More than 200 people marched peacefully through Faversham at the weekend in protest at the proposed development of thousands of houses around the historic market town. The rally, on Saturday, January 22, was organised by local group Farms, Fields and Fresh Air in response to Swale Borough Council’s Regulation 19 (Publication) Local Plan – the document to be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for public examination. This Plan, the version that the council is seeking to adopt, entails the loss of substantial amounts of Grade1 agricultural land close to the historic market town. The Faversham protestors were joined by individuals and groups from across the county, including Save Kent’s Green Spaces, Save Capel (Tunbridge Wells) and Save Our Heathlands (Lenham); CPRE Kent also had a presence.
A spokesman from Farms, Fields and Fresh Air said: “All wanted to show their solidarity with Faversham and to stop the ceaseless destruction of Kent’s green spaces, agricultural land and wildlife habitat. “Government policies encourage developers who, like a swarm of locusts, have descended to devour the Garden of England. The devastation has to stop. “Brownfield and repurposing should be incentivised. Green fields should be properly protected. Real local need should define development, with a focus on truly affordable housing and environmental safeguards. We are stronger when we support each other.”
Faversham campaign group Farms, Fields & Fresh Air are hosting a peaceful protest walk on Saturday (January 22) highlighting damaging proposals for the countryside around the town presented in the Swale Local Plan. The walk is timed to focus councillors’ minds before they finalise plans to site 17,000 houses across the borough for the Planning Inspectorate (Regulation 19 of the Local Plan process). The gentle stroll starts at 11.30am from the United Church, Preston Street, Faversham ME13 8NS and will progress to the heart of the oldest market town in Kent, the Market Place itself. You are warmly invited to come along and support this initiative. You can bring placards to show that the whole of Kent is united in anger at the rampant destruction of our county’s countryside. And when it’s your turn, hopefully people from Faversham and elsewhere will return the compliment. Together as Kent, we are loud enough to be heard beyond local councils – as far as central government, from where a change in law to protect our green spaces, agricultural land and wildlife habitat from rampant development must come. And if you have never been to the beautiful and historic town of Faversham, now is your chance. You will not just be helping to protect the fields in this area but across the whole of Kent – while having a great day out at the same time.
If you have a countryside protection campaign reaching a critical point and you want to reach out across the county in a similar way, Save Kent’s Green Spaces will post the details if appropriate to the aim of saving Kent through peaceful protest.
Perhaps to nobody’s great surprise, the site set to host the country’s largest solar farm – formerly known as Cleve Hill – has been sold. It was in May last year that the Planning Inspectorate announced Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, had granted a Development Consent Order for Cleve Hill Solar Park. It was desperately disappointing news for CPRE Kent, which believes the industrialisation of almost 1,000 acres of the North Kent Marshes – an area of international importance to wildlife – is wholly unacceptable and further evidence of the government’s chaotic approach towards sustainable energy generation. Now comes the news that Hive Energy and Wirsol Energy have sold the scheme to London-based operation Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners, which promptly renamed the whole thing Project Fortress. Quinbrook, which is reported to manage assets worth more than £1.5 billion, says it aims to start construction at Cleve Hill – sorry, Project Fortress – in the first half of next year, with it becoming operational in 2023. Energy is to be stored in a giant lithium battery system, which has sparked serious safety concerns for the nearby town of Faversham and village of Graveney. A Swale Borough Council spokesman said: “When the scheme was approved by the Secretary of State, several requirements were placed on the permission for the developer to undertake before the scheme can start on site. These have been ongoing and more submissions are required.” Quinbrook is reported to already operate two large solar farms in Nevada, United States, and “pride itself on being an investment group solely involved in renewable energy schemes”. It will be both owner and operator of the north Kent scheme. A spokesman said: “We believe Project Fortress is a landmark transaction on many fronts and represents a new frontier in UK solar teamed with large-scale battery storage. “We have been immersed in large-scale solar and storage in the US for many years and we can apply our significant experience in project design and equipment selection to ensure Fortress becomes the new benchmark for renewables that support the UK grid rather than challenge it.”
When Swale Borough Council confirmed it was to skip consultation on its Local Plan and go straight to a final version, CPRE Kent raised serious doubts about the legality and soundness of the Plan. As we near the end of the one and only opportunity to comment on the council’s final version of the Plan, it remains that:
A number of important documents, for example a rigorous transport plan and a finalised air-quality assessment have yet to emerge. The latter is critical given that allocations at Teynham will feed extra traffic into AQMAs.
There seems to be no coherent plan for infrastructure delivery – a key component of the plan given the allocations being proposed near the already crowded junction 7.
There seems to have been little or no cooperation with neighbouring boroughs or even parish councils within Swale itself.
The removal of a second consultation might have been understandable if this final version of the Plan were similar to that being talked about at the beginning of the consultation process. It is, however, radically in the following ways:
There has been a major shift in the balance of housing allocations, away from the west of the borough over to the east, especially around the historic town of Faversham. This is a move that raises many concerns.
A new large allocation, with accompanying A2 bypass, has appeared around Teynham and Lynsted, to which we are objecting
Housing allocations in the AONB around Neames Forstal that were judged “unsuitable” by the council’s own officers have now appeared as part of the housing numbers
Most of the housing allocations being proposed are on greenfield sites, many of them on Grade 1 agricultural land – a point to which we are strongly objecting
The haste with which the Plan is being prepared is especially worrying given the concentration of housing in Faversham. If the town is to take a large amount of new housing, it is imperative that the policies concerning the area are carefully worked out to preserve, as far as possible, the unique nature of the town. The rush to submit the Plan is likely to prove detrimental. As Swale does not have a five-year land housing supply, it is open to speculative development proposals, many of which would run counter to the ideas contained in the current Plan. Some are already appearing. This is a common situation, and one that, doubtless, is a reason behind Swale’s haste. Our overriding fear, however, is that this emphasis on haste is ultimately going to prove counterproductive. This is because it is our view that the Plan, in its current form, is unlikely to pass independent examination. We are urging Swale to listen to and act upon the comments being made about the plan and to return the plan to the council with appropriate modifications before submitting it to the Secretary of State. Essentially, this means treating the current consultation not as the final one but as the ‘lost’ second consultation. The consultation ends on Friday (April 30) and we would strongly urge residents to make their opinions known if they have not already done so.