Overwhelmed by the development onslaught? This piece sheds a little light on what’s going on…

A countryside under siege (pic Susan Pittman)

Many of us are aware that our natural environment is threatened like never before. We experience it through the constant grind of cement-mixers and bulldozers, but sometimes the bureaucratic process is not so clear. Here planning expert and CPRE supporter Michael Hand casts some light on what is driving the current onslaught.

We are under relentless and unparalleled pressure to accommodate significant growth, in particular to meet the demand for new housing.
However, many developments are concentrating on three- and four-bedroom executive homes and not enough ‘affordable’ housing is being delivered.
Much of the South East is experiencing pressure for this unprecedented growth in housing, driven by the ‘housing crisis’ and associated government policy to increase the delivery of new homes by setting higher targets for local authorities to meet.
As guardians of the countryside, local members of CPRE Kent have a key responsibility in upholding the core values of the organisation and defending the beauty of the county against poor-quality and inappropriate new developments.
There are 13 Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) in Kent and in many Local Plans have not been adopted.
This void in the planning framework has resulted in opportunistic and speculative applications (by companies such as Gladman Developments Ltd) seeking to exploit councils’ inability to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land.
The effect, already adverse, has been exacerbated by a recent change by the government to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) through publication of a revised version on February 19.
Key changes include an amendment to specify that 2014-based population projections will provide the demographic baseline for the standard method of calculating local housing need rather than the lower 2016-based household projections, which could be used as a reason to justify lower housing need.
This clarification followed the publication of a major revision of the NPPF on July 24, 2018, which, inter alia, clarified the definition of ‘deliverable’.
To be considered deliverable, sites for housing should be available now, offer a suitable location for development now and be achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years.
As a consequence, it may be harder for LPAs to provide a five-year housing-land supply, as for example Local Plan allocations cannot generally be used in the calculation, except where “clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years” exists.
The 2018 revision also introduced the Housing Delivery Test for LPAs, a failure in delivery of which kick-starts the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.
The first round of Housing Delivery Test results was published in February this year, with 108 councils falling short and 86 required to add more land for housing to Local Plans as a result.
For a number of authorities, this confirms the need to apply a 20 per cent buffer to their housing requirement, with potential ramifications for their ability to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply.
A result of these changes is that speculative applications will still be common practice in the future – and that is why CPRE Kent needs to keep building a strong presence to monitor and respond to inappropriate development proposals.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Setting up the planning system to fail

Here come the diggers!

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.

Wednesday, May 1, 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

New planning rule book: ‘a speculative developers’ charter’

CPRE has slammed the government’s revised planning rule book, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), as a “speculative developers’ charter”.
In a damning early critique, the organisation says the government has not fulfilled its promise to “build attractive and better-designed homes in areas where they are needed”.
Indeed, the document, published on Tuesday, July 24, continues to “favour the delivery of any development, rather than development that meets communities’ needs, respects the environment, and adheres to policies in the NPPF other than those which deal with housing delivery”.
CPRE’s main worry is the introduction, in November, of a ‘housing delivery test’, which sees councils further encouraged to set high housebuilding targets – the new policy has clearly been designed to enforce those targets.
The test will mean councils are penalised when housebuilders fail to deliver homes in their areas; the ‘punishment’ is the removal of local control over planning decisions.
This, of course, will leave countryside open to speculative development.
Other CPRE concerns include:

  • a failure to provide an effective brownfield-first policy
  • the continuing failure to support provision of affordable housing in rural areas
  • the discouragement of neighbourhood planning because of uncertainty over the validity of Local Plans older than two years

Matt Thomson, CPRE’s head of planning, said: “Rather than delivering ‘what communities want’, as it claims to promise, the new planning rulebook and its new ‘housing delivery test’ will result in almost all Local Plans becoming out of date within two years.
“It is a speculative developers’ charter and will lead to the death of the plan-led system.
“Without a Local Plan, councils and communities have little control over the location and type of developments that take place. Local communities’ needs are ignored and valued countryside [is] destroyed for no good reason.”
Despite its disappointment with the revised NPPF, CPRE applauds some positive moves within it. They include:

  • National Parks and AONBs reinstated as having the “highest status of protection”
  • Maintenance of Green Belt protections and an improved definition of “exceptional circumstances” for releasing land from Green Belts
  • Exclusion of National Parks, AONBs and Green Belts from the Entry Level Exceptions Sites policy
  • “Social housing” reinstated in the definition of affordable housing

Hilary Newport, director of CPRE Kent, said: “Unfortunately, the revised NPPF carries on a situation where too much of the power within our planning system lies with developers.
“The housing delivery test, for example, does nothing to restore the balance that’s needed so local planning authorities can direct the development that’s needed to the places it’s needed.”

