Scheme for thousands of new houses near Sittingbourne would have devastating impact on countryside (and it’s not even in the Local Plan)

A vast swathe of attractive landscape is threatened by the proposals (pic Paul Buckley)

We have objected to a vast housing scheme – effectively a new town – of more than 9,000 properties south-east of Sittingbourne.
Quinn Estates has submitted two outline planning applications for what is collectively being referred to as Highsted Park.
One comprises a scheme for 1,250 homes and other uses, including completion of the Sittingbourne Northern Relief Road, while the other is for 8,000 homes and other uses, including a new M2 junction south of the A2.
The application conflicts with the adopted Local Plan and we believe there are no material or exceptional considerations why the Plan should not be followed.
Among a range of issues, the site lies in countryside and within a designated Local Countryside Gap, while the proposed development would have a detrimental impact on the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an Area of High Landscape Value and ancient woodlands and Local Wildlife Sites.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Just why did Jenrick remove measures to cut carbon emissions at Swale development that sparked ‘Cash for favours’ headline?

Build, build, build! And who cares about carbon emissions anyway?

The UK government reaffirmed its commitment to the ‘net-zero by 2050’ emissions target within the Queen’s Speech on May 11.
While to many, the net-zero by 2050 target does not go far enough, to achieve even this clearly requires action now.
It certainly requires action by 2028. Especially in a borough where there is a local net-zero emissions target of 2030.
Therefore, CPRE Kent was extremely disappointed by the decision by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to remove measures intended to reduce carbon emissions when approving the Quinn Estates proposal for 675 houses at Wises Lane, Sittingbourne – a development that had already sparked a ‘Cash for favours’ headline.
This is even more disappointing when you consider that in doing so he has overridden the planning judgment of both Swale Borough Council and the Planning Inspectorate, both of whom had the benefit of actually hearing the evidence at the inquiry. This is compounded further by the fact the full net-zero carbon emissions measures were not even being sought until 2028 at the earliest.
While the proposed development at Wise Lanes has a long and complicated background, the facts regarding the carbon emissions point are as follows: 

  • Swale Borough Council took the position that if the Wises Lane development was to be approved, it wanted to see planning conditions imposed that reduced carbon emissions. This was to be on a tapered basis, culminating in a zero-carbon requirement on any new houses where details were to be agreed after 2028.  This was deemed necessary to meet the Swale 2030 carbon-neutrality target locally and the national target of 2050.
  • Although the Planning Inspectorate allowed the appeal, it agreed the conditions setting the path to net-zero emission should be applied. Specifically, it reasoned:   
    “The planning regime has a role to play and cannot leave climate change to other regimes to deal with, particularly when those regimes have not kept pace with the requirement to take urgent and material action.
    The scale and urgency of the climate change emergency is such that it would constitute a material consideration of significant weight to support the imposition of conditions to mitigate the impact of the development.”

  • As this was a ‘called-in’ appeal, Mr Jenrick had the last say on the matter. In very simple terms, this meant he got to review the written evidence, including the planning inspector’s report and then issue a final decision on the matter.
  • While Mr Jenrick agreed with the planning inspector on most issues, he directed that the conditions setting the path to net-zero emission be removed. The stated reasoning was as follows:
    Notwithstanding the high-level national commitment to carbon neutrality, and the significant weight attaching to tackling climate change, these conditions also go beyond current and emerging national policy. He therefore considers that the proposed conditions cannot be said to be either reasonable or necessary.”

While the ins and the outs of such a position in technical planning law could be debated, ultimately this was a matter of planning judgment on which the Secretary of State had a clear choice.
He could have accepted Swale Borough Council’s and the planning inspector’s position and let the conditions stand. These might not have been perfect, though at least would have provided a hook within the decision which could have been amended in the future by way of a variation of condition application should national policy change.
Or he could have accepted the applicant’s position that, as we cannot predict which policies might apply in the future, the only option is to do nothing now.
By taking the latter position, he is likely to have handed the developer huge cost savings, though without reviewing the viability evidence up-front. This is on a scheme where a much lower than policy-compliant affordable-housing provision had been agreed. While the legal agreement does allow for this to be reviewed once 400 houses have been built, the need for affordable housing in Swale is now.
There is, however, no option to review the net-zero-emission conditions.  
There were a number of seemingly positive climate and environment soundbites within the Queen’s Speech. However, the position taken by the Secretary of State at Wises Lane raises serious questions as to just how genuine the government is about tackling these issues and indeed where priorities actually lie.  
Saying is the easy part, it is the doing that matters!

