As the fightback against the development onslaught on Kent builds, a petition is being sent to Maidstone councillors asking them to stand up to housebuilding targets set by national government. The petition, set up by Peter Burton and titled Enough is Enough: Maidstone’s Housing and Infrastructure, requests councillors:
Challenge and campaign against national government’s housebuilding targets
Rethink the building of garden communities, which threaten places such as Lenham Heath, Marden and Langley
Do not accept new housebuilding levels that are unsustainable for the borough of Maidstone
Complete a full infrastructure assessment before the Local Plan Review and ensure all historical infrastructure issues are rectified across the borough before any projects commence
Be transparent and engage parish councils and local communities before any final decisions are made with regards to planning and new developments
If you would like to sign the petition, click here
In response to Gravesham Borough Council’s proposal to build 8,000 homes in the borough, many of which are planned to be built on the Green Belt, residents have formed an action group to examine and fight the proposals. They have formed a group under the auspices of CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England). It has four aims: • To defend the Green Belt • To challenge the number of homes to be built • Raise public awareness of air-pollution issues and how air quality can be improved • Campaign for all new houses in Gravesham to be zero carbon The challenges facing Gravesham are vast, but if we can all work together they have a greater chance of being resolved. Alex Hills, chairman of CPRE Kent’s Gravesham committee, said: “We are holding a public meeting at Istead Rise Community Centre – all concerned residents should attend. “This will be on a Friday towards the end of March and once the date is confirmed it will be published. “Please email email@example.com or visit our website, cprekent.org.uk, for information.”
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is in the process of completing its Local Plan, a key part of which is meeting a housing target in line with government methodology. This will mean a huge increase in housebuilding. Under the new formula imposed by the government, the borough will be required to build 13,500 dwellings by 2036 more than double the number required under the previous Core Strategy. Many housing developments have already been permitted on valuable Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Green Belt land, such as at Brick Kiln Farm, Cranbrook, resulting in the loss of part of one of the finest remaining medieval landscapes in Europe. The proposed new ‘garden village’ (or new town) at Capel has already been announced, but this is the tip of the iceberg: smaller developments will happen across our rural areas.
A chance to protect the AONB and Green Belt missed The planning system allows TWBC to protect the Green Belt, but in the case of Capel it appears it has chosen not to do so. This is despite the council’s Green Belt Study identifying “release” of this broad area from the Green Belt as causing a very high level of harm to the Green Belt (Tunbridge Wells Green Belt Study Stage 2, Land Use Consultants, 2017). Paragraph 11b and Footnote 6 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) 2019 provide an exception to the requirement to meet housing ‘needs’ where the application of policies in the NPPF protecting Green Belt, AONB, irreplaceable habitats, heritage assets and areas at risk of flooding provide a strong reason for restricting development. Some 70 per cent of the borough is designated as AONB and 22 per cent as Green Belt, while Flood Zone 3 covers almost 7 per cent. This compares with some 25 per cent of England that is National Park or AONB, and 12.5 per cent of England that is Green Belt.
