‘It will destroy local communities and ruin residents’ lives. It must be stopped’… Chairman’s speech highlights appalling Tunbridge Wells council plans

This landscape will be lost to housing if proposals from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council come to fruition

It’s been described as “the biggest threat to Tonbridge and our Green Belt in a generation” and indeed plans from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council for mass housebuilding seem set to change landscape and life in west Kent in an almost unimaginable way.
The proposals for 2,800 new houses at Tudeley and another 1,500 at East Capel sparked the creation of Save Capel and last month John Wotton, CPRE Kent chairman, gave a speech to the campaign group pledging this organisation’s support in the bid to halt a policy destined to ruin the quality of life for so many.
Here is that speech, made on Wednesday, September 18, in full:
“CPRE is the countryside charity. It exists to protect the English countryside, to make sure it is valued and accessible to all and that it supports a viable and sustainable rural economy.
“Here in Tunbridge Wells, we are privileged to live in the beautiful and historic farmed and wooded landscape of the Weald of Kent. We are all custodians of the countryside, none more so, I would suggest, than our local planning authority.
“So, how does the draft Tunbridge Wells Local Plan measure up in terms of protecting our cherished countryside? Not well, in my estimation.
“The plan is, of course, the product of a broken planning system, driven by political and commercial interests that are wholly divorced from the needs of the population as a whole and wishes of local communities, including this one.
“It is inconceivable that Tunbridge Wells Borough Council would have come up with a plan of this nature in the absence of the housing and other targets imposed by national planning policy.
“There is now no pretence that the targets are based on genuine predictions of household growth and housing need, for the most up-to date Office of National Statistics data on population growth and household formation have been ignored by national government, in order to adhere to a totally arbitrary and unachievable target of building 300,000 homes a year (that is homes built anywhere and of any type, regardless of housing need).
“The rationale for this target has been challenged in recent research by Ian Mulheirn, published by the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, which concludes that no more than 160,000 homes per year need to be built to cater for housing need.
“This topic is highly controversial, but for us in Tunbridge Wells, the key point is that the right homes for the people in this borough are built in the right places.
“The homes which are built should be affordable to those in need of a home and built in the most environmentally sustainable places, not simply the sites that yield the highest profit to developers.
“This means that houses should preferably be built on brownfield or urban infill sites, or as limited urban extensions, always making the most efficient use of land, rather than in new settlements on greenfield sites, and especially not in protected landscapes.
“The council seems to agree with this in principle, but not in practice. CPRE naturally wishes to see Tunbridge Wells adopt a sound Local Plan as this will give the local authority a measure of control over future development and better defences against inappropriate, speculative development proposals. “However, a sound Plan is not a panacea. Factors beyond the council’s control may (and probably will) undermine the Plan during its 15-year life, probably sooner rather than later.
“These factors include changes in the deliverability of individual sites, failure to build out planning applications which have been granted and, in these febrile political times, changing requirements of national policy.
“As soon as the council’s housing policies are shown to be out of date, the developers will again have the whip hand.
“A ‘Sound Plan’ is therefore not to be bought at any price and the price of this draft Plan is, in CPRE’s view, far too high.
“Tudeley Village is just the most egregious example of the sacrifice of greenfield sites for substantial housing development in the Green Belt, in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and elsewhere in the borough.
“This sacrifice is made in pursuit of housebuilding objectives that, even in the unlikely event of their being achieved, would do little to meet the genuine local need for housing, at prices local people can afford.
“The council say that they place the highest priority on protecting the AONB and then the Green Belt, but this is not the impression I gain from the proposed site allocations throughout the borough.
“If Tudeley Village is intended to relieve the pressure on the rest of the borough, it does not achieve this, even in protected areas. In my own parish of Cranbrook and Sissinghurst in the AONB, for example, the housing allocation exceeds assessed local needs by about 50 per cent.
“What can the council do, though, in the face of seemingly implacable national policy requirements?
“In our view, national planning policy does allow Tunbridge Wells to provide for less than the so-called objectively assessed housing need, in view of the high proportion of the land in the borough which is protected as Green Belt or AONB.
“This ability is fundamental to the effective protection of the Green Belt and AONBs. If it were not there, the Green Belt and AONB would be less protected in those districts in which they form a large proportion of the land area than in those where only small areas are protected.
“This is not the law, or the policy of government.
“The council say that they have not even considered the possibility of providing for less than assessed housing need, because their Strategic Housing Land Assessment shows that the borough can accommodate this need. However, it is hard to see how they have reached this conclusion.
“Their Sustainability Assessment shows that the council’s housing objective is compatible with only five of the 19 sustainability objectives they have set themselves and incompatible with nine of them.
“It is the only objective in the Plan which fails the council’s sustainability tests in this way. This is a fundamental contradiction in the Plan. It does not provide for sustainable development in Tunbridge Wells on the council’s own terms, and it must be changed.
“I haven’t said much about how the technicalities of planning policy apply to the overarching subject of the climate emergency, which rightly moves ever higher up the political agenda, including the planning agenda.
“It is far from clear to me that the council gives adequate weight to mitigating climate change in this Plan. That is a wider topic than we can embark upon today, but an aspect of it is specifically relevant to the Tudeley Village proposal.
“Under the government’s climate change guidance, planning authorities are advised that the distribution and design of new settlements and sustainable transport solutions are particularly important considerations that affect transport emissions.
“The planning inspectors have within the past week rejected the draft West of England Spatial Plan, saying that high levels of dispersed development across the West of England, unguided by any strategy, would not be sustainable. I understand that this Plan included a number of so-called ‘garden settlements’ on greenfield sites.
“It would seem that garden settlements are going to be looked at closely by inspectors and this should make Tunbridge Wells Borough Council think twice before trying to meet its housing objectives in this way.
“Tudeley Village is the poster child for the unsustainability of this draft Plan. It represents unsustainable, environmentally harmful destruction of the countryside, replacing a beautiful, unspoilt and protected site with a dormitory for City commuters and their families, heavily reliant on their private cars for transport.
“It will destroy local communities and ruin local residents’ lives. It must be stopped and CPRE Kent will support you in your campaign.”