  • For more on CPRE’s response to the revised NPPF, see here

    Friday, August 3, 2018

Blean greenfield site saved (for now) in High Court win over government

The land at Blean Common saved from development
(pic Canterbury City Council)

CPRE Kent welcomes the news that a greenfield site in east Kent has been saved, at least for the time being, after a High Court victory for the local authority over the government.
Canterbury City Council took the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to court after a planning inspector granted planning permission for 85 homes at Blean Common next to the Royal Oak pub.
The council’s planning committee had previously refused the application, but the applicant, Gladman Developments Ltd, appealed the decision.
During April’s subsequent court hearing, the council argued the inspector had misinterpreted policies in both its Local Plan at the time and the then-emerging Local Plan concerning development in the district and on greenfield land specifically.
And yesterday (Tuesday, June 26) in the High Court, Mr Justice Dove backed the council’s case, quashing the decision of the planning inspector, meaning the appeal must be redetermined by a different inspector.
Further, the Secretary of State was ordered to pay the council’s legal costs of £19,218. There is the right of appeal against the court’s decision.
The council had refused the planning application on grounds including the fact it was a sporadic form of development outside of the village area of Blean, would represent a harmful form of development in a rural location and was detrimental to the character and appearance of the surrounding rural environment in general.
Simon Thomas, the council’s head of planning, said: “It’s highly unusual for us to take the government to court in this way, but there were important issues at stake here.
“Our Local Plan has very clear policies on where we will allow development and on the protection of our precious countryside.
“The inspector misinterpreted these and reached a decision that we felt we had no option but to challenge on behalf of local residents.
“It is not the end for this specific planning application, though, as the Planning Inspectorate is now required to reconsider the appeal.”
Land agent Gladman has been involved in planning conflicts across the country, much of its approach entailing working at the minutiae of local authorities’ five-year land supply, arguing they are not providing the new housing required of them by central government.
Gladman does not build the homes itself. Rather, it seeks to win planning permission allowing developers to put up developments not planned for by local councils.
Unsurprisingly, this has led to disputes up and down the land, with many cases going to public inquiry.
The company’s website says: “Gladman is the UK’s most successful land promoter with an unrivalled success rate of over 90%…
“We have achieved planning permission for over 10,000 new homes and have secured planning permission on over 60 sites in the last year.”
The behaviour of speculative land agents is one of the most taxing issues facing local authorities and countryside campaigners today.
Tom Fyans, CPRE’s director of campaigns and policy, said: “We are deeply concerned at the stress and impact this sort of speculative behaviour is having on our countryside, wildlife and on rural communities – land promoters actively work against local wishes for the sake of their own profit.
“Changes must be made to close these loopholes in national planning policy to ensure the planning system drives developments that are needed and welcomed by local authorities.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Istead Rise campaigners win battle to save land for community

Rachel Westlake, Terry Annable and Roger Francis spoke on behalf of those who objected to the application

The threatened land at the junction of Weald Close and The Drove Way

A campaign supported by CPRE Kent against a contentious development in Istead Rise has won the day, with the local authority refusing planning permission for the scheme.
The plans for two bungalows at the junction of Weald Close and The Drove Way – in what is termed a soft landscape community asset site – were rejected unanimously by Gravesham Borough Council’s regulatory board.
The decision follows a battle by local residents supported by CPRE Kent that attracted some 160 people to public meetings. Posters, leaflets and social media were all used extensively during the campaign.
Alex Hills, CPRE Gravesham chairman, said after last month’s decision: “Huge thanks must go to the councillors for taking the time to read the lengthy reports and for listening to the views of the local residents.
“Also thanks to the planning officers who pulled together the reports and gathered the valid points held within the 108 objections received from local residents.
“This amount of objections is amazing for an application for two bungalows, where normally the most you would expect is around three to six objections.
“It showed the councillors very clearly how much people value the open spaces in their area.
“As a very experienced campaigner for CPRE Kent, it proves that people can make a difference if they stand together and put forward valid reasons in planning law why an application should be rejected.
“Everyone worked very hard on the campaign gathering information and leafleting the local community to raise awareness of this application.
“Special thanks must go to Terry Annable, Frank Booker and Rachel Westlake for being the central driving force of the campaign.
“The application raised the issue of the status, importance and protection that is given to open spaces within built-up areas all over Gravesham.
“There are some local policies in the Local Plan that protect these spaces and there is another that supports infill development.
“The application came about because there is no legal definition or definition in the Local Plan of what is or is not classed as infill development.
“If the application had been approved, every open space in Gravesham would have been under threat from developers.
“CPRE Kent supports infill development on land within built-up areas that is surplus to requirements or serves no purpose, but it has been proven that open spaces like that at Weald Close do serve an important and much-valued purpose.”