Land lost based on incorrect housing need forecasts There is a prevailing false assumption that simply building more homes, of any kind, will bring down prices. Councils are placed under ever-increasing pressure to meet unrealisable housing targets, compelled to release more land for development and grant more planning permissions, even while many sites (such as the brownfield cinema site in Tunbridge Wells) that already have permission are not built out. Last year, the final report of Sir Oliver Letwin’s review of build-out rates found that the largest housebuilders were consistently delivering expensive homogenous homes only as fast as the open market could absorb them without lowering prices. This business model deliberately and explicitly fails to result in the reduction in house prices assumed by those who advocate unconstrained market housebuilding as a solution to the affordability crisis. It does not and cannot deliver the kind of homes that communities need; rather, it will continue to cover the countryside in poor-quality, piecemeal development. Worse still, because the ‘standard method’ for estimating local housing need is based on the relationship between house prices and incomes, building more expensive homes, especially in rural areas, leads to an increase in the apparent demand for housing calculated using this method and the cycle of unaffordable speculative housebuilding continues. The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics on housing affordability in England and Wales show worsening levels of affordability over a five-year period across most of the country, despite the consistent weakening of the planning system. At present, the planning system actively reinforces market trends. The standardised method for calculating ‘objectively assessed need’ for housing in each local planning authority area, which takes household growth projections as a baseline and adjusts them according to market signals, concentrates growth and investment in areas that are already economically buoyant and have overheated housing markets. In the long run, this simply stokes more demand, further inflating rents and house prices, straining local services and exacerbating the oppositional nature of the planning process. Moreover, it further unbalances the national economy. Government planning policy, as set out in the revised and updated 2019 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), prioritises driving up the overall quantum of homes delivered over other considerations, including tenure mix. It also holds local authorities to account for things outside their control, such as the failure of the volume housebuilders to build out sites quickly. The introduction of the Housing Delivery Test (recently failed by 108 authorities) places councils under such pressure to deliver more homes that it is difficult for them to reject proposals for inappropriate developments, including those that do not comply with local affordable housing policies. Moreover, many applications that initially propose to meet local affordable housing requirements are later renegotiated by developers on the grounds of viability. CPRE’s 2018 research with Shelter found that rural sites where a viability assessment was used saw a 48 per cent drop in the number of affordable homes delivered. CPRE’s report on the State of the Green Belt 2018 demonstrated that building on the Green Belt was not solving the affordable housing crisis and would not do so. Last year, 72 per cent of homes built on greenfield land within the Green Belt were unaffordable by the government’s own definition. Of the 460,000 homes that were planned at the time of the report to be built on land released from the Green Belt (a figure that doesn’t include the 4,500 additional houses now planned for Capel and Paddock Wood), the percentage of unaffordable homes would increase to 78 per cent. Local authorities with Green Belt land have enough brownfield land for more than 720,000 homes, the report found, much of which was in areas with a high need for housing and existing infrastructure.
Land lost due to low-density housebuilding TWBC may do its best to put homes on ‘brownfield’ sites, and on areas outside the Green Belt or AONB, but the target is so high that many houses will have to be on Green Belt or AONB land. An important way to reduce the amount of land required is to maximise the density of each development. There are two reasons this is difficult in practice. The first is that it is more profitable for developers to build big houses with plenty of land. Secondly, neighbours, faced with a planning application, often ask for the number of homes to be built on a site to be reduced, minimising the impact. We all need to realise the result of that: another piece of land will need to be sacrificed to take the houses not built here. The Campaign to Protect Rural England and TWBC both recognise 30 homes per hectare as a fair target for new developments. Many of the planning applications received are for 15-20 homes per hectare. This means that up to twice as much land is needed for the same number of homes. Somewhere else? No, your village will have to provide some of the land. Future generations will ask why we sacrificed land in this way – land that might still be green. There is another reason density is important. The borough desperately needs more affordable housing. Many parish councils have heard from residents that their children are being priced out of the area, and the supply of new affordable homes in the villages is way below the need. Low density simply means more expensive housing. Higher-density housing does not need to be ugly. Some of the most desirable properties in our area are terraced cottages on village streets: the high-density housing of the past. There are clusters of homes in converted buildings around old farmyards that use land very efficiently. Even in modern developments a village atmosphere can be created with terraces, while maisonettes and other three-storey developments can be an attractive part of the development. Higher-density development makes public transport more viable. Some sites are not suitable for higher-density housing. The answer in most cases is not to accept the low density but to leave the land green. Over the planning period, the amount of land sacrificed by low-density development could be up to 1,000 hectares – 1,400 football pitches. We suggest that an opportunity cost should be applied to proposals for low- density development: the land to be sacrificed in the future. A five-hectare plot built at 15 to the hectare has sacrificed 2.5 hectares of land that might still be green. Meanwhile, despite clear government guidance that “where there is an existing or anticipated shortage of land for meeting identified housing needs, it is especially important that planning policies and decisions avoid homes being built at low densities, and ensure that developments make optimal use of the potential of each site” (NPPF para 123), TWBC has been granting planning permission on many sites at low densities. For example, on a partially brownfield site in the Green Belt at Five Oak Green the borough council is applying to grant itself permission for three four-bedroom and two five-bedroom market houses on a half-hectare plot, a rate of a mere 10 dwellings per hectare, with no affordable housing (19/01586/OUT Land West Of Sychem Place Five Oak Green). Future generations will ask why we both sacrificed land in this way – including some of our most precious landscapes – and failed to build the homes our young people need.