  • You can read the latest Save Capel newsletter here

Tuesday, October 8

Tunbridge Wells Local Plan chops Green Belt to allow for housing development

Tunbridge Wells countryside (pic Gabrielle Ludlow)

To a mixture of horror at what it includes and relief that it has finally seen the light of day, the Tunbridge Wells draft Local Plan has finally been published.
Covering the period 2016-2036, the Plan is aimed at replacing the local authority’s 2010 core strategy, 2016 site allocations plan and saved policies from its 2006 Local Plan.
Most contentiously, the draft looks to axe more than 5 per cent of the borough’s Green Belt, primarily to accommodate 14,776 new homes, a figure that includes a 9 per cent buffer above the government’s Objectively Assessed Need total of 13,560.
The homes are apparently going to be built at a rate of 678 a year, a target substantially more than double the 300-a-year featured in the 2010 core strategy, produced in line with the former South East Plan.
Disappointingly, the draft does not designate any land to compensate for the Green Belt that is set to be lost, which, as it stands, amounts to 5.35 per cent of the current total.
The largest housing allocations are at Paddock Wood (4,000 dwellings in addition to the 1,000 already allocated) and Tudeley (2,500-2,800, with some 1,900 to be built during the Plan period), as well as some 800 dwellings in the AONB at Cranbrook and 700, also in the AONB, at Hawkhurst.    
Liz Akenhead, chairman of CPRE Kent’s Tunbridge Wells committee, said: “The Plan states that, overall, some 5.35 per cent of the Green Belt within the borough is to be de-designated and that ‘in accordance with the NPPF the Plan does not designate other land as “replacement” Green Belt to replace that to be removed, but rather sets out how compensatory improvements to the environmental quality and accessibility of remaining Green Belt land can be made’. 
“On a first reading, I have not noticed any evidence in the Plan that these improvements will actually materialise.”
Consultation on the draft Plan begins on Friday, September 20, and is scheduled to end on Friday, November 1. It is anticipated that the Plan will be adopted in December next year.