Monday, April 23, 2018

Permission for judicial review on Woodcut Farm is refused in High Court

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.”

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Inspector dismisses developer’s appeal against refusal of housing 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.”

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Now we wait for Brabourne Lees decision

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.

Friday, January 26, 2018

There’s a storm over Thanet… so the time is right for CPRE’s district committee to meet

There’s more to Thanet than Manston! This is Joss Bay, Broadstairs

These are tumultuous times in Thanet, following the district council’s rejection of its own draft Local Plan last week (Thursday, January 18).
The political fallout for the country’s only UKIP-led local authority has yet to settle, with the council leader under pressure to step aside, largely due to his stance over the future of the Manston airport site.
When, in October last year, the local authority cabinet approved a draft Local Plan that included an allocation of 2,500 houses at Manston, it appeared to be backing plans by owner Stone Hill Park Ltd for housing (the figure could rise to 4,000), business units and sporting facilities there.
However, last week at a meeting of full council 35 members voted it down and now adoption of a revised Plan is likely take anything up to 18 months.
The concern is that Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, will now step in, with his department imposing its own plan on Thanet, possibly including an increased housebuilding target – up from 857 a year (a total of 17,150 up to 2031) to 1,063 (more than 21,000) – if proposed new government methodology is accepted.
Meanwhile, would-be airport operator RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) says it has the plans and the funding in place for the site to be revived as a freight hub.
So… Manston and the Local Plan are certain to be discussed during tonight’s (Thursday, January 25) meeting of CPRE’s Thanet district committee at Monkton nature reserve, but they will not of course be the only issues covered.
Other topics on the agenda include heritage strategy, the government’s 25-year plan for the environment (A Green Future), planning applications and Neighbourhood Plan updates.
Tonight’s meeting is at Monkton nature reserve at 6pm.

You can read more on Manston and the Local Plan here and here
For CPRE Kent’s response to RSP’s Manston Consultation last year, see here

So what now for Manston? And for Thanet?

Manston… its future hangs in the balance

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…

For more on the Manston airport saga, see here

For CPRE Kent’s substantial response to RSP’s Manston Consultation last year, see here

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Government’s 25-year plan for our environment… what is the CPRE view?

Will Kent’s wild places be better protected as a result of the government’s 25-year plan? This is Westbere in the Stour valley (pic Richard Brooks)

