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

Cockering Farm housing approval: CPRE Kent slams ‘lamentable’ consultation

The planned development borders Larkey Valley Wood SSSI (pic explorekent.org)

CPRE Kent is concerned by the decision of Canterbury City Council’s planning committee to grant outline consent for the proposals for 400 homes at Cockering Farm, Thanington.
A spokesman said: “We fully respect the council’s right to approve the application, but we are deeply concerned by the proposals, which do not respect the comments of local people
“The scrutiny has been inadequate and the consultation lamentable for such an important site. The lack of detail is regrettable, making the whole situation doubly disappointing.
“People are only just beginning to understand the implications of this planned development and their concerns must be fully acknowledged if it goes ahead.
“CPRE, with other concerned parties in Canterbury, will scrutinise the details further, as and when the developer finally provides them.
“We will challenge the developer to shape the scheme into one that provides good-quality housing, respecting both the context and the need in the local area and the vitally important heritage of Canterbury.”
The proposed 42-hectare development by Quinn Estates Ltd lies immediately to the north of Larkey Valley Wood, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and in a designated Area of High Landscape Value.
The decision to grant outline permission for the 400 homes, up to 3,716 square metres of business space, a community/leisure facility of up to 200 square metres and 18 hectares of open space, was made on Tuesday, September 18.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Blean greenfield site saved (for now) in High Court win over government

The land at Blean Common saved from development
(pic Canterbury City Council)

CPRE Kent welcomes the news that a greenfield site in east Kent has been saved, at least for the time being, after a High Court victory for the local authority over the government.
Canterbury City Council took the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to court after a planning inspector granted planning permission for 85 homes at Blean Common next to the Royal Oak pub.
The council’s planning committee had previously refused the application, but the applicant, Gladman Developments Ltd, appealed the decision.
During April’s subsequent court hearing, the council argued the inspector had misinterpreted policies in both its Local Plan at the time and the then-emerging Local Plan concerning development in the district and on greenfield land specifically.
And yesterday (Tuesday, June 26) in the High Court, Mr Justice Dove backed the council’s case, quashing the decision of the planning inspector, meaning the appeal must be redetermined by a different inspector.
Further, the Secretary of State was ordered to pay the council’s legal costs of £19,218. There is the right of appeal against the court’s decision.
The council had refused the planning application on grounds including the fact it was a sporadic form of development outside of the village area of Blean, would represent a harmful form of development in a rural location and was detrimental to the character and appearance of the surrounding rural environment in general.
Simon Thomas, the council’s head of planning, said: “It’s highly unusual for us to take the government to court in this way, but there were important issues at stake here.
“Our Local Plan has very clear policies on where we will allow development and on the protection of our precious countryside.
“The inspector misinterpreted these and reached a decision that we felt we had no option but to challenge on behalf of local residents.
“It is not the end for this specific planning application, though, as the Planning Inspectorate is now required to reconsider the appeal.”
Land agent Gladman has been involved in planning conflicts across the country, much of its approach entailing working at the minutiae of local authorities’ five-year land supply, arguing they are not providing the new housing required of them by central government.
Gladman does not build the homes itself. Rather, it seeks to win planning permission allowing developers to put up developments not planned for by local councils.
Unsurprisingly, this has led to disputes up and down the land, with many cases going to public inquiry.
The company’s website says: “Gladman is the UK’s most successful land promoter with an unrivalled success rate of over 90%…
“We have achieved planning permission for over 10,000 new homes and have secured planning permission on over 60 sites in the last year.”
The behaviour of speculative land agents is one of the most taxing issues facing local authorities and countryside campaigners today.
Tom Fyans, CPRE’s director of campaigns and policy, said: “We are deeply concerned at the stress and impact this sort of speculative behaviour is having on our countryside, wildlife and on rural communities – land promoters actively work against local wishes for the sake of their own profit.
“Changes must be made to close these loopholes in national planning policy to ensure the planning system drives developments that are needed and welcomed by local authorities.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Architecture student Jake makes good impression to pick up Gravett Award

Jake Obichere with his sketch of St George’s Tower, Canterbury

Renowned architect Ptolemy Dean was chairman of the judges

Jake’s sketch of St George’s Tower impressed the judges

Gifted architecture student Jake Obichere has won this year’s Gravett Award, a prestigious competition sponsored by CPRE Kent.
His portfolio secured Jake £300 prize money, awarded by CPRE Kent’s historic buildings committee.
It is given for the best observational drawings of buildings or structures produced over the past year by an undergraduate at Kent School of Architecture, part of the University of Kent at Canterbury.
As well as rewarding excellence among students, the award, named after Kent historic buildings enthusiast Kenneth Gravett, who died in 1999, aims to encourage the recording of existing buildings through hand-drawing.
Drawings of existing buildings and structures are, says Historic England, “used to aid understanding by observation and close contact with building fabric. They are particularly useful for vernacular buildings and architectural details crucial to the history of a building or site.”
One of the country’s leading architects, former Kent College pupil Ptolemy Dean, chaired the judging panel, which was completed by Stuart Page and Clive Bowley.
Graham Horner, secretary of the historic buildings committee, said: “Jake’s drawings were executed with great flair and artistic ability yet still conveyed the essence of the buildings he’d drawn.
“His portfolio was impressive throughout, but the judges were particularly impressed by his images of Canterbury Cathedral and St George’s Tower in the city.
“It was nice that Ptolemy Dean went through all the entrants’ drawings in turn and offered suggestions as to how they could develop their work through their careers.”
Jess Ryder, David Edward and Dana Matei were also shortlisted in the competition.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Civic Voice Convention

CPRE Kent took part in the Civic Voice Convention in Canterbury last weekend (24-25 October 2014).

Canterbury District Chairman Barrie Gore meets Gryff Rhys-Jones

Canterbury District Chairman Barrie Gore meets Gryff Rhys-Jones

The event was opened by Gryff Rhys-Jones, who visited the CPRE Kent stand and met members.

CPRE Kent Chairman Christine Drury said: “We were delighted to meet like-minded delegates from all over the country who share our passion for place and communities and would like to thank the Canterbury Society and Civic Voice for organising this brilliant occasion. It was also an opportunity to talk about the challenges to the context and setting of Canterbury that would arise if the emerging local plan is not improved.”