to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment
• Legal errors in the Habitats Regulation Assessment
• Misleading claims that the site had been ‘allocated’ in the Local Plan and that it would not have a harmful effect on the landscape
The council’s decision follows an announcement from Highways England that it could not sign off the planned slip-road from the nearby A2 funded by the nearby Cockering Farm development, thereby rendering the proposed changes to the park & ride redundant.

  • For more on this story, see here

Monday, October 12, 2020

Water meadows campaign hits initial funding target in just nine days

The £5,000 crowdfunding target set by campaigners in the battle to stop the destruction of Wincheap Water Meadows has been hit – 21 days ahead of the January 5 deadline.
It has taken just nine days since campaign group Save Wincheap Water Meadows set up the CrowdJustice page to raise the money, demonstrating the concern so many people have about the site.
It will help fund CPRE Kent’s application to the High Court for a judicial review of the decision by Canterbury City Council’s planning committee to grant permission for an extension of the council’s own Wincheap Park & Ride over an area of undeveloped riverside.
Sian Pettman, of Save Wincheap Water Meadows, said: “Great news! The campaign has now exceeded its initial target of raising £5,000 as a contribution towards legal action to protect the meadows.
“That’s an amazing achievement considering the fact that the appeal was only launched nine days ago and still has 21 days to run.
“It is a clear testament to the strength of feeling in the local community about the need to protect this much-loved stretch of the Stour Valley.
“Thank you to everyone who donated. The next target towards the cost of a judicial review will be larger, but that will be for the New Year!
“The CrowdJustice page now indicates our stretch target of £25,000, but we won’t start to push that until the New Year.”

  • If you would like to contribute to the campaign to save Wincheap Water Meadows, please click here
  • For more on this story, please see herehere and here

Monday, December 16, 2019

Wincheap Water Meadows campaign gets off to a flyer… can you help it over the first hurdle?

The battle to save Wincheap Water Meadows in Canterbury from the expansion of a car park has got off to a fantastic start, with money pouring in from supporters.
CPRE Kent is calling for a judicial review of the decision by the city council’s planning committee to grant permission for a 228-space extension of the council’s own Wincheap Park & Ride over an area of undeveloped riverside.
We have teamed up with the Save Wincheap Water Meadows campaign to challenge this destruction of floodplain next to the River Stour (the site flooded only last weekend) – a Local Wildlife Site in an Area of High Landscape Value and part of the designated Stour Valley Green Corridor.
Both groups believe that other sites could be used or alternatively part of the existing car park could be decked.
Although the application has been approved by the council’s planning committee, a final decision on the project will be taken by full council next year.
Legal challenges are of course an expensive business and Save Wincheap Water Meadows has set up a CrowdJustice page to raise £5,000 by Sunday, January 5, towards the initial phase of our judicial-review application to the High Court.
Incredibly – although it does of course demonstrate the strength of feeling over the issue – at time of writing £4,385 has already been pledged.
With just a little over £600 needed to break that £5,000 barrier, we’re asking all who care for this wonderful natural resource in the city to chip in and help get things moving in the High Court. Some things really are worth fighting for.

The meadows in May
  • If you would like to contribute to the campaign to save Wincheap Water Meadows, please click here
  • For more on this story, please see here and here

Friday, December 13, 2019

Legal challenge launched against plan to develop water meadows for car park extension