Richard Bate, planning professional and long-time CPRE Kent supporter, delivers a withering analysis of government housing policy
How often have you heard it said that if only the planning authorities would release more land for housing, then the builders would build more houses and prices would come down?
This is the fundamental belief across the government at present. To the Treasury this is the simple law of supply and demand. Furthermore, given that the market knows best and the planning system gets in the way of the market, it must be right to pull the teeth of the planning system. This is what the government has been doing.
The inconvenient reality is that housebuilders do not wish to reduce house prices discernibly.
At the site level they anticipate particular sale prices for particular products, subtract construction costs, financing and profit, and bid for the land as a residual cost.
If house prices come down, profits erode and enthusiasm to build deteriorates. That’s what happens in recessions. Strategically, businesses do not deliberately flood their own market with the objective of reducing their own sale price.
Release more land for housing? Giving builders more land may help them to supply more houses, but only up to a point.
Firstly, there has to be a market at their chosen sale price. The government has generously aided this process through Help to Buy and other mechanisms, enabling purchasers to pay inflated prices.
The Chartered Institute of Housing has shown recently that more government subsidy is being ploughed into home ownership than into ‘affordable’ (sub-market) housing to rent. It’s hardly surprising house prices don’t come down.
Secondly, ‘more land’ has ceased to be the solution, because builders can’t use it fast enough. Data commissioned by the Local Government Association shows that planning permissions each year far outstrip completions, that unimplemented permissions are rising, and the period from permission to completion is lengthening.
Third, the greater the choice of sites available to builders, the more they can cherry-pick the financially attractive ones – often greenfield sites rather than recycling the urban sites the planning system would largely prefer. So planning is already less effective.
How many houses? Despite plenty of planning permissions, annual completions in all tenures are below the estimated growth of some 230,000 a year in numbers of households in England.
Government policy is for the completion of 300,000 dwellings annually, almost twice the number achieved in 2017. You can guess its preferred means of achieving this aspiration: release more land!
To arm-twist planning authorities, the government changed the rules on housing need and supply in February this year.
Housing need is to be calculated by a new ‘standard method’. This is based on the well-established (but still volatile) household projections prepared by the Office for National Statistics every two years.
The 2016-based projections were generally lower than the 2014-based projections, so the government has decreed that the older set will be used. Never mind not using the most up-to-date information if it is inconvenient to the outcome…
The housing need figure for each authority is then adjusted to take account of affordability (a specific ratio of house prices to incomes). All but about five local authorities in the country have affordability ratios above the threshold at which, under the government’s method, their housing need figures will be raised. (The local housing need figure is capped at 40 per cent above the average annual housing requirement set out in existing Local Plans.)
The policy therefore builds into planning practice the government’s belief that releasing more land will bring down house prices.
Unsurprisingly, there is no mention of the degree to which affordability ratios are expected to fall for a given stimulus of land supply. The number of plots that must be provided will generally be well above the number of dwellings needed to match the household projections, so land must be made available for households that are not projected to exist.
Each authority must supply land for at least five years’ worth of building at the required rate.
The government wants ‘concealed’ households to obtain more readily their own homes and households to form that have allegedly been deterred from forming by the shortage of dwellings.
This is more economic gibberish.
The concealed and unformed households are in that position because they cannot afford to buy or rent on the open market and would be unable to obtain subsidised housing, so their needs will only be met by greatly increasing the provision of sub-market housing, ideally traditional social housing.
That is irrespective of the volume of land release. The extra sub-market housing planned is far short of real needs.
Is it all planning’s fault? The government’s coup de grâce is on housing delivery. Instead of being assessed for their land supply, local authorities will be assessed on the number of dwellings built in their areas. This is despite local authorities barely building any houses these days: that’s the task of builders.
When housebuilding rates in a local authority fall below 85 per cent of its assessed requirement, the government assumes (again) that this is for want of land. The authority will then be obliged to find a 20 per cent extra ‘buffer’ of additional deliverable housing sites.
On current figures, that affects 86 councils in England: in Kent – Gravesham, Medway, Swale and especially Thanet. The instruction to release more land for housing at repeated stages in the process inevitably threatens more countryside, with builders likely to play the system to achieve that result.
