Threats to our Green Belt double… in a year!

Kentish countryside lying in the Green Belt could be targeted by developers
Pic: Susan Pittman

Threats to London’s Green Belt, part of which lies in Kent, have doubled in just a year.

A report published today (Monday, October 9) identifies more than 400 sites earmarked for housing development in the Green Belt, a stretch of land around the city designated to remain essentially undeveloped and to contain urban sprawl into the surrounding countryside.

The report, The Accelerating Loss of London’s Green Belt – Who is to Blame?, reveals that the number of sites under threat from development more than doubled between July 2016 and July 2017, from 203 to 443, and the number of houses proposed on the London Green Belt increased from 123,528 to 163,474.

The counties facing the greatest development threats are Hertfordshire (44,974 houses proposed for Green Belt sites), Surrey (41,760) and Essex (35,674).

Any idea that Kent is getting off lightly, however, is mistaken. The deceptively small number of reported threats from LPAs (local planning authorities) in the county is likely to reflect slow progress with Local Plans rather than authorities working harder to defend protected land.

LPAs in Kent such as Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells, which are constrained by both Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are still in the early stages of Local Plan preparation. It is apparent, however, that the Green Belt in these areas is under great pressure.

Both LPAs have put forward their Issues and Options documents for consultation, making it clear that Green Belt land will be allocated for development, although it is not yet known to what scale.

The document – from the London Green Belt Council, a group of some 100 organisations that campaign against development on Green Belt land and represent more than 50,000 people – is published alongside an updated Threats to London’s Green Belt Map showing the locations of threatened sites.

It comes as the government is consulting on a new approach to calculating local housing need, which will lead to significant increases in housing targets for the majority of London Green Belt local planning authorities.

Richard Knox Johnston, LGBC chairman and CPRE Kent vice president, said: “This year’s data shows we were correct last year in predicting that there would be a further large increase in threats to the London Metropolitan Green Belt.

“While Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG ) spokespeople referred to our Safe Under Us? report year as containing ‘speculative and misleading’ data, our research proves that, if anything, we under-reported the scale of Green Belt threats.”

Catherine Maguire, LGBC campaigner, added: “DCLG figures claim only a small loss to the Green Belt nationally from 2016-2017. This dramatically understates the problem as it only takes account of development that has already taken place, rather than the development that is planned which is shown in our research.

“In fact, the evidence suggests that the threat numbers will increase even more because many councils have not yet published their plans, for example in areas such as south-east Essex, Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks.

Mr Knox-Johnston concluded: “Unless the government takes urgent action, we estimate that threats will increase to over 600 sites by July 2018.

“Councils are being pressurised by government to set targets which are much higher than are ever likely to be needed.

“None of this will have any impact on the overall supply of housing because land supply has not been the problem. But it will mean that Green Belt will be built on in preference to brownfield land as it provides greater profit.

“So this is fundamentally undermining the purpose of the Green Belt – to promote much- needed regeneration in run-down areas and contain urban sprawl.

“Also this encroachment will not meet the urgent need for housing for young families and young people due to the premium that comes with Green Belt land.

“Action is needed more urgently than ever if we are to avoid irreparable damage to the integrity of London’s Green Belt.

“Instead of proposing ill-thought-out methods for calculating targets which conflate housing need with market demand, the government should be encouraged to reduce the pressure on councils to build on Green Belt land by focusing on genuine housing need and restricting the ability of councils to de-designate Green Belt land.”

Monday, October 9

Tunbridge Wells housing numbers too high

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

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

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

View from Horsmonden Church by James Stringer

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

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

Lamberhurst in Spring by Jonathan Buckwell

Taking the proposed Strategic Options one by one, Continue reading

Protect our Green Belt

We must protect our Green Belt for future generations. It prevents urban sprawl as well as providing countryside for recreation and relaxation, tranquillity, important habitats and areas for nature, the environment and farming.

Much of west Kent is Green Belt – in fact it covers 93% of Sevenoaks, 77% of Gravesham, 71% of Tonbridge and Malling, 56% of Dartford and 22% of Tunbridge Wells.

Strengthening the protection for Green belts and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty is an important point in our 2017 election manifesto. Have a look at the video below to see how much the Green Belt is loved.

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May 15th 2017

2017 Housing White Paper

CPRE Kent has welcomed the renewed commitment to protect the Green Belt made in today’s Housing White Paper.

We support the following initiatives:

  • Make more land available for homes in the right places by maximising the contribution from brownfield and surplus public land and regenerating estates.
  • Maintain existing strong protections for the Green Belt and clarify that Green Belt boundaries should be amended only in exceptional circumstances when local authorities can demonstrate that they have fully examined all other reasonable options for meeting their identified housing requirements.
  • Give communities a stronger voice in the design of new housing to drive up the quality and character of new development, building on the success of neighbourhood planning.