Beautiful… Wincheap Water Meadows

CPRE Kent is legally challenging the decision by Canterbury City Council to award itself planning permission for the expansion of a car park over an area of undeveloped riverside.
The local authority’s planning committee approved the council’s own planning application on Tuesday, October 15, meaning that, if it goes ahead, the Wincheap Park & Ride extension will cover a stretch of floodplain next to the River Stour, an area known as Wincheap Water Meadows.
This is a Local Wildlife Site, lies in an Area of High Landscape Value and is part of the designated Stour Valley Green Corridor.
The city council says it needs to extend the park & ride at Wincheap once a new A2 slip road has been built, but CPRE Kent, supported by the Save Wincheap Water Meadows campaign, says there are other sites that could be used or alternatively part of the existing car park could be decked.
CPRE Kent is now calling for a judicial review of the council planning committee’s decision and the way it was arrived at.
The legal challenge rests on three grounds:
• Failure to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment
• Legal errors in the Habitats Regulation Assessment
• Misleading claims that the site had been ‘allocated’ in the Local Plan and that it would not have a harmful effect on the landscape
Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said: “This is not the sort of action we take lightly, but sometimes a planning decision is simply wrong and we can’t stand by and watch a precious natural asset to so many people be destroyed.
“This is very much one of those occasions.”   
Although the application has been approved by the council’s planning committee, a final decision on the project will be taken by full council next year.
Save Wincheap Water Meadows is working with CPRE Kent and has pledged to raise £5,000 to help fund the initial phase of the legal challenge, paying the costs of preparing and filing the application for judicial review. 
A campaign spokesman said: “We need your support. Please help us to save this precious stretch of river valley for future generations.”

  • If you would like to contribute to the campaign to save Wincheap Water Meadows, please click here
  • For more on this story, please see here

Monday, December 9, 2019

The campaign to save Wincheap Water Meadows in Canterbury from city council’s own park & ride scheme

View over the water meadows in May

On Tuesday, October 15, Canterbury City Council approved a highly controversial planning application to extend its Wincheap Park & Ride car park on to a large stretch of floodplain next to the River Stour, an area of land known as Wincheap Water Meadows.  

View towards the meadows

The principle of extending the park & ride is largely uncontentious. Part of the existing footprint of the park & ride will be lost when a new slip road off the A2 is constructed, and there is an accepted need to replace the parking spaces lost and increase capacity for the future.  

The proposal site

What is highly contentious is the choice of location for the extension. The council’s chosen location is a large area of functional floodplain outside the city’s urban boundary.  
The car park will extend for more than 250 metres along the Stour in an Area of High Landscape Value, a designated Green Corridor and a Local Wildlife Site.  
The council’s planning report pretends there will be no real landscape impact and that views of the car park from the Great Stour Way on the opposite riverbank will only be “glimpsed”. In reality, the landscape impact is likely to be substantial.  
Views across the river from the Great Stour Way, at present greatly enjoyed by the large number of walkers and cyclists who use it, will be turned into something much less attractive.  
As the application was made by Canterbury City Council for its own land, many members of the public feel the council had an even greater duty to present the facts of the application in an unbiased and comprehensive manner. As it is, the planning report reads like a report from the applicant itself rather than an impartial assessment.

Satellite view of location (pic Google Maps)

Development on the water meadows breaches many of the council’s own policies and strategies, including many policies in its Local Plan, its Open Spaces Policy, its Riverside Strategy, its Green Infrastructure Strategy and the Canterbury Conservation Area Appraisal.  
However, the council argues that local residents had the opportunity to object when it consulted on its Transport Strategy in 2015-2016 and that the principle of development on that location was accepted when the Local Plan was adopted in 2017.  
The fact that residents simply did not know where the extension was going to be located is conveniently ignored. The Environment Agency objected strongly to the first planning application earlier this year but was informed by the council that it couldn’t maintain its objection as it had not objected when the Local Plan was approved.  
Kent Wildlife Trust has also submitted a very strong objection, saying: “We regard the compensation strategy proposed for this development as fundamentally flawed and in clear contravention of existing national and local planning policy.”
Many of the opponents to the application point out that Canterbury City Council owns most of the large industrial estate adjacent to the park & ride and that it should be building car parks on brownfield land rather than greenfield land.
However, the council refuses to consider any other alternative. It claims that its recent Declaration of Climate Emergency means that reducing the carbon emissions from cars takes precedence over the protection of the natural environment – claim many people find totally perverse.
The Save Wincheap Water Meadows campaign has attracted a huge amount of public support and the Canterbury branch of CPRE has played a lead role in challenging the application.  
There are more than 3,100 signatures on a Change.org petition, 775 representations from the public objecting to the planning application (with only one representation in favour) and more than 460 members in the campaign’s Facebook group.  
There have been many letters and articles in the local paper and large numbers of people attending the council meetings where the park & ride proposal has been discussed. There have also been a number of songs written about the campaign by a local musician, Richard Navarro, including the one below:

