CPRE Kent is dismayed to learn of a decision by Maidstone Borough Council officers, outside the scrutiny of elected councillors, that results in a loss of £469,000 necessary infrastructure funding promised to a local community. The story began when MBC approved the building of 53 houses on the non-allocated greenfield site of Loder Close, Lenham, back in 2019. Concerns were raised at the time by the county council and residents that this development would place unfunded pressures on local infrastructure. These concerns were dismissed, with elected councillors being promised within the cabinet report that the development “will provide reasonable and appropriate contribution to other infrastructure by CIL payments”. Except it turns out this advice was wrong. Fast-forward to March 2021 and, after a change of developer, the plan had now changed, with more affordable housing being provided. The new developer asked MBC whether it would require a new planning application. Amazingly, it was told it did not. This is amazing is because it exempts the developer from making any infrastructure payments. This includes £159,00 the county council said was required for additional primary-school places and £197,000 it has identified as necessary for new secondary-school places, as well as contributions towards community learning, youth services, the library and social services. This included up to £50,000 that would have otherwise come to the local parish to spend on a much-needed and now-delayed pre-school. While CPRE Kent clearly supports the need for genuine affordable housing, we ask ‘Won’t those future occupiers also require doctors, school places and other community facilities?’. With the rights and the wrongs of this decision remaining open to debate, CPRE Kent is heartened to see Lenham Parish Council continuing to challenge MBC on this. There is, however, a much wider picture to be addressed. That is development being forced on communities without the necessary community infrastructure being secured or provided. That is plans being changed that clearly impact on communities, though without further democratic input being sought from that community. That is the fact that current rules allow for any type of residential development being approved without having to make a fair contribution towards already overstretched community facilities. Overall, Loder Close represents a clear example of why communities do not trust developers or councils when they promise future infrastructure impacts will be “mitigated”.
Flower-rich grassland is a scarce habitat today following the ‘improvement’ of so much grassland for agriculture. But some residents on the Kent Downs in Lenham were fortunate – they had such a beautiful meadow just next door. They treasured the meadow and for many years looked after it for the elderly neighbour who owned it. At some stage it was used as grazing for rare livestock and for traditional haymaking. When a new individual bought the house and the meadow, he wanted to pull down the house and replace it with an ‘eco-house’. The neighbours were supportive. They are people who have the environment in mind. However, they were not prepared for the beautiful meadow being turned from THIS:
The new owner dumped tons of excavated spoil on the meadow. Such an action is illegal and would require permission from the county council to open a site for the disposal of inert matter. It also is a breach of the planning permission granted by Maidstone Borough Council for the construction of the eco-house. Sadly, enforcement officers were slow to act. To add insult to injury, the developer put in a planning application to turn the spoil into a pond. In the opinion of Henny Shotter, of CPRE Kent’s Maidstone committee, who got involved in the matter, the application was an attempt to legalise the status quo of the site. Fortunately, the borough council acknowledged that a pond on a hillside meadow in the AONB is a feature alien to the character of the landscape and refused planning permission. CPRE Kent hopes the council now takes enforcement action and asks the developer to restore the meadow. If this does not happen, a dangerous precedent will be set that undermines completely the effectiveness of the planning authority.
A scheme for 440 homes in Otham has been backed at appeal by a planning inspector. The greenfield site had been allocated in Maidstone Borough Council’s 2017 Local Plan “as a strategic development location for housing growth with supporting infrastructure”. However, in July the local authority’s policy and resources committee voted to reject the project, west of Church Road next to St Nicholas Church, after it had already twice been rejected by the planning committee. Council officers had recommended the development be approved, fearing that, with the site included in the Local Plan, developer Bellway would win an appeal. And last week the Planning Inspectorate announced that inspector Stephen Normington had allowed Bellway’s two appeals, which he had considered jointly. The first related to non-determination of an outline planning application for 440 homes, with the second coming after MBC had refused an application for a revised project of 421 units. Mr Normington’s report concluded there was “no demonstrable evidence” supporting one of the council’s reasons for refusal on highways grounds. The council had cited the impact of the development on traffic congestion in Willington Street and highway safety at Church Road. The county council had also raised highways objections. Although he said there was “no doubt in my mind that the appeal proposals will contribute to the congestion already experienced on Willington Street to a degree”, the inspector continued: “Whilst this would undoubtedly cause driver inconvenience, I have no substantive evidence to suggest that this would cause a highway safety problem.” Further, he did “not consider that the proposed developments would demonstrably cause worsening safety issues on Church Road to the south of the site to the extent that both these appeals should be dismissed”. He also added “significant weight” to the fact the development would “include affordable housing to meet a demonstrable housing need on an allocated housing site”. Mr Normington made a partial costs award against MBC, concluding it had “behaved unreasonably” in reaching its decision on its first reason for refusal. CPRE Kent was represented at the appeal, arguing that Bellway had failed to demonstrate how Church Road could be modified safely and that the impact of the proposed development on the Grade I-listed church and nearby Grade II-listed buildings was unacceptable.