The government is setting up requirements that it must know are wholly undeliverable for many local authorities. When housing supply falls short of the new proposed ‘needs’, the government will berate the authorities and claim it’s all the fault of their planning practices.
That will make it easier to impose yet another round of significant weakening of planning powers – which are obviously getting in the way of housing the nation.
Meanwhile, the original culprit, high house prices, which could be tackled by policies on the ‘demand’ side rather than the ‘supply’ side, will go unchecked. Further, the government has announced its intention to fuel the fire with yet another extension of Help to Buy, beyond 2021.
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.
‘The people of Charing have made it clear, both in their emerging Neighbourhood Plan and in their submission to the inquiry, that they do not want this development,’ said CPRE Kent’s Richard Knox-Johnston
It’s time for a breather at the public inquiry into Gladman Developments Ltd’s appeal against Ashford Borough Council’s refusal to grant planning permission for 245 homes at Pluckley Road in Charing.
CPRE Kent has been giving evidence at the inquiry, but today (Wednesday, March 28) was the last session before the break, with tomorrow’s planned site visit postponed.
The visit should now take place in the over-run week of Tuesday to Friday, April 24-27.
Today’s events at Ashford Civic Centre were devoted to a cross-examination and re-examination of Gladman’s witness over the council’s housing figures and whether the local authority can show it has enough housing in the pipeline to satisfy the five-year supply test.
Points raised by CPRE Kent in its evidence included:
The appeal site is outside the village envelope and disconnected from the village centre
Few people in Charing use the village train station to get to work, questioning the scheme’s sustainability
Increased vehicle movements and the attendant risk to both drivers and pedestrians, including children coming home from school
The setting of the village on the edge of the Kent Downs AONB
The importance of the countryside in promoting health
The planned development would add an unsustainable 30% to the village population
The site is in a flood zone so could be flooded
The risk of contamination to boreholes providing water to local people
In his opening statement, CPRE Kent’s Richard Knox-Johnston said: “The site of this appeal is a large open and rural field to the south of and distant from the Charing village envelope.
“This application by Gladman is speculative and is typical of applications they have made throughout the country, as described very clearly in the BBC One programme Countryfile, where the appellant [Gladman] declined to be interviewed.
“The comment in this programme was that these speculative applications were at the expense of local communities on a no-win no-fee basis.
“Gladman are not developers themselves, they are speculators and, having gained planning permission, will sell it on to a developer at a considerable profit. They make serious profits out of this fault line in the planning system.
“They specialise, as in this case, in submitting development applications on land that is not being considered in the draft Local Plan. Having then gained permission, either through a planning appeal, such as this, or through a High Court case, if the appeal is dismissed, they sell on to a developer or retain the option by land-banking, so increasing the value of the land.
“Selling on to a developer takes time. When a developer buys the permission they then, more often than not, ask for a viability assessment.
“This means renegotiating the original permission and conditions in order to ensure a minimum 20% profit margin.
“This also lengthens the time and causes further delay. Even if this appeal was to be successful, there would be a considerable delay in completing the development.
“It would therefore, in all likelihood, not assist with the five-year housing supply in Ashford.”
Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, on Politics Today (image: BBC)
CPRE Kent has given a guarded response to Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech today (Monday, March 5) in which she highlighted planning reforms and stressed the need to stop housebuilders ‘banking’ land by not building homes for which they had planning permission.
Mrs May told the National Planning Conference in London that the National Planning Policy Framework was to be revamped, via consultation, confirming up to 80 proposals put forward last year. These include:
Councils having to adopt a new nationwide standard showing housing need in their areas
10% of homes on major sites being made available for affordable ownership
Builders being more open about commitments to affordable housing at the planning stage
Infrastructure being considered pre-planning
Councils considering overturning planning permission after two years if building has not started
Ancient woodland and aged trees being protected
Mrs May attacked the attitude of developers who had a financial incentive in hoarding land with planning permission for homes, condemning specifically bosses receiving bonuses “based not on the number of homes they build but on their profits or share price”.
“In a market where lower supply equals higher prices, that creates a perverse incentive, one that does not encourage them to build the homes we need,” she said.
Referring to the issue of land-banking, Mrs May said: “I want to see planning permissions going to people who are actually going to build houses, not just sit on land and watch its value rise. I expect developers to do their duty to Britain and build the homes our country needs.”