You can read the council’s planning application report here

Wednesday, December 2, 2019

Judge backs Canterbury council in its desire to see hundreds of homes built east of the city

This hen harrier was photographed at Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve; whether the building of hundreds of homes in the area means we will lose this magnificent raptor in the area remains to be seen (pic Steve Ashton)

In another blow to Canterbury’s rapidly diminishing countryside, a High Court judge has dismissed an attempt to stop the building of hundreds of homes to the east of the city.
The A28 Environmental Crisis Group had sought judicial reviews of the city council’s approval of two neighbouring developments, one for 250 homes at Hoplands Farm, Hersden, and the other for 370 at Chislet Colliery, a site that had not been allocated in the Local Plan for housing.
The group’s case was based primarily on the argument that the local authority had not taken into account the joint impact of the two schemes, especially in relation to nearby Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve.
However, on Wednesday last week (July 24) Mrs Justice Lang ruled against the challenges, concluding that the council had made the decisions lawfully.
The judge also denied the campaigners permission to appeal. However, Antonie van den Broek told KentOnline that his campaign group would indeed be trying to take the case to the Court of Appeal.
“Favourable rulings would potentially have set significant precedents for local authorities and developers throughout the UK,” he said.
“But this is not the end of the story. We think errors have been made by Canterbury City Council and the developers.
“This particular judge has said otherwise and also refused our applications for permission to appeal her decisions, but we are going to take this to the Court of Appeal.
“These things are never about whether something is a good idea or not. It’s about whether the law was followed.
“It’s an unusual situation in that there are two developments side by side and by two different companies.
“Therefore, the law deems them as separate. We’ve been arguing you can’t do that with the impact on the environment. The environment doesn’t care whether it’s one developer or two.”
A Canterbury City Council statement read: “Between them, the two developments will provide up to 620 much-needed homes for local people, together with medical outlets, shops, open space and other benefits.”
Ian Thomas, chairman of the council’s planning committee, added: “We are naturally pleased to have won both of these cases, which will allow these important housing developments to go ahead.
“It is becoming increasingly common for opponents to new homes to launch these types of legal proceedings. We are always very careful to ensure we follow all the right procedures, so that if we do end up in court, we have a good chance of winning.”
The decision follows a failed attempt to overturn planning permission for more than 1,000 new homes in the Thanington area of south Canterbury.
The city council had, in July 2016, given Pentland Properties permission to build up to 750 properties on a 73-hectare site at Cockering Farm, while in November last year Quinn Estates was granted outline consent for up to 400 homes on a neighbouring site off Cockering Road.
Campaigner Camilla Swire then won permission to seek a judicial of the Quinn planning permission and the council’s approval of variations to the Pentland Properties consent, arguing that the two developments should have been considered as a “combined masterplan”.
By the time the case came before a High Court judge, however, building had already started on the first phase of the Pentland development, following the council’s approval of reserved matters.
Both sites, which lie close to the Larkey Valley Wood Site of Special Scientific Interest and in a designated Area of High Landscape Value, are treated as a single unit in Canterbury’s Local Plan, but, with them in different ownership and being developed separately, it was argued by Ms Swire that the local authority had breached its own policy through failing to have the combined masterplan.
In response, the council claimed any potential breach was merely a technicality and that, in reality, the impact of both developments had been considered together.
Mr Justice Stuart-Smith appeared to concur, saying all that was missing was “a single piece of paper” showing the two planning applications had been considered alongside each other.
He refused the judicial review, concluding that a combined masterplan “would have made no difference whatsoever” to the outcome of the planning applications.