  • For more on the Tunbridge Wells Local Plan, see here

Monday, September 9, 2019

‘Powerful lesson’ to politicians that our countryside matters… but Kent doesn’t witness dramatic change

Yes, people do care about the countryside (pic James Stringer)

Now the dust has settled from May’s local elections, we can reflect on some dramatic changes across the South East’s political landscape, even if Kent was not as affected as some of its neighbours.
Such was the widespread shift in allegiances that the London Green Belt Council was moved to comment: “One of the lessons of [the] local elections is that voters place greater emphasis on protection of the environment than on almost any other issue.
“According to research by the LGBC, the ruling groups in local authorities that allocated Green Belt countryside and green spaces for housing development in their Local Plans have been decisively punished by the electorate for doing so.
“Analysis by the LGBC of [the] council elections shows that where authorities had proposed development on Green Belt land, the ruling party in each case had been voted out of office or its majority substantially reduced.
“While in other parts of England, Brexit and other national issues may have determined the course of the recent elections, it is clear that in counties such as Surrey, Berkshire, Essex and Hertfordshire, which are within the London Metropolitan Green Belt (LMGB), the outcome of district and borough councils had been influenced more by communities’ anger at proposals to build housing estates on Green Belt land than by any other concern.”
It was in Surrey, perhaps politically the bluest of counties, that the swing was most striking.
The Conservatives, the ruling party in the majority of the county’s district and borough councils, lost 117 councillors (out of 1,269 losses in total), meaning Surrey accounted for almost 10 per cent of all Conservative losses in May’s local elections.
Throughout England the Conservatives lost control of 41 councils, six of them in Surrey.
According to the LGBC, the Conservative electoral performance was worst in the three Surrey districts where the Local Plans threatened Green Belt land for housing: Tandridge, Guildford and Waverley.
In each of these areas, Conservatives lost control of the local councils to residents’ associations, local campaign groups and independent candidates opposed to the Local Plans and who were pledged to defend the Green Belt from development.
In Guildford, the newly-formed Guildford and Villages group, which stood on a platform of defending the Green Belt, won 15 seats, and an existing local party, the Guildford Greenbelt Group, won an additional seat, giving them a total of four.
This, together with the seats won by the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, almost all taken from the Conservatives, resulted in a reduction in the number of Conservative councillors from 31 to nine.
The defeated council leader admitted that concerns about building on the Green Belt had been crucial in determining the outcome.
Hertfordshire saw the Conservatives lose control of three district councils – North Hertfordshire, St Albans and Welwyn & Hatfield – due to opposition to Local Plans proposing loss of Green Belt. In each of these districts there could have been even greater losses had the whole council been up for election.
In Kent, although the Conservatives suffered some losses, there was nothing like the groundswell of change experienced in neighbouring counties. That might be something to think about.
Richard Knox-Johnston, chairman of the London Green Belt Council and CPRE Kent vice-president, said: “The electorate punished the ruling party in boroughs and districts where they wanted to build housing estates on Green Belt countryside.
“In the local elections, dozens of pro-Green Belt councillors were elected in Tandridge, Guildford and Waverley, overturning once-impregnable Conservative majorities.
“There is a powerful lesson here for all political parties in London and the Home Counties that tampering with the boundaries of the Green Belt will result in further losses of councils to independent and single-issue Green Belt campaign groups.
“Proposals to remove land from the Green Belt in order to build on it are always extremely unpopular, as people rightly value and cherish their access to countryside and open spaces.
“In the cases of Tandridge, Guildford and Waverley, it is clear that the Green Belt has become a major election issue, with profound consequences for the ruling party.
“The elections prove that the environment is a ‘hot issue’ in many areas. Local Plans should protect the Green Belt and should concentrate new development on urban and brownfield sites in need of regeneration.”