Proposals by the council to build a new town at Lenham Heath have been stalled by advice from Natural England regarding water quality. The government body has said “an appropriate assessment” must be carried out before the council agrees any new development likely to have “a significant adverse impact on water quality” in the River Stour catchment. The assessment must include any necessary mitigation measures. With the source of the river system of the Stour Valley catchment being in Lenham, and part of the upper section of the Great Stour lying in Maidstone borough, the council says there will be “an immediate impact” on planning applications for new homes in and around both Lenham and part of Boughton Malherbe parishes. The advice aims to ensure new residential development does not cause further deterioration of water quality at Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve in terms of nitrate and phosphate discharges. Maidstone council says it is “investigating possible solutions” and has “identified a way forward for larger housing sites”. It is, though, “taking a precautionary approach and will require appropriate assessments for any planning applications including those not yet determined”. The Lenham Heath development had originally been set at 5,000 dwellings but since cut to 4,000. Nothing has yet been passed by any committee.
Similar concerns led to revised plans for the 4,000-home Mountfield Park development at Canterbury being pulled from the city council planning committee’s agenda in October. Planning permission for the huge scheme had already lapsed after legal challenges, meaning it will need to be decided upon again.
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
Proposals for a 2,000-home garden community at Marden have sparked a huge wave of opposition. After almost 2,000 people marched through the village (still!) in protest during the spring, a petition carrying almost 3,000 names was handed to 10 Downing Street on Friday (July 12). The March for Marden, on Saturday, May 18, organised by Marden Planning Opposition, had seen protestors take to the streets wearing yellow and black – the colours that have bedecked much of the village on window posters and hedge banners over recent weeks. Meanwhile, the group has set up a website (see here); drawn national media coverage; and seen its Facebook group attract more than 1,000 members. Chairman Claudine Russell said: “The scale of this proposal is truly shocking and has united the people of Marden in fighting this development. “We simply don’t have the infrastructure or services to support 2,000 more houses and two new schools, and it would mean Marden would cease to be a village and instead become a town. “We are determined to show the council the strength of opposition as early as possible in the process. The scale of this development, which effectively doubles the size of Marden, is unthinkable in terms of traffic congestion on country roads, loss of wildlife habitat and negative impact on both the village’s heritage and the well-being of the people who live here.” The proposals have been submitted to Maidstone Borough Council by three landowners, developer Countryside Properties and consultancy DHA Planning in response to the local authority’s Call for Sites ahead of its Local Plan review in 2022. Countryside Properties has argued that Marden would benefit from the scheme through new facilities and better links to Maidstone town centre; it also says it is speaking with people who live and work in the village. The campaign against the plan is supported by Helen Grant, MP for Maidstone and The Weald, who said: “We need to make sure the homes we need are built in the right places with the required infrastructure, and this proposed development is simply not in keeping with the beautiful rural community of Marden.”
It might seem obvious to many of us, but if we focus attention on building on brownfield (previously developed) land rather than greenfield sites, we will be both making better use of derelict urban and post-industrial land and safeguarding our countryside from development.
However, not everyone would appear to agree and CPRE’s contention that we could spare many of our green fields by targeting development at brownfield sites has too often been dismissed by the government.
Now, though, our argument is supported by a survey showing the country has enough brownfield land to take at least one million homes.