For more on this story, see here

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Campaigners seek help in air-quality challenge

Air quality is causing serious concern in Canterbury

Canterbury air-quality campaigners are asking for your help in their bid to raise £10,000 to challenge the government in the Supreme Court.
Emily Shirley and Michael Rundell launched their case against the government in February 2017, saying it had not complied with environmental legislation because of the “dangerous levels” of air pollution in Canterbury. 
They will need help with their funding, however, and have set up a crowdfunding page, which can be reached here: www.crowdjustice.com/case/air-quality-on-trial-a-local-c
Emily said: “More than 40,000 people die prematurely of air pollution annually in the UK. Thousands of others, especially the young and the elderly, suffer from diseases partly or fully caused by air pollution, such as asthma, cancer and dementia.
“There are 16,000 new homes and other developments planned in and around Canterbury, a city already crippled by unlawful air pollution. These new developments will obviously make the situation worse.
“Our case seeks to establish that the government is responsible for ensuring that air pollution does not breach legal limits and, when it does, the government must ensure levels are reduced to legal limits as soon as possible.
“If we succeed, the dangerous air pollution levels that plague hundreds of other cities and towns across the UK will also have to improve. The government will no longer be able to shirk from its duties. 
“We believe we have excellent grounds for a hearing in the Supreme Court, but to do so we need to raise a further £10,000 to meet all our legal costs.”

Monday, June 3, 2019

A city champion steps aside

Time to take off the boots and have a break… Barrie with grandson Jed and son Jonathan after tackling The Three Peaks in North Yorkshire

He’s been a leading light of Canterbury CPRE for a decade and he’s as enthusiastic for the cause as ever, but Barrie Gore has decided it’s time to vacate the chairman’s seat    

 

The year, 1966. England won the World Cup. Barrie Gore moved to Kent…
Whether you regard the two events as of similarly momentous significance depends perhaps on personal perspective, but the decision of the former chairman of Canterbury CPRE to up sticks from the capital was, it is fair to say, not without impact.
The word ‘former’ is the one that catches your eye as Barrie has become almost a fixture in the cathedral-city role over the previous 10 years or so (“I haven’t counted them”).
“I’ve had enough,” he says. “I shall continue to support CPRE Kent – I’m as enthusiastic as ever – but although I’m in good health a few issues are starting to take their toll.”
He finally called it a day at the beginning of April after what was in fact two stints, having manfully stepped back into the breach after the death of Alan Holmes in 2017.
The initial engagement followed a spell helping out the Canterbury committee with CPRE’s Night Blight campaign.
That took him to London, where he was “impressed” by the organisation.
“Even so, I didn’t particularly volunteer for the Canterbury job,” he says. “But the chair, Katrina Brown, a farmer’s wife who was very good on agriculture, was pregnant and had other priorities! Against my better judgment, I was persuaded to take on the job.”