 

Building site 'Cox' restoration 018

Bluebells Street Scene

Bluebells Street Scene

Director Hilary Newport said: “We need this commitment to the Green Belt and other protected areas, particularly in Kent where so much of our beautiful countryside is Green Belt or in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“We have long campaigned for a brownfield first policy and pleased to see a national commitment to this.”

Pentland Builders

Pentland Builders

Shaun Spiers, chief executive of CPRE nationally said: “We welcome the White Paper’s promise to address failings of the housing market, rather than just meddle with the planning system. Builders must build, not just sit on land. We look forward to seeing the Government’s plans to turn unused planning permissions into homes, and brownfield sites regenerated to bring new life to towns and cities.

“If the focus is on genuine need, achievable targets and good quality design that fits with the local environment, we can build the homes the country needs without losing further precious countryside.”

housing image for NPPF

The White Paper promises a further consultation on how local authorities should calculate housing need. For those concerned about our countryside, the outcome of this consultation is the acid test. Until local authorities are able to set realistic and deliverable housing targets, with an emphasis on meeting genuine need rather than aspirational demand, the countryside and Green Belt will continue to be threatened by poor quality and speculative development.

Shaun Spiers concluded:

“The Government has made a good start in this White Paper and Ministers should be congratulated for listening. It is vital that we build more homes, but it is also essential to do so in ways that have popular support. The focus on brownfield development and other measures in the White Paper will help with that agenda. We now look forward to measures to ensure that housing targets are reasonable, deliverable and focussed on affordability.”

To read the White Paper click here.

February 7th 2017.

Safe under us?

Safe under us report coverA report, published today, shows how government housing and planning policies have led to an unprecedented scale of threat to London’s Green Belt

The London Green Belt Council and CPRE London have published a joint report “‘Safe Under Us?’ An investigation into widespread threats from housebuilding in the London Metropolitan Green Belt”

The report shows that government policies and sanctions appear to be forcing councils to release Green Belt land for development.

Drawing on local evidence provided by CPRE branches in Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, London and Surrey, the report demonstrates that the London Green Belt is likely to be under greater threat than ever. There are now plans for 203 sites within the London Green Belt including proposals for 123,528 homes.  Within the 42 local planning authorities that were surveyed covering nearly 84% of all London Green Belt land, the majority of the proposed homes (94%) are on sites allocated by councils in their Local Plan documents. The London Green Belt is also under pressure from infrastructure such as schools and roads.

 

Lullingstone Park, photo by Susan Pittman

Lullingstone Park, photo by Susan Pittman

The report finds that there is national pressure being applied to Local Planning Authorities to deliver inflated housing targets. These targets are being inflated by unrealistic economic growth forecasts, forcing councils to give up Green Belt land.

Continue reading

Planning reforms 2016 – write to your MP

Urgent call for your support. Please write to your MP now about changes to national planning policy which the Government is expected to publish in June.

Lenham sunset, photo by Simon Oliver

Lenham sunset, photo by Simon Oliver

Getting the right homes in the right places
We are calling for changes that will ensure the right housing is built in the right places, and prevent unnecessary loss of countryside:

  • Developers should be tasked with building the developments on permissions they already have, before trying to grab more greenfield land.
  • Councils should be empowered to prioritise the use of brownfield sites and restrict competing greenfield development, especially when this would further protect the Green Belt.
  • The Government should abandon proposals to relax Green Belt policy and instead make clearer that unnecessary or major losses of Green Belt should be avoided.
  • Councils should be able to set housebuilding targets that are based on a realistic assessment of what is likely to actually be delivered.

We have prepared a letter which you can send to your local MP. If you have the time to personalise it, it will be even more effective. Go straight to the letter and take action by clicking here.

For a detailed look at Planning reforms 2016: What’s the problem? click here.

Lavender at Castle Farm, Lullingstone, photo by Glen Humble

Lavender at Castle Farm, Lullingstone, photo by Glen Humble

April 27th 2016.

Concern over planning reforms

The Government this week (Monday 7th December) published a consultation proposing a raft of new changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

We welcome the presumption in favour of brownfield housing development  which would make it clear that development proposals for housing on brownfield sites should be supported, unless overriding conflicts with the local plan or the National Planning Policy Framework can be demonstrated and cannot be mitigated.

However we are very concerned about some of the other proposals.

