Our stolen night skies

The orange mushroom cloud of Thanet Earth blights much of the east Kent night sky (pic Craig Solly)

Light pollution is an acknowledged blight on both the rural and the urban environment, but perhaps less known is its detrimental effect on wildlife and even our own health. Vicky Ellis investigates.

We humans seem preconditioned to take rather than give back – perhaps nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to nature and our dark skies.
Dark skies are more than just pretty stars in the sky or moonlit trees on a clear night. As romantic as that sounds, the darkness we inexplicably try so hard to flood out is vital for not just our health and well-being but also the health and well-being of flora and fauna.
As more and more housing is built, along with ancillary infrastructure, the more street lighting, outside lighting, security lighting and garden lighting goes up, with little or no regard for the damage caused to our ecosystems that rely on darkness for their very survival.
Why are dark nights so fundamental? This article hopefully goes some way to explaining how important dark nights are and why they should be protected, embraced and treasured.
The night sky with its wondrous stars and moon are part of our heritage. It belongs to no one and everyone at the same time. There is not one person alive who has right over our night sky and not one person who has the right to rob the joys of the night sky from anyone else. It should be our fundamental right to see, enjoy and benefit from the darkness and the tranquillity it generates.

Health

Over billions of years, life on Earth has evolved to rely on the rhythmic cycle of night and day to govern our physiology. It’s part of nature’s DNA and therefore part of our DNA. Science is now uncovering the deadly effect light pollution has on our flora and fauna, from birds, amphibians, mammals, insects and plants to our own health and well-being.
The process behind these circadian rhythms is initiated by photons signalling via the retina a tiny part of the brain responsible for the secretion of melatonin.
Melatonin begins to increase at dusk and peaks around midnight, relinquishing a cascade of chemical signals responsible for the regulation of sleep and wake cycles, body temperature, metabolism and appetite.
Leptin is one of these hormones. Sometimes referred to as the ‘hunger hormone’, it is released primarily from fat cells and ironically contributes to the regulation of body weight, curbing appetite while we sleep. According to epidemiologist Dr Richard Stevens from the University of Connecticut, who has studied links between ALAN (artificial light at night) and human health, one theory as to why it’s important our appetite is suppressed during the night is because ‘back in the day’ foraging for food when it’s dark would have been a high-risk strategy resulting in the likelihood of us becoming food.
All ALAN, be it computer screens, streetlights shining through windows or indoor and outside lights, interfere with circadian rhythms to varying degrees by interrupting regulation of melatonin. Obesity is one consequence among many and is linked to low levels of leptin.
Other studies have found a strong correlation between low melatonin levels and disrupted circadian cycles with heart disease, diabetes, depression and cancer – particularly breast cancer.
Further studies implicate ALAN as having a negative psychological impact on health. On the other hand, Dacher Keltner, a psychologist from the University of California, claims that observing stars rotating gently above our heads creates a feeling of awe and amazement that can elicit a sense of positivity.

Blinded by the light: this illumination on a retirement estate near Faversham can be seen for miles around (pic Vicky Ellis)

Ecology

Nocturnal animals, which sleep during the day and come out at night, have their natural rhythm drastically disrupted when their night-time environment is destroyed by ALAN. Predators use light to hunt, while prey species utilise darkness to stay safe and other fauna use night-time features to navigate. When affecting ecology, ALAN is sometimes referred to as ‘ecological light pollution’ and can affect nature down to the tiniest organism. Spiders, for instance, will seek out light sources to spin their webs as insects are attracted to the light, so it makes sense to exploit this to their advantage. The same can be said of bats feeding on moths.
However, this disruption in predator-prey balance can result in crashes in prey populations, as we are witnessing now with insects, especially flying insects. While it is unlikely that ALAN is the sole driver of our insect population crash, it is a contributing factor.
ALAN is just one more avoidable man-made negative that affects nature’s natural balance. Nocturnal insects such as moths navigate at night. ALAN can severely inhibit this ability to navigate, interfering with reproductive success. Artificial light sends moths into a frenzy around the light source, which often results in them either being picked off by predators or dying from exhaustion. Flowers that bloom at night rely on moths for pollination. If there is no other night-time pollinator not affected by light pollution, the plant will be unable to reproduce, drastically altering the local ecosystem with sometimes disastrous consequences.
Many will have heard birds singing at night in an illuminated tree, something that makes us feel uncomfortable because we know it is not right.
Other fauna negatively affected include frogs that use a light-dependent compass to find their way at night, using this light to find their way to breeding ponds. Studies have shown ALAN to also cause developmental deformities such as retinal damage, impeded juvenile development, premature metamorphosis, reduced sperm production and genetic mutation.
Frogs croak at night under cover of darkness during their mating season. ALAN can disrupt this, interfering in successful reproduction and negatively affecting population numbers.
Light and glare from ALAN can have a devastating effect on wetlands, home to amphibians such as frogs and toads and migratory birds. Migratory birds often navigate at night using the moon and stars. ALAN can trick these birds into deviating from their migratory routes, sometimes with fatal consequences. Irresponsibly-lit tall buildings in cities around the world draw these doomed birds, which then collide with them.
Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) in America states that brightly-lit tower blocks in Toronto could be responsible for tens of thousands of bird fatalities a year.
The volume of flora and fauna negatively affected by ALAN is so far-reaching that it would be impossible to list each species, but they range across the spectrum to include such animals as turtle hatchlings, some of which turn the wrong way at night. Instead of heading for the moonlit ocean, tragically they are drawn to the bright lights of towns and roads.