Giving the view of CPRE Kent, director Hilary Newport, who appeared today on the BBC’s Politics Today show, said: “Nothing is wrong about building new houses, but the crisis is one of affordability, not availability.
“Simply building more and more houses is not going to bring down affordability. What we need is more homes in the right places and that requires social policy.
“What we are keen to see are proper policies that make houses more affordable.
“I think we need to consider a return to social housing because it is impossible for people to get a foot on the housing ladder in London and the South East.”
Mrs Newport also addressed the issue of protecting the Green Belt.
“It is difficult to see how it can be [protected] when you look at how many houses places like Sevenoaks needs with huge targets,” she said.
Mrs May’s speech comes shortly after the release of a study by CPRE and housing charity Shelter showing how housebuilders are using a legal loophole to avoid building affordable homes in the countryside.
Looking at eight rural councils over the course of a year, the analysis shows that half the affordable homes councils were required to build were lost when viability assessments were used.
Developers use ‘viability assessments’ to argue that building affordable homes could reduce their profits to below some 20%, giving them the right to cut their affordable housing quota.
This results in developers over-paying for land and recouping costs by squeezing their affordable housing commitments.
Both CPRE and Shelter are calling on the government to use its review of planning rules to close the loophole.
Crispin Truman, CPRE chief executive, said: “The lack of affordable housing is often overlooked as an urban-only problem. It cannot be ignored any longer. Too much of our countryside is eaten up for developments that boost profits but don’t meet local housing needs because of the ‘viability’ loopholes.
“CPRE is calling for urgent action from the government to close these loopholes to increase the delivery of affordable housing – otherwise rural communities risk losing the young families and workers which they need to be sustainable.
“We must ensure that we are building housing that people need and can afford across England – including the countryside.”
See CPRE Kent director Hilary Newport on Politics Today here
CPRE Kent is delighted that a developer has dropped its appeal against refusal of plans for a housing estate near Marden.
Gladman Developments Ltd had applied for planning permission to build 150 homes at Church Farm, Maidstone Road, on the outskirts of the mid-Kent village, but this was refused by Maidstone Borough Council in October 2016.
Giving reasons for its decision, the local authority noted that the proposed development lay “outside any defined settlement boundary and would consolidate sporadic development in the area, causing unacceptable visual harm to the character and appearance of the countryside”.
Further, it “would result in significant harm to the setting” of the Grade II-listed Church Farm House and The Old Vicarage while being “detrimental to existing social infrastructure”.
Gladman close to appeal this decision, but in October last year (yes, this had gone under the radar) withdrew its appeal, citing “a change of circumstances at Maidstone Borough Council”.
We believe this to be the fact that the site had not been allocated for development in the council’s Local Plan.
Either way, CPRE Kent, which had made written representation against both the original application and the appeal, is happy to see the back of this wholly inappropriate scheme.
The government inspector dismissed the appeal by Quinn Estates
Just when some benighted residents had perhaps begun to feel that the onslaught of housing development on the county could not be held back, news comes of a victory in the village of Ash, near Sandwich.
A scheme by Quinn Estates for 104 homes, business units and a Scouts hut north of Sandwich Road had been turned down by Dover District Council at the start of last year, but the developer chose to appeal that decision.
At a hearing last month, however, the planning inspector dismissed Quinn’s appeal, citing the loss of high-quality agricultural land and the damage the proposed development would cause to the rural setting.
Further, the inspector noted that DDC was able to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land.
CPRE Dover was represented at the inquiry, objecting to the planned development – on a site not allocated for housing in the council’s Local Plan – noting not only the loss of farmland but also the highways problems it would bring the village.
CPRE Dover chairman Derek Wanstall said: “We supported the council on the grounds it had given for rejection and also stressed the highways issues the scheme would bring.
“With the impact of other developments as well, we would effectively be reverting to the time before the Ash bypass was built – the place would grind to a halt with the amount of added traffic.”
Brabourne Lees is surrounded by glorious countryside
CPRE Kent is in what has become over recent months a familiar position of waiting… in this case for the outcome of the public inquiry into a proposed housing development at Brabourne Lees.