Monday, June 17, 2019

Green Belt: the development pressure ramps up again

What future for our Green Belt? This countryside is in Sevenoaks district (pic Susan Pittman)

The scale of the attack on the Metropolitan Green Belt is increasing.
Data collected by eight CPRE branches in and around the capital show that 56 of 66 local authorities are targeting Green Belt land for residential development.
The third report from the London Green Belt Council, entitled ‘Safe Under Us?’ – Two Years On, says the number of homes planned for the MGB has increased by 64 per cent in two years, with some 202,700 homes now proposed, up from 159,300 last year and 123,500 in 2016.
Predictably, there also has been a hike in the number of sites threatened, the current figure of 519 comparing with 403 in 2017 and 203 in 2016.
Most residential proposals were in advanced Local Plans, with further homes counted through planning applications.
Hertfordshire had the greatest number of homes proposed for the Green Belt (70,787), followed by Essex (67,826) and Surrey (29,381).
There is no room complacency in Kent, however, where a relatively low figure reflects the fact that many local authorities in the county are in the early stages of developing their Local Plans.
At district level, the local authorities planning the largest number of homes on Green Belt land are Thurrock (29,635), Dacorum (14,360) and East Hertfordshire (13,450).
The LGBC report highlights the 4,934 hectares of brownfield land in the 66 local-authority areas that could accommodate more than 260,000 new homes; it also notes that the percentage of genuinely affordable housing within London Green Belt residential developments is less than 10 per cent.
Richard Knox-Johnston, who is both chairman of the LGBC and CPRE Kent vice-president, said: “This year’s data shows a further dramatic increase in threats to the London Metropolitan Green Belt. Having predicted that this would be the case, we fully expect a further increase in 2019, despite reassurances from government that the Green Belt is to be properly protected.
“Government at all levels, supported by developers, claim that development in the Green Belt will provide more affordable housing, especially for young people but, as this report shows, this is not the case. Young people are being cruelly misled.
“Unless the government takes urgent action, we believe that the threats will continue to increase. Councils are being pressurised by government to set targets which are much higher than the likely need and are, on occasions, forced to accept even higher housing numbers to accommodate growth from neighbouring authorities.
“There appears to be no lessening of pressure on the Metropolitan Green Belt for housing, despite its importance for farming, recreation, climate change, flooding and a major role in health and welfare, especially for those suffering from mental health symptoms, as described in the government’s 25-year environment plan – A Green Future.”
Mr Knox-Johnston concluded: “Action is needed more urgently than ever if we are to avoid irreparable damage to the integrity of London’s Green Belt. The Government should be taking steps to reduce the pressure on councils to build on Green Belt land by focusing on brownfield land and genuine housing need and restricting the ability of councils to de-designate Green Belt land.”

  • To read ‘Safe Under Us?’ – Two Years On, click here: Safe Under Us

    Monday, February 4, 2019

Sevenoaks: the sites that could be taking a housing hit

Are the diggers heading your way?

Planners at Sevenoaks District Council have revealed the Green Belt sites they have identified for major housing development – greenfield sites with no development at present.
They are satisfied there are “exceptional circumstances” to justify changing the Green Belt boundary for these cases, their verdict coming after this summer’s consultation on the district’s draft Local Plan.
If the proposals are approved by cabinet on Thursday (December 6) they will be included in the final consultation on the Plan (the Regulation 19 stage) before it goes to public inquiry in the spring.
The government’s Objectively Assessed Need formula has arrived at a figure of 13,960 properties to be built in Sevenoaks district from 2015-2035. Sites on previously developed land (PDL) are expected to take some 6,000 properties.
At the Draft Plan consultation stage (Regulation 18), 12 ‘exceptional circumstances’ Green Belt sites were proposed for potential development. Of those, the following are being taken forward to consultation:

  • Four Elms Road, Edenbridge (350 units)
  • Sevenoaks Quarry (600 units)
  • East of London Road, Dunton Green (240 units)

In addition, Pedham Place, land in the AONB near Swanley, is identified as a “broad location for development” for 2,500 houses.
At the Planning Advisory Committee meeting on Thursday, November 22, councillors voiced strong objection to the site, but a motion to exclude it was lost by a 5-6 margin.
Further consideration will be given to the release of this site from the Green Belt when the Plan is reviewed in the mid-2020s.
The local authority received 8,500 comments on the draft Plan from some 6,000 representors, including CPRE’s Sevenoaks committee, the majority objecting to the allocation of these ‘exceptional circumstances’ greenfield sites in the Green Belt.
Nigel Britten, the chairman, said: “Justification for making changes to the Green Belt boundary now is justification for making more changes in the future.
“But the Green Belt and the two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are what define the special quality of the Sevenoaks countryside and we will do our utmost to protect it.”
The council received additional site submissions for greenfield Green Belt sites during the draft Plan consultation. The following are considered potentially suitable for inclusion in the Local Plan and will be consulted on alongside the Regulation 19 consultation:

