The Medway plan… some good, some bad?

The Medway… what does the future hold?

CPRE Kent has applauded Medway Council’s intention to protect the north of the Hoo peninsula – that wonderful swathe of Cliffe and Cooling Marshes, one of the last remaining areas of tranquillity in the county.
Taking part in the consultation on the Medway Development Strategy, we were keen to applaud this and similar countryside protection policies but did object to some potential scenarios presented in the strategy.
We recognised the constraints facing the council in the development of its new Local Plan, particularly in relation to housing development, but maintain that the government’s proposed methodology for calculating local housing need is flawed.
The methodology is based on market demand rather than need, providing no understanding of how Local Plans can reflect a move from these abstract targets to a realistic, deliverable and sustainable housing requirement.
In Kent, particularly, the methodology is leading to disproportionately high targets that will be impossible to deliver sustainably.
We welcomed the council’s renewed commitment to delivering regeneration of brownfield sites but retain significant concern at the inclusion of Lodge Hill as a strategic option for housing.
We acknowledged the presence of a residual brownfield footprint at this site but stressed that the National Planning Policy Framework is clear previously developed land should be re-used “provided it is not of high environmental value”.
Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill’s designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest precludes it from being realistically considered as still brownfield.
The future of the site has received intense media coverage, not least because, with 85 pairs, it hosts the largest population of nightingales in the country.
The development masterplan indicates significant building incursion on the SSSI, while earlier work in support of a withdrawn application made it clear it would not be possible to adequately mitigate harm to the nightingale population.
We suggested that proposed development at Hoo St Werburgh should be broadly supported by the local community and must deliver genuinely affordable housing for local needs, while we also highlighted the fact that the whole region is classified by the Environment Agency as “severely water stressed”.
The future of Medway is clearly far from straightforward.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Lodge Hill: your last chance to speak out for this special site

Nightingale populations have crashed across the UK (pic courtesy of BBC)

Today (Monday, June 25) is your last chance to contribute to Medway Council’s Local Plan, which sets out development strategy in the district until 2035.
There are of course many issues to be determined, but one of the most contentious relates to plans to develop Lodge Hill, a former Ministry of Defence site that is now home to a fantastic range of wildlife, including the largest population of nightingales in the country.
The nightingale has declined by 90 per cent over the last 50 years, the British Trust for Ornithology has found. The 85 pairs at Lodge Hill represent some 1 per cent of that population, a figure that is likely to increases as the species’ range contracts towards the south-east.
Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill – the bulk of which comprises ancient woodland and a rare type of grassland – is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, one of “the country’s very best wildlife and/or geological sites”, as defined by Natural England.
Medway Council approved an outline planning application from Land Securities for 5,000 homes at Lodge Hill in September 2014, the site having been identified in the most recent draft of the Medway Local Plan as a significant strategic location for about a third of the district’s identified housing needs to 2026.
This SSSI designation was one of the reasons the inspector testing the Medway Local Plan in 2013 advised that it was sufficiently flawed to be abandoned, writing “I am not convinced that the social and economic benefits… would outweigh the harm to a site of national importance”.
She stated the modifications that would be needed to prevent damage to the SSSI were “so significant as to amount to the Plan being re-written”.
All of which made the council’s granting of planning permission difficult to fathom.
The National Planning Policy Framework makes it clear that in exceptional circumstances, the need for development might outweigh the importance of an SSSI or other important habitat.
However, the inspector made it equally clear that is not the case at Lodge Hill.
In February 2015 the development proposal was called in by the Secretary for State for Communities and Local Government for determination through public inquiry before Land Securities withdrew its application in September of that year.
And, two years after that, in September 2017, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, a branch of the MoD, withdrew similar plans to develop Lodge Hill, although Medway Council insisted it would be pressing ahead with its plans to allocate the site for housing.
The site has now passed to Homes England, a government agency charged with delivering housing across the country.
In its new draft Local Plan, Medway Council identified Lodge Hill as suitable for development, saying Homes England would submit a fresh scheme for 2,000 properties, including “development on some protected areas”.
If you think one of the most valuable sites for wildlife in north Kent should be spared – and not allocated for housing development by the local authority – you can make your views known here

For more on this story, click here

and here

Monday, June 25, 2018

Lodge Hill: protected habitats owed to a nightingale…

Last night (4th September) Medway Council’s Planning Committee voted to approve the outline planning application for 5,000 homes at Lodge Hill.  This ex-MOD site had been identified in the last draft of the Medway Local Plan as a significant strategic location for around one-third of all Medway’s identified housing needs to 2026.  While this site was technically designated as brownfield in 2007, it has more recently been identified as one of the most important breeding sites for nightingales in the country; as a result of this, Natural England recognised its significance in 2013 by designating it a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)*.

This important designation was one of the significant reasons that the Inspector charged with testing the Medway Local Plan in 2013 advised that the Plan was sufficiently flawed that it should be abandoned; she wrote “… I am not convinced that the social and economic benefits … would outweigh the harm to a site of national importance.”  She went on to state that the modifications that would be needed to prevent damage to the SSSI were “…so significant as to amount to the Plan being re-written”.

This makes Medway Council’s resolution to grant planning permission seem all the more bizarre.  If the selection of this site as a major centre for Medway’s future development is sufficiently ill-advised as to make the whole of Medway’s Local Plan ‘unsound’, then the validity of the resolution to grant planning permission must also be somewhat shaky.

Let’s hope that the Secretary of State will give this decision the scrutiny it deserves. The National Planning Policy Framework makes it clear that in exceptional circumstances, the need for development might outweigh the importance of an SSSI or other important habitat.  In this case, the independent Inspector made it equally clear that it does not.  Let’s further hope that our National Planning Policy Framework lives up to its name this time.

HN

*Natural England describes SSSIs thus: “…the country’s very best wildlife and/or geological sites. SSSIs include some of the most spectacular and beautiful habitats: wetlands teeming with wading birds, winding chalk rivers, flower-rich meadows, windswept shingle beaches and remote upland peat bogs.”