The publication on Thursday last week (January 11) of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan met – as perhaps is the case with most things emanating from our political leaders – a mixed response.
It was difficult to argue against the principles it embraced and most commentators have broadly welcomed the plan, although it has been criticised for a lack of detail and commitment to concrete action.
To make up your own mind, you can read the 125-page document (or at least as much as you want to read!) here.
Just to give you an idea of the government’s stated intention, in the meantime, Prime Minister Theresa May says in the plan’s forward:
“Our natural environment is our most precious inheritance. The United Kingdom is blessed with a wonderful variety of natural landscapes and habitats and our 25 Year Environment Plan sets out our comprehensive and long-term approach to protecting and enhancing them in England for the next generation.
“Its goals are simple: cleaner air and water; plants and animals which are thriving; and a cleaner, greener country for us all. We have already taken huge strides to improve environmental protections, from banning microbeads which harm our marine life to improving the quality of the air we breathe to improving standards of animal welfare. This plan sets out the further action we will take.
“By using our land more sustainably and creating new habitats for wildlife, including by planting more trees, we can arrest the decline in native species and improve our biodiversity. By tackling the scourge of waste plastic we can make our oceans cleaner and healthier. Connecting more people with the environment will promote greater well-being. And by making the most of emerging technologies, we can build a cleaner, greener country and reap the economic rewards of the clean growth revolution.”
And Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, adds: “It is this Government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than we found it. We have made significant progress but there is much more to be done. The 25 Year Environment Plan that we have published today outlines the steps we propose to take to achieve our ambition.”
So what does CPRE make of it?
Belinda Gordon, our head of government and rural affairs, said: “The introduction of a 25-year Environment Plan is a fantastic commitment to long-term investment in the health, protection and enhancement of our countryside.
“We are delighted to see the Government taking measures to improve our National Parks, Green Belts and wider landscapes.
“However, despite the Government’s best intentions, we are concerned that the plan does not adequately address the growing development pressures on England’s countryside.
“England’s land is a finite resource – it is vital that we ensure we have a planning system that ensures the best use of land, while protecting our landscape and the wider natural environment.
“We look forward to working with the Government to make sure our planning system delivers what our communities and environment need.”
Belinda gives greater detail in her blog A vision for change here, in which she talks of “a sense of disappointment about lack of detail in some areas while some anticipated announcements were not in the final plan”.
We would be keen to know your views, so please feel free to get in touch with us via email, Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, January 15, 2018

CPRE Kent team stands up for Brabourne Lees at public inquiry

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.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Kent… so just how built-up is it?

Landscape is not always just about natural features…this is the Coldrum Long Barrow at Trottiscliffe (pic Walter Coultrip)

As most of us are all too aware, Kent is almost buckling under an onslaught of development proposals and we can but imagine the state of the county should many of them to pass.
But do you know how we fare compared with the rest of the region when it comes to our environment as it is now? If not, read on…
A study published last month (November) by the University of Sheffield and the BBC shows that, in a South East context, Kent is essentially average in terms of how much of our landscape has already been developed.
The analysis shows that 10.6% of the South East is developed, with the Kent figure being a shade lower, at 10.3%. Oxfordshire is the region’s greenest county, with just 7.2% of its landscape built upon.

The full South East league table places Kent at precisely halfway:

  • Oxfordshire 7.2%
  • Sussex 8.7%
  • Hampshire 10.2%
  • Kent 10.3%
  • Buckinghamshire 10.8%
  • Berkshire 16%
  • Surrey 17.2%

Back to Kent, and the least urbanised district is Ashford (5%) and the most urbanised Dartford (32%).

The full Kent league table is:

  • Ashford 5%
  • Tunbridge Wells 7%
  • Dover 8%
  • Maidstone 8%
  • Sevenoaks 8%
  • Shepway 8%
  • Swale 8%
  • Canterbury 9%
  • Tonbridge and Malling 14%
  • Gravesham 21%
  • Thanet 27%
  • Medway 28%
  • Dartford 32%

How might those figures look in 50 years’ time? Perhaps best not think about it…

Friday, December 22, 2017

Woodcut Farm: CPRE Kent will continue the fight

Woodcut Farm: the challenge goes on

CPRE Kent can confirm that we will be challenging part of Maidstone Borough Council’s Local Plan.
The decision was made after last night’s (Thursday, November 30) approval by the local authority of a scheme to develop almost 17 hectares of land at Woodcut Farm, near junction 8 of the M20.
We had asked in a pre-action protocol letter to the council that it delay making a decision on the planning application, by Roxhill Developments, stating our belief that inclusion of Woodcut Farm as a designated site for development in the Local Plan was unlawful.
More precisely, we were challenging the council’s allocation of 16.8 hectares for up to 49,000 square metres of “mixed employment floorspace” at the site:  Policy EMP 1(4) of the Plan.
The letter was lodged through our solicitor Richard Buxton, asking that the council’s planning committee did not debate the Woodcut Farm application  last night.
However, the committee went ahead with the debate and made the decision to approve the outline application by seven votes to five.
Richard Knox-Johnston, CPRE Kent vice-chairman, said: “Maidstone councillors were given legal advice that our letter was only a threat and not a legal challenge in itself.
“That advice was not correct and we believe the council was misinformed.
“As a result we will be proceeding with a legal challenge early next week.”
Christine Drury, our chairwoman, said: “CPRE Kent will never give up on the countryside.”

Friday, December 1, 2017