  • South of Redhill Road, New Ash Green
  • Between Hartfield Road and Hever Road, Edenbridge
  • West of Childsbridge Lane and south of the recreation ground, Kemsing
  • North and south of Kemsing station

The Regulation 19 version of the Plan will include the associated Supplementary Planning Documents – Affordable Housing SPD, Development in the Green Belt SPD and Design Review Panel SPD.
The council will ultimately publish the Regulation 19 version on the basis that it considers it to be sound, legally compliant and prepared in accordance with the ‘duty to cooperate’ with neighbouring planning authorities.
Prior to the submission of the Plan for examination, the council will prepare an Issues Paper to demonstrate that an appropriate approach has been taken with regard to density.
It must also show the supply of housing sites is deliverable (for the first five years of the Plan) and developable (years 6-10). Further, it must provide evidence that all non-Green Belt sites have been fully explored before going through a peer review process with the Planning Inspectorate.
It is anticipated public consultation on the pre-submission version of the Plan will take place from Tuesday, December 18, to Sunday, February 3, followed by submission and examination in the spring or summer of next year, with adoption by the end of 2019.

  • For more on this story, see here
  • To read the papers for the cabinet, see here
  • To track the changes being made to the Local Plan, visit Appendix 5 of the Cabinet papers here

Monday, December 3, 2018

Sevenoaks: where will the bricks and mortar be landing?

River Darent at Shoreham (pic Glen Humble, flickr)

People in and around Sevenoaks should have a clearer idea this month about where future housing development in the district could be targeted.
With the government’s Objectively Assessed Need formula arriving at a figure of 13,960 properties to be built from 2015-2035 in a district that is 93 per cent Green Belt and two-thirds AONB, the publication on Thursday, November 15, of papers for Sevenoaks District Council’s planning advisory committee will detail the sites put forward for housing.
Sites on previously developed land (PDL) are expected to take some 6,000 properties, but that of course leaves a huge gap of almost 8,000 new homes.
To cover the gap, the council is focusing initially on PDL within the Green Belt and, finally, greenfield sites within the Green Belt for which there may be “exceptional circumstances”.
Possible site allocations range from fewer than 50 to the staggering 2,500 at Pedham Place, near Swanley.
There is concern over how the local authority might interpret PDL, which might not qualify as such according to the National Planning Policy Framework definition.
Nigel Britten, chairman of Sevenoaks CPRE, said: “We have objected in detail to the major Green Belt sites while not supporting any of them.
“The council knows it won’t get away with an unrealistic housing figure so must produce something that will satisfy the Local Plan inspector while not causing a mayhem of protest.”

  • A protest march against one potential development in the Green Belt is being held in Sevenoaks at the weekend.
    The event has been organised by the Halstead Green Belt Future group to highlight plans for almost 2,000 homes in the village, 800 of which would be on Green Belt land.
    Marchers will meet at Sevenoaks railway station at 2pm on Saturday, November 10, and head to the district council offices for 2.30pm, when letters of objection to the district’s draft Local Plan will be handed over.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Green Belt: not as safe as you might like to think

Is nothing sacred? The Green Belt at Lullingstone (pic Susan Pittman)