We need to campaign more
The last remark was (thankfully) said with a smile and it is apparent that Barrie’s respect for the organisation runs deep, even if he believes it might change a little the way it goes about things.
“I think CPRE is a wonderful organisation,” he says. “But we need to campaign more and run demonstrations. I wanted to have a funeral march down New Dover Road – at the head would be a coffin containing the soul of Canterbury.
“Surely CPRE did campaign in the early days, for example for the creation of National Parks? We do in a way now, by writing to the press and commenting on planning, policies and Local Plans, but we could sometimes be more demonstrative.”
The love of Canterbury is something else that shines bright, but he is of course not a genuine local. Rather, the cathedral city is Barrie’s adopted home.
“I was born a cockney, the genuine article, but moved to Rainham in 1966 and Canterbury in 1973.”
A solicitor, he ran “a small family practice” in Boughton that he eventually sold after starting up in Canterbury. “I had some wonderful staff working with me,” he says.
With wife Valerie, he has five grown-up children (Jonathan, Felicity, Elaine, David and Sophie) and “lots of grandchildren”, and it is perhaps the fact that east Kent has provided the home for his loved ones that has helped fire his passion for the area.
It is a passion, though, that is tinged grey with regret at many of the changes that have occurred during his time there, as well as obvious frustration.
“I have a theory – Kent has traditionally always been the point of invasion, and people have become conditioned to being steamrollered over. Kent people don’t jump up and down – if the things that have happened to Canterbury had happened to London, there would have been an uproar.
“I think people across the county have lost faith in having their views entertained and acted upon. Now it’s all about going to court and it shouldn’t be like that – you now have to be a wealthy person to be able to challenge decisions you might not like. That was not always the case.”
The shift in the planning environment, perceived or otherwise, is not of course restricted to Canterbury, but it is nevertheless enlightening to hear the views of someone who has spent years on the campaign frontline largely in one particular place. What has been the greatest change during his tenure?
“The main difference is the individual feeling that whatever people say they can’t make a difference – that’s the greatest sadness.
“The consultation process, so lionised by government, brings in people far too late as, in reality, the actual decision has often already been made. We’ve seen problems with our draft Local Plan, which in my view, and that of many others, didn’t accurately summarise comments from the public – the process was geared in a way that indicated it had more support than it actually did.
“Democracy has on the face of it stepped backwards, despite us theoretically being told more. People are shovelled away. Having only three minutes to speak before the planning committee on a major application is a case in point.
“A classic example in Canterbury is at Wincheap, where the city council wants to build a car park right up to the River Stour, ruining a historic setting and adversely affecting the adjoining countryside. That car park could be put anywhere on Wincheap with a far less destructive outcome.
“Another is the way the local authority follows the government line on housing, whereas it should be saying publicly: ‘Sorry, Canterbury can’t cope with this sort of thing’. I have asked the council to do this, but they have not done so – nor have they told us what they discuss on their visits to central government.”
More broadly, Barrie is clear where the blame lies for what he sees as a fading democracy: “The local government reorganisation in 1974 – I knew it was a bad thing as soon as it happened. Things weren’t overtly political before, but now it’s all black and white, wholly polarised.
“It’s a terrible situation here – Canterbury is losing a lot of its character and the status of its World Heritage Site could be lost. There is a management plan, but it isn’t being monitored, which it should be at least twice a year. The WHS management committee was apparently without a chair for a period and has not met as often as it should in recent years.
“We, and others, have written letters to UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] about the dangers to the WHS – I don’t like the idea, but we’ve tried everything else.”
Has the onslaught ever been so bad?
“Not since I’ve lived in Canterbury, anyway.”
What is to be done?
“I ask myself the same question. I don’t know.
“There should be pressure on central government to bring back the central grant system. Canterbury is a small district with a lot of heritage liabilities, such as the city wall and many other lovely buildings.
“I think they’re failing to protect the assets they have and are spending money on new projects when they are perhaps financially unable to protect and look after them as well. They wanted to ‘improve’ St George’s Place at a cost of £80,000 and have spent more than £10 million on a shopping precinct that has no local businesses and appears focused solely on attracting large companies from outside.
“Another theoretical consultation – they pulled down a perfectly good cinema [the building that became The Marlowe Theatre] at considerable expense for a replacement that does not cater as well as it should for the needs of the disabled and has an unfortunate effect on the conservation area and its historic buildings.
“As for its design and the illumination, whoever thought of having Piccadilly Circus in front of the cathedral?”