In particular, a new ‘housing delivery test’ (paras 27-33) will likely lead to more green fields being released for development as councils either plan for more development in advance or have to find new sites to develop when existing targets are not met. We believe that the ‘delivery test’ in its proposed form will allow developers to cherry pick greenfield sites instead, letting the brownfield sites go to waste.

Lullingstone, photo by Susan Pittman

Lullingstone, photo by Susan Pittman

The proposal to encourage new settlements (para 19/20) is also concerning – the area required for entirely new settlements is far greater than that required for just the housing. Councils are already encouraged in the current NPPF to bring forward new settlements. The proposed new policies could serve to force local people to accept large speculative schemes in unsuitable places that had been previously rejected in recent local consultations.

The idea of more quickly bringing forward development on brownfield sites in the Green Belt was trailed in the Spending Review. We believe each case must be considered carefully as brownfield in the Green Belt often contains valuable open land and open parkland that should not be developed. Paragraph 49, meanwhile, suggests that councils will be able to designate parts of the Green Belt for small developments of ‘starter homes’, entertaining the possibility of urban sprawl and drawing focus away from brownfield sites that have connections to existing infrastructure and amenities.

CPRE will be submitting a response to the consultation, the submission date for which is the 25 January 2016.

Paul Miner, planning campaign manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said:

“This consultation is really concerning. Instead of addressing the current difficulties in bringing forward the right sites for the right homes, it proposes to release yet more land for development, often in the countryside and possibly in the Green Belt.

“The current policy isn’t working, but these proposals will make things worse. Releasing unlimited amounts of greenfield land will not deliver the Government’s welcome pledges to regenerate brownfield sites.”

December 9th 2015

Continue reading

CPRE Kent response to proposed planning reforms

The Government has proposed sweeping reforms to the planning system including:

* Automatic planning permission on all suitable brownfield (former industrial) sites, removing unnecessary delays

* Power for the Government to intervene and have local plans drafted when councils fail to produce them and penalties for those that make 50 per cent or fewer planning decisions on time

* Stronger compulsory purchase powers to bring forward more brownfield land, and devolution of planning powers to the Mayors of London and Manchester

* Major infrastructure projects which include housing development to be fast-tracked

* End the need for planning permission for upwards extensions for a limited number of storeys up to the height of the adjoining building in London

* Higher-density development around key commuter hubs

* Redefining “affordable housing” to include discounted market housing, i.e. starter homes.

 

Photo: CPRE

Photo: CPRE

CPRE Kent response:

CPRE Kent agrees that we need to build more homes, especially affordable homes.

In 2012-13, the UK hit a post-war low of 135,500 homes. Last year the figure recovered slightly to 141,000 homes.

However we know there are existing sites with planning permission for thousands of homes in Kent and elsewhere and we believe more should be done to actually get these homes built. Too many companies are landbanking (the practice of buying land as an investment, holding it for future use  or selling it on with permission but without specific plans for homes to be constructed – i.e land trading). There should be measures put into place to make them actually deliver these new homes within a certain time.

We have long been calling for better use for brownfield sites and are glad the government is backing this. However there still needs to be local consideration about sustainability and infrastructure and which sites are suitable for housing development. CPRE believes there should be a strong presumption in favour of “brownfield first” with these safeguards.

Continue reading

Meeting with Planning Minister

Members of the Gravesham District Committee of CPRE Kent together with the Gravesham Rural Resident Group (GRRG) met with Minister of State for Housing and Planning Brandon Lewis on February 9th 2015. The meeting was organised by Gravesham MP Adam Holloway.

They wanted to raise their concerns about threats to the Green Belt from development plans. Gravesham Borough Council is revising its Green Belt boundary as part of its housing delivery review. CPRE Kent and the GRRG are opposed to any erosion of the Green Belt and the implications of any such erosion would stretch far beyond Kent.

Members of the delegation including Adam Holloway MP, CPRE Kent's Richard Knox- Johnston and Alex Hills and GRRG Chairman James Ferrin as well as parish councillors

Members of the delegation including Adam Holloway MP, CPRE Kent’s Richard Knox- Johnston and Alex Hills and GRRG Chairman James Ferrin as well as parish councillors

Chairman of the Gravesham Committee, Alex Hills said: “He made it absolutely clear that Strategic Housing Land Assessments (SHLAAs) should regard the Green Belt as an environmental constraint and housing supply figures must be adjusted to accommodate this. He also stressed that councils behind on delivering their five year housing supply target should not use that as an excuse to build on the Green Belt.”

Mr Lewis also called on all rural areas to form their own neighbourhood plans.

February 11th 2015

Plans for 450 homes “unjustified”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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