Anyone who believed Green Belt designation might mean land was safe from development would appear to be sadly misguided if CPRE analysis is anything to go by.
This organisation’s figures reveal that almost half a million new homes are targeted for land to be released from the Green Belt – and very few of those will be classed as genuinely affordable.
Our analysis by the charity revealed that last year 72 per cent  of the homes built on greenfield land within the Green Belt could not be classed as affordable under the government’s own definition.
That depressing figure is set to rise to 78 per cent for the 460,000 homes planned for land due to be released from the Green Belt, according to CPRE’S State of the Green Belt report.
Tom Fyans, CPRE director of campaigns and policy, said: “We are being sold a lie by many developers. As they sell off and gobble up the Green Belt to build low-density, unaffordable housing, young families go on struggling to afford a place to live.
“The affordable-housing crisis must be addressed with increasing urgency while acknowledging that, far from providing the solution, building on the Green Belt only serves to entrench the issue.
“The government is failing in its commitment to protect the Green Belt – it is being eroded at an alarming rate.
“But it is essential, if the Green Belt is to fulfil its main purposes and provide 30 million of us with access to the benefits of the countryside, that the redevelopment of brownfield land is prioritised, and Green Belt protection strengthened.”
The charity argued that brownfield land, which has previously been used for housing or industrial development, could accommodate more than one million homes in England.
Local authorities with Green Belt land have enough brownfield sites for more than 720,000 homes, says the CPRE report.
The government has, however, defended its position on the Green Belt. A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We are clear that building the homes our country needs does not mean tearing up our countryside.
“Last year the number of new homes built was the highest in a decade, and only 0.02 per cent of the Green Belt was developed for residential use.
“We are adding more certainty to the planning system and our new planning rulebook strengthens national protections for the Green Belt.”
As well as a genuine ‘brownfield first’ approach to development, CPRE is urging the government to:

  • Retain its commitment to protect the Green Belt by establishing long-term boundaries
  • Halt speculative development in the Green Belt
  • Develop clear guidance for local authorities on housing requirements to protect designated land
  • Support the creation of new Green Belts where local authorities have established a clear need for them

Monday, September 17, 2018

Hundreds turn out for Gravesham Green Belt meeting

Richard Knox-Johnston, CPRE Kent vice-president, gives his presentation at the Istead Rise meeting

Almost 300 people packed Istead Rise community centre for a public meeting about housing development in north-west Kent.
The event focused on Gravesham Borough Council’s local plan consultation and questionnaire. It had been called by Gravesham Rural Residents Group because, it says, the local authority has not held any such meetings.
It was the first public meeting organised by GRRG, an umbrella action group that brings together representatives from the borough’s rural areas to debate the consultation review and develop a united approach.
Gravesham council is reviewing its policies towards the Metropolitan Green Belt and suggesting that some 2,000 homes could be built on sites currently within it.
At the meeting, on Friday, May 18, council leader David Turner defended the Green Belt review, which could remove land from the Green Belt to allow for new housing.
He said if this review was not held, there was a risk the government’s planning inspectors might take control of the process.
Bob Lane then gave a talk and slide show, with population projections challenging the council view that it needed to build up to 2,000 homes on Green Belt land, having increased its target from 6,000 new houses to 8,000.
The council’s belief that it had to wilt to pressure from Westminster or planning inspectors was challenged by guest speaker Richard Knox-Johnston, CPRE Kent vice-president.
His presentation (with slides) also illustrated why the Green Belt should be protected.
He pointed out that 2,000 houses would generate some 10,000 road journeys a day; this shocked many of those present due to the air pollution it would generate.
Mr Knox-Johnston agreed with Mr Lane that building on greenfield sites would allow developers to sell new housing at premium prices, which would not provide affordable homes for young families and first-time buyers – neither would it help residents on the council waiting list.
The audience applauded loudly both Mr Lane and Mr Richard Knox-Johnston at various points in their talks.
Local MP Adam Holloway gave his support to protection of the Green Belt and talked about his discussions with the Housing Minister.
The meeting wound up with a question-and-answer debate with the panel. Many residents expressed strong opposition to the council’s consideration of building on Green Belt land when more than 50 brownfield sites were empty or derelict in the borough.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Green Belt champion to address Gravesham meeting

This land near Higham is threatened with development for the planned Lower Thames Crossing (pic Paul Buckley)

Richard Knox-Johnston, CPRE Kent vice-president, will take to the stage at Istead Rise on Friday
(pic KMTV)

Richard Knox-Johnston, CPRE Kent vice-president, is joining the fray as campaigners step up their efforts to protect Green Belt land in Gravesham.
Mr Knox-Johnston, who is also chairman of the London Green Belt Council, will be speaking at a public meeting about housing development in the borough at Istead Rise this month.
The meeting is being organised by Gravesham Rural Residents Group because it says Gravesham Borough Council is not holding any such events as it reviews its Local Plan core strategy.
The council appears to be suggesting that 2,000 more homes than previously anticipated will need to be built in the borough and GRRG, of which Gravesham CPRE is a member, says the majority of options to cater for them entail the release of land from the Metropolitan Green Belt for development.
Although it has not set up any meetings about its proposals, GBC has produced a questionnaire asking residents for their views. However, the rural group believes this is flawed and “designed to make [respondents] support building on the Green Belt”.
As such, it is asking people not to fill in the questionnaire until they have been to the Istead Rise meeting, where they will be advised how to complete it if they do not wanting building on the Green Belt.
In a bid to attract as wide an audience as possible, the group is posing the following questions via social media:

Do you want more air pollution?