The two-week inquiry into Gladman Developments Ltd’s appeal against Ashford Borough Council’s refusal to grant planning permission for 125 homes in the village at the foot of the downs ended on Friday last week (January 19).
The local authority was defending its decision and the CPRE team gave the bulk of their evidence to the hearing, at the Civic Centre in Ashford, during the first week of proceedings.
We have been told to expect the inspector’s decision on or before Monday, April 16.
In the meantime, CPRE Kent is preparing to give evidence into next month’s public inquiry into Gladman’s plans for 245 homes at Pluckley Road, Charing.
It is scheduled to start on Tuesday, March 13, and expected to last six days.
In a collision of some of Kent’s more enduring stories, the thorny subject of Thanet District Council’s Local Plan is being voted upon tonight (Thursday, January 18), with housing numbers and Manston airport certain to be among the main factors debated.
The Plan of course covers a range of issues, mapping out the isle’s planned development until 2031, but the subject that has attracted the greatest coverage and sparked the greatest division of opinion is the future of the Manston airport site.
Manston’s days as an airport could be numbered, following the revelation of plans by site owner Stone Hill Park Ltd to build 2,500 homes (a figure that could rise to 4,000), business units and sporting facilities there.
Those proposals appeared to have been backed in October last year when the local authority’s cabinet approved the draft Local Plan, which includes an allocation of 2,500 properties at Manston, but tonight it is to be voted upon by the full council in circumstances so contentious that some are predicting a change in regime at the local authority.
That could occur should council members refuse to adopt the Local Plan, a situation intensified by that fact that Thanet is one of 15 councils to have been put “on notice” by Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, for its lack of progress in putting forward its Plan for examination.
If the Plan is refused tonight, its adoption is likely to be set back by anything up to 18 months, prompting Mr Javid’s department to step in and effectively impose its own plan on Thanet, most notably, it is feared, an increased housebuilding target – up from 857 a year (a total of 17,150) to 1,063 (more than 21,000), assuming proposed new government methodology is accepted.
In contrast to the Stone Hill proposals for Manston, meanwhile, would-be airport operator RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) has stated that it has the plans and the funding in place for the site to be revived as a freight hub.
It says this would be a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project and the Secretary of State can grant seizure of the site through a Development Consent Order (DCO).
It had intended to apply to the Planning Inspectorate for the DCO by the end of 2017, with a subsequent decision from the Secretary of State expected by the end of this year.
RSP says the granting of the DCO would allow it to have a refurbished airport back in business by 2020, but such hopes nosedived when a TDC-commissioned report concluded that Manston was not viable as an operational airport.
However, a recent leaked email from the council’s chief executive revealed a proposal for a two-year deferment on accepting the scheme for housing and business at Manston. This would give RSP time to pursue the DCO.
So… a rejuvenated airport or Manston new town? What is the opinion of CPRE on the isle?
Geoff Orton, Thanet district secretary, said: “We have agreed not to take a view on the airport as feelings are so mixed.
“Those in favour of an airport, though, see the airport as an employment opportunity. What would be the point of building 21,000 homes without it? If there’s no airport, what economic future does Thanet have?”
As for what appear to be eye-wateringly high housebuilding targets, Mr Orton echoed the views of many in highlighting their constant increase alongside a local economy that has almost been a byword for unemployment.
“The official figure of 17,000 was already a hike on the previous 12,000 – now we could be looking at a figure north of 20,000. And all this without the airport?
“Further, we’ve lost the deaf school in Margate, along with two care homes – and more rumoured to be going. And with retail becoming more automated, what are Thanet’s young people going to do for work?”
In what is looking increasingly like a perfect storm, the loss of Thanet’s remaining open space is another likely depressing outcome of the forthcoming political machinations, but Mr Orton believes that could be offset to a large degree through brownfield development.
“Thanet is the worst district south of Bolsover for empty properties, while we have a real problem with our high streets. There’s also the deaf school site, while the Canterbury Christ Church University campus is due to be closed. All can be used for housing.”
And a final word from Mr Orton?
“The longer Manston is held in reserve as a relief lorry park, as suggested by the Transport Minister is a possibility – and we know all about the Stack dilemma – the more opportunity for a sensible Local Plan assisted by neighbourhood planners to develop, and the more strategic value our threatened Class I farmland assumes.”