This figure – presented in our report State of Brownfield 2018 – is more than five times that claimed by the government and drawn from CPRE analysis of data from local authorities and their Brownfield Land Registers.
More than two-thirds of those potential ‘brownfield homes’ could be built within the next five years – and many of those in areas with apparent high housing need.
Or, in other words, three of the next five years’ government housing targets could be met through building homes on brownfield land that has already been identified by councils.
All local planning authorities had been required to publish Brownfield Land Registers by December 31 last year, but more than one in five failed to meet the deadline.
As of January 31, 18 were still to publish. At the time of writing, Ashford and Swale councils are among those to still make their submissions.
The CPRE analysis found that the 17,656 sites identified by local planning authorities, covering more than 28,000 hectares, would provide land for at least 1,052,124 homes – a figure that could rise to more than 1.1 million once all the registers are published… confirming CPRE’s previous estimates.
It also discovered that many brownfield sites that had been granted planning permission for housing had yet to be developed.
Maidstone Borough Council is one of four local authorities highlighted as having granted permissions more than five years ago for sites that have not subsequently been developed.
The Maidstone figure relates to 11 brownfield sites, with the potential for building at least 393 homes, where no development has taken place and planning permission has now expired.
Regions identified as having the highest number of potential ‘deliverable’ homes include London, the North West and the South East, with the new registers giving minimum housing estimates of 267,859, 160,785 and 132,263 respectively.
Rebecca Pullinger, CPRE planning campaigner, said: “It’s fantastic news that local authorities have identified so many sites on brownfield land that are ready and waiting to be developed – and shown how wide of the mark the government’s estimates of brownfield capacity have been.
“Contrary to what the government and other commentators have said, brownfield sites are also available in areas with high housing pressure. Indeed, our analysis is conservative with its estimates of potential number of homes that could be built – the figure could be much higher if density is increased and if more registers looked at small sites.
“The government needs to get on with amending its guidance to make sure that councils identify all the available brownfield sites in their areas. They then need to improve incentives to build on these sites and ensure they follow through on their commitment that all new-builds should be on brownfield first.”
The registers have found sites for well over 400,000 homes that have not yet come forward for planning permission.
To make best use of suitable brownfield land, CPRE is calling on the government to take the opportunity presented by the forthcoming review of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to introduce a brownfield-first approach to land release and granting planning permission for development.
Local authorities must be empowered to refuse planning permission for greenfield sites where there are suitable brownfield alternatives, CPRE believes.
CPRE Kent intends to develop this story with the specific focus on our county. Do you know of any brownfield sites with planning permission for housing that have yet to be developed? Please let us know at email@example.com
Woodcut Farm… ripe for development, believes Maidstone Borough Council
CPRE Kent, in its application to the High Court for a judicial review, was not granted permission by the Honourable Mrs Justice Lang DBE against Maidstone Borough Council’s inclusion in its Local Plan of land at junction 8 of the M20 (Woodcut Farm) as a designated site for development.
CPRE had submitted a pre-action protocol letter to the High Court in November 2017 against the council making a decision on the Roxhill Developments planning application for the site.
In spite of our action and considerable protest from parish councils and local groups, the council chose to grant outline planning permission for the site.
Richard Knox-Johnston, vice-president of CPRE Kent, said: “This is very disappointing and rejects the views of local people who are being ignored by Maidstone council.
“It also flies in the face of two inspectors at previous inquiries that the setting of the Area of Outstanding Beauty, the visual amenity and that it will be in the setting of a heritage asset were enough grounds to reject previous applications in the same area.
“We believe that the inspector and Maidstone councillors have been misinformed by their planning officers and that this will come to light in the future.
“We also believe that the dismissal of considerable evidence on deterioration of air quality in Maidstone not only affects health in the borough but is especially dangerous for young children.
“Their application, at present, is only an outline application and we shall continue to examine the details in the future, particularly those that affect the environment.”
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.
CPRE Kent has welcomed Maidstone Borough Council’s decision to postpone the adoption of its Local Plan.
The decision by the local authority follows a letter from Faversham MP Helen Whately to Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, asking him to ‘call in’ the Plan.