  • The full decision can be read here
  • To read more on this story, click here

Thursday, May 20, 2021

As Swale Local Plan is pushed forward with unseemly haste, it is critical you make your views known

When Swale Borough Council confirmed it was to skip consultation on its Local Plan and go straight to a final version, CPRE Kent raised serious doubts about the legality and soundness of the Plan.
As we near the end of the one and only opportunity to comment on the council’s final version of the Plan, it remains that:

  • A number of important documents, for example a rigorous transport plan and a finalised air-quality assessment have yet to emerge. The latter is critical given that allocations at Teynham will feed extra traffic into AQMAs.
  • There seems to be no coherent plan for infrastructure delivery – a key component of the plan given the allocations being proposed near the already crowded junction 7.
  • There seems to have been little or no cooperation with neighbouring boroughs or even parish councils within Swale itself.

The removal of a second consultation might have been understandable if this final version of the Plan were similar to that being talked about at the beginning of the consultation process. It is, however, radically in the following ways:

  • There has been a major shift in the balance of housing allocations, away from the west of the borough over to the east, especially around the historic town of Faversham. This is a move that raises many concerns.
  • A new large allocation, with accompanying A2 bypass, has appeared around Teynham and Lynsted, to which we are objecting
  • Housing allocations in the AONB around Neames Forstal that were judged “unsuitable” by the council’s own officers have now appeared as part of the housing numbers
  • Most of the housing allocations being proposed are on greenfield sites, many of them on Grade 1 agricultural land – a point to which we are strongly objecting

The haste with which the Plan is being prepared is especially worrying given the concentration of housing in Faversham. If the town is to take a large amount of new housing, it is imperative that the policies concerning the area are carefully worked out to preserve, as far as possible, the unique nature of the town. The rush to submit the Plan is likely to prove detrimental.
As Swale does not have a five-year land housing supply, it is open to speculative development proposals, many of which would run counter to the ideas contained in the current Plan. Some are already appearing. This is a common situation, and one that, doubtless, is a reason behind Swale’s haste.
Our overriding fear, however, is that this emphasis on haste is ultimately going to prove counterproductive. This is because it is our view that the Plan, in its current form, is unlikely to pass independent examination. We are urging Swale to listen to and act upon the comments being made about the plan and to return the plan to the council with appropriate modifications before submitting it to the Secretary of State.
Essentially, this means treating the current consultation not as the final one but as the ‘lost’ second consultation.
The consultation ends on Friday (April 30) and we would strongly urge residents to make their opinions known if they have not already done so. 

  • For more on the Swale Local Plan, see here
  • CPRE Kent’s detailed comments on the Plan can be found here
  • The council’s consultation document can be found here

Monday, April 26, 2021

Swale Local Plan: have your say now!

After last week’s full council vote, the Swale Local Plan is now out for consultation.
Residents and other interested parties have until Tuesday, March 23, to submit their comments.
CPRE Kent and others have cautioned against going to this formal stage of consultation without undertaking the Draft Issues and Options consultation that had previously been promised.
It remains an overriding concern that this decision may inadvertently delay the Plan, either by hostile third-party challenge or through failure of the legal and procedural test at the Local Plan examination. The latter happened recently with the Tonbridge and Malling and Sevenoaks Local Plans.
Of course, a delayed Plan means a greater risk of speculative applications in the meantime.
These fears are compounded by the lack of the necessary evidence base to inform this consultation, most notably the absence of the required Sustainability Appraisal.
It is extremely concerning that a decision to go to consultation has been made before this important work has been finalised. We would urge Swale Borough Council to ensure the required six weeks is available to consider this evidence once it is completed.
More generally, CPRE Kent will be considering the detail of Swale’s Plan and supporting evidence over the coming weeks. Our early concerns, however, include:

  • The lack of meaningful consultation undertaken so far. This is particularly the case for the development now being proposed at Teynham and Lynsted
  • The lack of traffic modelling. This is a significant evidential requirement that goes to the heart of the soundness of the Plan and runs across many separate issues. The need and importance of such evidence is clearly set out in planning guidance
  • The uncertainty as to what infrastructure is required to deliver the Plan. Most notably, this includes whether a bypass at Teynham is required and the extent of improvement at junctions 5 and 7 of the M2
  • The chosen distribution of development leading to a worsening of air quality in the borough’s Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs)
  • The coalescence of the two contrasting parish settlements of rural Lynsted and more urbanised Teynham.

This list is not exhaustive and represents our initial views only. We would, however, strongly encourage all of you who care for the future of Swale to consider carefully the proposals and make your opinions known.
The consultation document can be found here

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Swale Local Plan: consultation begins within days

Further to yesterday’s story on discussions over the Swale Local Plan, borough councillors voted 30-17 last night (Wednesday, February 3) that pre-submission draft consultation should begin on Monday (February 8) for a statutory six-week period.
An amendment to the Plan was agreed to permit inclusion of the Quinn Estates scheme for 675 new houses at Wises Lane, Borden, should it be granted at appeal.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Swale – why the rush?

Tonight (Wednesday, February 3), Swale councillors will be voting on where 22,814 houses are going to built in the borough. They also need to find 56 hectares of employment space, which includes 15 hectares of office space, and the infrastructure to support this. As part of the package, a new relief road for the section of the A2 through Teynham is in the frame.
With such a monumental decision to be made, you would rightly expect this to be the cumulation of an iterative process informed by robust community engagement.
Well, the only meaningful community engagement occurred back in the spring of 2018 and simply involved a high-level discussion on the issues and options facing Swale.
In any event, it appears these comments were ignored, with the chairman of the Local Plan Panel informing the panel on January 19, 2021:
“I think it is fair to say that when the new administration took over in 2019 the Local Plan team had to work to a radically different strategy. Meaning that much of the work they had done for the previous year didn’t really contribute much to this, to the direction that the new administration went.”
More significantly, a promised further consultation to include the council’s preferred sites to inform the final version of the Plan to be submitted has conveniently been sidestepped. Instead, Swale residents are to be presented with this final version as a fait accompli. It is being left to the Planning Inspectorate to make any changes.
As it is, Swale councillors have been given less than a week to familiarise themselves with this Plan, along with 12 separate reports totalling some 1,193 pages. No mean feat, though arguably impossible when you realise much of the evidence to back up the “radically different strategy” (as the Local Plan Panel’s chairman called it) is incomplete or still a work in progress.
This incomplete work includes concept diagrams yet to be provided and, crucially, vital transport modelling that is not anticipated until “Spring 2021”.
This urgency was blamed on a proposed increase in the numbers of houses the government might require Swale to build. This increase is now not happening. There are, however, likely to be changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, currently out to consultation, that this Plan is likely to need to take account of.
Swale councillors are reminded that the Local Plan must be prepared in accordance with the council’s latest Local Development Scheme and that consultation must be carried out in accordance with the council’s Statement of Community Involvement.
It is CPRE Kent’s view that the 2018 versions of these documents created a legitimate expectation that there would be a Regulation 18 Draft Preferred Option Public consultation stage on which to comment – not least as this is what the council said would happen.
To be voting to approve a Plan without this additional consultation is at best foolhardy.
To be voting on a Plan without this additional consultation and that is not yet finished is positively irrational.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Pond Farm: now we wait

CPRE Kent was involved in Wednesday’s Court of Appeal hearing (pic BBC)