Indeed. Tonight’s meeting at the Thanet District Council offices in Margate should be interesting…
Brabourne Lees sits at the foot of the Kent Downs AONB
These are lively days indeed for CPRE Kent.
No sooner has the dust settled from our appearance in the High Court, where we gave evidence in the successful battle for Pond Farm, Newington, and our Supreme Court victory in saving Farthingloe Valley from destruction by developers than we have a team involved in a public inquiry.
This time we are giving evidence to a planning inspector hearing the appeal by Gladman Developments Ltd against Ashford Borough Council’s refusal to grant planning permission for 125 homes at Brabourne Lees, a village at the foot of the Kent Downs AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).
The local authority is defending its decision and the hearing, at the Civic Centre in Ashford, is expected to conclude by the end of this week (Friday, January 19).
And – after that – we’re giving evidence in another public inquiry, this time into a proposed development at Charing. It’s scheduled to start on Tuesday, March 13, and expected to last six days.
All the best to our team… fighting, as ever, for Kent’s countryside and quality of life.
An image of rural life in north Kent… but for how much longer will this chime true?
It wasn’t so very long ago that we were wishing you all a happy Christmas and New Year. Those sentiments still stand, of course, but all too predictably a large dark cloud has loomed over the horizon to dim any remaining festive thoughts.
We refer to the re-emergence of plans to extend Kent Science Park on the edge of Sittingbourne… and how they have re-emerged!
This long-running venture has had a range of incarnations, but the scale of the latest proposal is staggering, entailing the building of a new town to the east and south of Sittingbourne, together with commercial development and a relief road.
To quote one local woman, Monique Bonney, an Independent councillor on Swale Borough Council, the whole thing is “monstrous” and “a disaster for the local rural villages and town”. To be precise, the proposals particularly affect south Sittingbourne, Rodmersham, Tunstall, Bredgar, Milstead and Bapchild.
No planning application has yet been made, but the developers have applied to Swale council for an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) Screening Opinion – the first stage in asking the local authority to judge if an EIA will be needed.
The application, which can be found here, reads: “The EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) Screening Opinion is for a mixed-use development including up to 11,250 residential dwellings, commercial space (circa 120,000 sqm/1.2 million sqft), new infrastructure to create new junctions onto the M2 and A2 joined by a new relief road, new retail and health facilities, leisure facilities, educational facilities and community facilities at land to the south and east of Sittingbourne.”
That’s right… more than 11,000 houses are being targeted for this attractive rural area.
Cllr Bonney said: “Historically, the previous grandiose Kent Science Park proposals have been thrown out by government planning inspectors during the last three Local Plan cycles over the last 12 years or more, allowing only a small extension on one side of the site that has not materialised.
“Locals should not be railroaded by this new plan, especially given all previous concerns over the environmental constraints (high-grade agricultural land, countryside gaps and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), ancient woodlands and local road infrastructure, with its devastating consequences on the rural lane network.”
Talking about how best to tackle the scheme, Cllr Bonney said: “We need as much help as possible from all the locals around Rodmersham, Bapchild, Tunstall, Bredgar and Milstead.
“The Five Parishes Opposition Group (FPOG) – made up of a representative from each of Rodmersham, Bapchild, Milstead, Tunstall and Bredgar parish councils – will actively lobby against this proposal, but we need your help, too.
“Follow FPOG here and our Facebook page here.” And finally, an appeal: “FPOG would welcome any offers of help and resources with regard to planning, environmental consultants, transport consultants, funding and donations.
“Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or FPOG through its website.”
Here we go again…
The government inspector dismissed the appeal by Quinn Estates
A planning inspector has dismissed an appeal by a developer that had tried to overturn refusal of its scheme for up to 77 homes, business space and a shop in a Kent village.
Swale Borough Council had turned down the plans by Quinn Estates, but the developer appealed against the decision, citing a range of factors.
Dealing with the appeal, the government inspector addressed three principal issues:
a) The effect of the proposal on the character and appearance of the area, with specific reference to its effect on the landscape.
b) Whether or not the site was a suitable location for the proposed development having regard to the council’s settlement strategy.
c) Whether or not the council could demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites and the implications for planning policy.
Giving extensive reasoning as to his verdict, the inspector dismissed the appeal by Quinn Estates against the council’s original decision.
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.”