She was expressing concerns about the level of housebuilding proposed in the Plan, the prospect of business development at junction 8 of the M20 and lack of infrastructure.
The council had been expected to adopt the Plan at a meeting on Wednesday, but that has now been postponed in the wake of the letter to Mr Javid.
Gary Thomas, CPRE’S Maidstone branch chairman, said: “It’s encouraging to see Maidstone council postponing the meeting due to the uncertainties around the Plan being adopted.
“They’re listening to people’s concerns and that in itself is a step forward.
“From Maidstone’s perspective, the junction 8 site is the worst in the whole borough for employment purposes as people would be travelling across much of the county for any work created there. There would be little benefit to Maidstone.”
We have objected to the high number of inappropriate, unsustainable greenfield sites identified in the Maidstone Local Plan.
Commenting on the council’s latest consultation into additional site allocations, Gary Thomas, Chairman of the Maidstone Committee, said: “It is disappointing that Maidstone has set such a high housing target of 18,560 homes, the consequence of which is the number of inappropriate and unsustainable sites which could change the character of many villages and communities within the borough as well as lead to the loss of beautiful greenfield land and important agricultural land.”
View of valley from Boughton Monchelsea, photo by crocus08, flickr
We particularly object to the concentration of sites in Boughton Monchelsea:
Land at Boughton Lane Loose (75 homes) – grade 2 agricultural land, greenfield, within an area defined as the Loose Landscape of Local Value
Boughton Mount, Boughton Lane (25 homes)- grade 2 agricultural land, greenfield, within an area defined as the Loose Landscape of Local Value
Land at Church Street / Heath Road (40 homes) – loss of woodland, within Landscape Character Area No. 29 Boughton Monchelsea to Chart Sutton Plateau’ lack of school places and impact on pedestrian safety by school
Land at Lywood Farm, Green Lane (25 homes), – unsustainable location and increased traffic
Maidstone Borough Council has refused planning permission for the second time for Gallagher’s ‘Waterside Park’ at J8 of the M20. This is great news for all of us who have been fighting this development over the last two years.
Despite the Maidstone planners recommending approval, the planning committee was not persuaded that the changes made to the proposal would overcome the previous reason for refusal. This was the right and obvious decision. Gallaghers had been clearly told by the Council when they were first refused permission in February that “The application was considered to be fundamentally contrary to the provisions of the Development Plan and the NPPF, and there were not considered to be any solutions to resolve this conflict.”
Given this clear message, we’re concerned that the officers saw the revised application, for the same development, as being acceptable. This really is difficult to understand, but at least common sense and consistency of decision making has prevailed, and the committee members are to be applauded.
The battle though is not over. Gallaghers have already appealed against the earlier planning refusal, which will mean another expensive Public Inquiry next year. More worrying though, is that despite removing proposals for development at J8 from the draft Local Plan earlier this year, Council officers now want them put back in the Plan. In a report to the Council’s Planning Overview and Scrutiny Committee next Tuesday (21st) planning officers are claiming that new evidence means that J8 is the only option for new employment development. This does not bode well for how hard the officers will fight the planning appeal when they think that J8 is a good place for development.
Let’s hope that last night’s decision will make the officers think again, and finally accept that neither their own councillors nor local people want to see damaging development in the countryside at J8.
Maidstone Borough Council last night (16th October) rejected the plans for a business park at Waterside Park by Junction 8 of the M20, in a move welcomed by CPRE Kent.
We believe the planned development of warehouses, industrial premises and offices would have been hugely detrimental to the countryside setting of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the important heritage setting of Leeds Castle.
CPRE Kent was just one of many organisations opposed to the scheme – there were also objections from Kent County Council, Natural England, the Kent Downs AONB Unit, the Kent Wildlife Trust, Leeds Castle, the Joint Parishes Group and many local people.
Brian Lloyd, Senior Planner for CPRE Kent, said “This is greenfield land in the open countryside where development should not be allowed under either local or national planning policies. We seriously questioned the claimed economic benefits to Maidstone. There is no justification for developing in this location when considerable employment land has already been identified in area such as Ashford, Swale and Canterbury which would not impact on an AONB and on one of the county’s prime heritage and tourist sites.”