Alternative ways forward
The disenchantment of Barrie Gore with much of what he sees around him cannot be denied and he is not, it is fair to say, enamoured with the condition of local democracy, at least in this part of the world.
There is a train of thought that says we should highlight only the positive, avoiding any hint of naysaying, but if that is not a true reflection of matters then aren’t we in danger of entering the realms of, at best, complacency or, at worst, dishonesty? Either way, we do need to be able to offer alternative ways forward. Over to Barrie…
“I’ve often thought amenity bodies should have a voting place on planning authorities.
“The most disappointing thing is all these protective amenity organisations only have advisory status – they have no statutory teeth, so councils can ignore them.
“Organisations such as ours have far more rural experience than many of the councillors elected to represent rural communities.”
It would be wrong to give an impression of Barrie the doom-monger. Rather, he is a jolly fellow who rejoices in the finer things in life, notably, in our context, the scuffed gem of Canterbury, while he is warm in his praise of those he thinks deserving of it.
“I think CPRE national office does a really good job with some wonderful and very sincere people. It is short-staffed, which is a shame and means they can’t perhaps deal with all the nitty-gritty in detail – the NPPF was a wonderful example of that.”
It is no secret that CPRE is looking to move with the times in a way it has arguably not done before, a process with which Barrie is fully on board.
“We should be getting more out of our members – and getting more members. We need to hit people at the inquiry stage: ‘Right, you’ve seen our mettle – cough up!’.
“Let’s get into primary schools and talk about heritage and countryside – children are very responsive and would take leaflets home to their parents. We have to put idealism to one side, and sometimes the economy too, and get on with protecting what’s important.
“Our role is to defend and protect the countryside, but we should include heritage in that objective. We’ve done a lot of work here and I should say that the Canterbury Society was also very good in that department.
“The problem is, people don’t know what we stand for. We do so much good – if it wasn’t for us, groups like the RSPB wouldn’t have the land to protect.”
The positivity horse is now in full gallop, so, in wishing Barrie the very best in his retirement from the Canterbury CPRE chair and thanking him for his efforts, let’s ride it to the end…
“We’ve raised the profile of CPRE here – our Canterbury committee has a wealth of experience and knowledge, and has been very supportive to me personally and to the aims of CPRE Kent. As a result, I believe we have the respect of the council. I do think we have made a difference.”

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Relief and delight as massive scheme for Kent Downs AONB is turned down

No mistaking the message! (pic Barham Downs Action Group)

Planners’ rejection of plans for a huge development in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has been warmly welcomed by CPRE Kent.
The proposals, put forward by developer Quinn Estates and landowner Highland Investment Company, targeted 300 acres of protected countryside at Highland Court Farm near Bridge.
They entailed 175 holiday homes, a stadium for Canterbury City Football Club, six rugby pitches, a business park extension, “innovation centre”, food and drink units and a “leisure hub”.
Last night (Tuesday, February 5) Canterbury City Council planning committee chose unanimously to decline planning permission for the scheme, which had already been recommended for refusal in a planning officer’s report listing 12 grounds as to why it should be turned down.
The project had been opposed by CPRE Kent, Natural England, Kent Wildlife Trust, Dover District Council, Barham Downs Action Group and several parish councils.
Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said the decision was unquestionably the correct one: “We’re surprised that anyone could believe such an appalling scheme in an AONB [Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty] might ever be considered acceptable.
“We’re thrilled that Canterbury City Council’s planning committee rejected the plans so decisively and so comprehensively.”
Barrie Gore is chairman of CPRE Kent’s Canterbury committee. “It’s wonderful that a beautiful part of the countryside has been preserved, hopefully forever,” he said.
“The scheme was refused on grounds that I would have thought unassailable. So many who worked so hard to save this lovely part of the AONB, Highland Court House and the Highland Court Conservation Area from further development have had their efforts rewarded.
“The planning officer’s report was a very good one and summed up both sides of the debate extremely well.
“It was interesting that one of the councillors had calculated that only 14 per cent of the site comprised sporting facilities – much of the rest was simply for high-end holiday homes.”
CPRE Kent had opposed the project since its announcement. Speaking on KMTV in October 2017, vice-president Richard Knox-Johnston highlighted national planning strategy going back to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 designating areas of land not available for development.
“So this land is not available for any development on it,” he had 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.”
He 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.
He was scathing about the developer’s claim that the project would bring tourists into the county: “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.”

  • For more on this story (and a link to Mr Knox-Johnston discussing the project on KMTV), see here

Wednesday, February 6, 2019