Do you want to wait longer for medical treatment?

Do you want your journeys to take longer? (traffic on the A227 is set to increase by 10,000 vehicles a day due to the planned Lower Thames Crossing)

Do you not want your children to attend the school of your choice?

Do you want to live in an extension of London?

Alex Hills, Gravesham CPRE chairman, said: “Gravesham Borough Council wants to build 2,000 homes on your Green Belt that they do not need to build.
“If you value your Green Belt, now is the time to fight for it!”

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

CPRE Kent features in BBC TV feature on building in Green Belt

Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director: ‘The line that we must not cross’

The BBC cameras were at CPRE Kent headquarters in Charing last week for a piece on the seemingly never-ending story of potential housebuilding in the Green Belt.
Reporter Briohny Williams, complete with cameraman, visited Queen’s Head House to speak with CPRE Kent director Hilary Newport as the Sunday Politics South East team put together a short film on a perennially thorny subject.
Filming took place both in the office and in the nearby churchyard as Hilary put the CPRE view that releasing land for development in the Green Belt was a non-starter.
It was “the line that we must not cross,” she said.
Other participants in the Green Belt feature were Alison Thompson, of the English Rural Housing Association; Richard Blyth, of the Royal Town Planning Institute; Tory MP Crispin Blunt, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the London Metropolitan Green Belt; Green MP Caroline Lucas; and, back in the studio, Medway Labour councillor Tristan Osborne and Dartford Tory MP Gareth Johnson.
To watch the piece, which begins 52 minutes into the show, click here

Monday, May 14, 2018

Is Gravesham Green Belt up for grabs?

More Gravesham countryside could be lost to housing. This is Shorne Woods (pic Paul Buckley)

Fears of our Gravesham committee for the future of Metropolitan Green Belt land in the district appear to have been well founded.
The borough council has launched a consultation on proposals for the review of its Local Plan core strategy, which suggest 2,000 more homes than previously anticipated will need to be built in Gravesham.
The majority of options to cater for them entail the “release of land from the Green Belt for development”.
Gravesham CPRE belongs to Gravesham Rural Residents Group, a group formed in 2011 to defend the Green Belt, and Alex Hills has been active in the campaign.
Anticipating what was to come, the CPRE Gravesham chairman said in November last year: “The group is ready to fight again as people in Gravesham care about the Green Belt.
“In this area healthcare is at breaking point, air pollution is at dangerous levels – every one of our services is at breaking point, water supply and flooding risk in Kent are now pressing questions and our roads face gridlock – the Thames crossing alone will cause a doubling of the traffic on the A227, which runs north to south right through Gravesham.
“Is it not time we questioned the growth targets?”
Now the council, in launching its eight-week consultation, has identified three main areas for review:

  • How much development is needed
  • Where this development should be
  • If and how the Green Belt or any other policy constraints need to be changed to accommodate development

The local authority says a strategic housing market assessment carried out as part of the evidence base of the review found Gravesham had “a higher housing requirement of 7,900 homes, more than the 6,170 in the current plan”.
Further, it claims that an analysis using the government’s proposed standardised housing need assessment methodology suggests this should rise again to 8,000.
The council statement says: “When all urban sites and planning permissions are taken into account, Gravesham is about 2,000 homes short of its 2028 requirement.”
The options for housing allocation include:

  • Intensification of existing settlements
  • Expansion of existing urban areas
  • Creation of “a single new settlement through the merger of existing settlements”
  • Creation of a free-standing new settlement