We hope to hear soon the outcome of Wednesday’s (May 8) Court of Appeal hearing of Gladman Developments Ltd’s Pond Farm challenge.
The decision is viewed as hugely important in the battle to have air quality considered fully in planning policy.
CPRE Kent was at the court last week as an Interested Party supporting the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government’s renewed defence of an inspector’s dismissal of two linked appeals made by the developer.
They had been made by Gladman against Swale Borough Council’s non-determination of planning permission for a housing scheme at Pond Farm, Newington.
To give you the backdrop to events, back in November 2017 the High Court dismissal of Gladman’s appeals against an earlier planning decision represented the first instance of air quality proving a critical factor in such a judgment. CPRE Kent had given evidence in that hearing.
The saga had begun with the council’s rejection of Gladman’s plans for up to 330 homes and 60 residential and care units at Pond Farm on the grounds of harm to the landscape and increased air pollution, the latter factor relating specifically to the impact on the council’s Air Quality Management Areas at Newington and Rainham.
Gladman subsequently challenged that decision, but the Secretary of State’s inspector dismissed both of its appeals because of “the substantial harm that the appeal proposals would cause to the character of a valued landscape and their likely significant adverse effect on human health”.
Not content with that, Gladman then contested that dismissal on the grounds of the inspector’s treatment of future air quality and mitigation; the decision in relation to the Newington air quality action plan; and the decision’s claimed conflict with the emerging development plan for the village.
And (in November 2017) Mr Justice Supperstone of the High Court ruled that none of Gladman’s grounds of appeal had succeeded and dismissed its latest challenge.
However, Gladman subsequently won permission to take its case to the Court of Appeal, hence Wednesday’s hearing.

Pond Farm: the story so far…

  • Swale Borough Council refuses Gladman planning permission for 330 homes and 60 residential and care units
  • Gladman makes two linked appeals against council’s refusal
  • Planning inspector dismisses both Gladman appeals
  • Gladman challenges inspector’s dismissal of its appeals
  • Gladman challenge is dismissed in High Court
  • Gladman takes case to Court of Appeal
  • Court of Appeal case heard on Wednesday

Monday, May 13, 2019

Pond Farm… here we go again

Pond Farm…back in the firing line (pic Vicky Ellis)

You might be getting used to long-running planning battles that can seem to become mired in near-unfathomable legal complexity.
One such is the battle for Pond Farm at Newington, which is due to re-emerge at the Court of Appeal next week.
Back in November 2017, the dismissal in the High Court of a developer’s appeal against an earlier planning decision represented the first instance of air quality proving a critical factor in such a judgment.
CPRE Kent had been in the High Court giving evidence as the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government defended a planning inspector’s dismissal of two linked appeals made by Gladman Developments Ltd against Swale Borough Council’s refusal of planning permission for its scheme at Pond Farm.
The saga had begun with the council’s rejection of Gladman’s plans for up to 330 homes and 60 residential and care units at Pond Farm on the grounds of harm to the landscape and increased air pollution, the latter factor relating specifically to the impact on the council’s Air Quality Management Areas at Newington and Rainham.
Gladman subsequently challenged that decision, but the Secretary of State’s inspector dismissed both of its appeals because of “the substantial harm that the appeal proposals would cause to the character of a valued landscape and their likely significant adverse effect on human health”.
Not content with that, Gladman then contested that dismissal on the grounds of the inspector’s treatment of future air quality and mitigation; the decision in relation to the Newington air quality action plan; and the decision’s claimed conflict with the emerging development plan for the village.
And (in November 2017) Mr Justice Supperstone of the High Court ruled that none of Gladman’s grounds of appeal had succeeded and dismissed its latest challenge.
However… Gladman subsequently won permission to take its case to the Court of Appeal and it is due to be heard next week on either Wednesday 8 or Thursday 9, May.
CPRE Kent will be involved as an Interested Party supporting the Secretary of State’s position.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Plans are back for a bigger Kent Science Park… oh, and 11,000 houses

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 montybon1@aol.com or FPOG through its website.”
Here we go again…

Friday, January 5, 2018