The council document does not identify specific Green Belt sites for development but highlights an area running from Culverstone Green in the south of Gravesham up the A227 to Higham in the north as “a primary area of search”.
Council leader David Turner said: “With no Local Plan, the Green Belt could lose virtually all protection it has, allowing the local planning process to be sidestepped.
“Ideally, we would avoid building on Green Belt land. However, as part of this process, the council must look at all possible sites and rule them in or out.
“We are starting from the principle of brownfield land and other sites within the urban confines first but may need to seek additional land to meet our needs.
“When this consultation is complete, the council will draw up more detailed options and everyone will get the chance to comment again on those next year.”
The council intends to consult on a submission draft of its Local Plan in 2020, leading to submission, examination and adoption in 2021.
The consultation runs until June 20, 2018. If you would like to take part, visit bit.ly/2HDpjCF

Monday, April 30, 2018

We still have to fight for Gravesham’s Green Belt, says district chairman

The proposed Lower Thames Crossing will add further strain to Gravesham’s environment

Many doubtless gave a hefty sigh of relief on Wednesday when Chancellor Philip Hammond gave an assurance that the country’s Green Belts were safe from development.
However, all is not necessarily as rosy in the garden as it might seem. Alex Hills, CPRE Kent’s committee chairman for Gravesham, is preparing to fight proposals for 2,000 homes in the area of the Metropolitan Green Belt that falls within the district.
CPRE will be joining its talents with other members of the Gravesham Rural Residents Group, a group formed in 2011 to defend the Green Belt.
“The group is ready to fight again as people in Gravesham care about the Green Belt,” said Alex.
“In this area healthcare is at breaking point, air pollution is at dangerous levels – every one of our services is at breaking point, water supply and flooding risk in Kent are now pressing questions and our roads face gridlock – the Thames crossing alone will cause a doubling of the traffic on the A227, which run north to south right through Gravesham.
“Is it not time we questioned the growth targets?
“Governments of different colours for many years have shown that they have no understanding of what sustainability means – people need to stand up and say enough is enough.
“We need to spell out to the government what living in this area is really like as it is clear they do not know – if they did, housing targets would have been drastically reduced.
“We need our councillors to turn round to the government and say we can not build more houses as there is not the infrastructure for them.
“We need all the South East MPs to do their job and say enough is enough.
“Standing up to excessive development is not about being a nimby – it is about protecting essential services for everyone.
“It is also about fixing the broken planning system that allows developers to build what they like where they like when they should be building the properties people need, where they are needed.”

Friday, November 24, 2017

Green Belt has a new voice in Parliament

Great news for the Green Belt (picture by Susan Pittman)

The London Green Belt, part of which lies in Kent, has a new champion.

Yesterday’s (October 31) launch of an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the London Metropolitan Green Belt saw members at the inaugural meeting agree to develop policy thinking and a plan to influence the debate on housing and planning policy.

The objective is to “protect the capital’s precious Green Belt and achieve sustainable development”, a statement from the London Green Belt Council (LGBC) said.

Crispin Blunt MP (Conservative) was elected as the group’s chairman, with Lord Rogers (Labour) serving as co-chairman.

Tom Brake (Liberal Democrat) and Gareth Thomas (Labour) became vice-chairmen, while Oliver Dowden (Conservative) will act as treasurer. The secretariat will be provided by the LGBC.

Richard Knox-Johnston, chairman of the London Green Belt Council and vice-chairman of CPRE Kent, said: “The establishment of the APPG is an important move in the protection of London’s Green Belt.

“There is far too much unhelpful propaganda being used to force encroachment into this important national resource, which provides health and well-being to the people of London and surrounding communities.”

Group chairman Mr Blunt added: “I am delighted we have formed the APPG for London’s Green Belt.

“With the number of Green Belt sites around London under threat from development more than doubling over the past year, we urgently need to review our approach to housing policy across the region.

“The group will inform the debate and develop recommendations for Green Belt-friendly planning policy.”

Co-chairman Lord Rogers, meanwhile, highlighted some of the issues the group will need to tackle: “There is an abundance of brownfield land which can and should be developed.

“Land-banking is threatening both the provision of affordable homes for key workers and the protection of the Green Belt. I hope the group will contribute to radical and innovative thinking in this area.”

Last month we highlighted how threats to the London Green Belt had doubled in a year: Read our story here.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

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