Whether in town or country, many can’t escape the light pollution of Thanet Earth (pic Craig Solly)

Crime and safety

We often hear people panic at the mere suggestion streetlights are turned off after hours, citing safety as a primary reason. Others are that streetlights make people ‘feel’ safer and that the accident rate might increase ‘tenfold’ if street lighting is removed, either in towns or on dual carriageways, and crime rates will soar. It may come as a surprise, but these perceptions are not backed by science or fact, and in some cases, it is quite the opposite: street lighting can do more harm than good when it comes to crime and safety.
Many people reside in the countryside with no street lighting for miles and manage to survive quite adequately, avoiding being run over, burgled or attacked, while cars do not suddenly lose control when no streetlight is on.
A number of studies make the same findings, but two major papers draw similar conclusions:
The first study found, in summary, the following results:

  • Switch-off (permanently turning off streetlights) was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions or crime
  • Part-night lighting (for example streetlights switched off between midnight and 6am) was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions or crime
  • Replacing conventional yellow lighting with white light was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions and was associated with a reduction in crime, though estimates were imprecise
  • Dimming of conventional yellow light or white light was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions and was associated with a reduction in crime, though estimates were imprecise

It concluded that turning off streetlights resulted in “little evidence of harmful effects… on road collisions or crime in England and Wales” and “found no evidence for an increase in collisions where street lighting was reduced at night”.
The second study of reviewed literature concluded: “In the light of these findings it can be considered highly unlikely that the Cambridgeshire part-night lighting scheme will cause an increase in crime.”
What are the figures for rural crime, where few or no streetlights occur, as opposed to towns, often heavily peppered with streetlights?
According to statistics from the Office for National Statistics 2018-19 crime and justice bulletin, the rate of violence against any one individual was 20.2 per 1,000 population in mainly rural areas compared with 29.5 per 1,000 population in mainly urban areas.
For sexual offences the rural figure was 2.2 per 1,000 against 2.8 per 1,000 urban areas and the rate for recorded crime was also lower in rural areas than urban areas, for example robbery, domestic burglary and vehicle offences. The figures here were 4.3 per 1,000 population (rural) versus 9.5 per 1,000 in urban areas.
There is of course more reason for these figures than just a lack of streetlighting in rural areas, but these figures may tell us that streetlighting does not seem to have any influence on keeping people safe at night.

Pollution

It has been found that ALAN can increase atmospheric pollution negatively, affecting the air we breathe. A recent study presented by Harald Stark from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that ALAN destroyed nitrate radicals and in so doing prevented the natural night-time reduction of atmospheric smog produced by fumes generated from cars and factories.
Every night the nitrate radical NO3, which is destroyed by sunlight, builds up during the night, neutralising some of the nitrogen oxides (NOx), which pollute the air during daylight hours, leading to increased levels of ozone (O3), which can cause breathing difficulties.
Further research, cited by Kelly Beatty in her article Night Lights Worsen Smog, claims to show that this clean-up is inhibited due to nitrate radicals being destroyed by vertical night-time light-glow spillage emanating from outside lighting on the ground.
Astronomers who study the night sky are particularly sensitive to even the lowest levels of light pollution. Indeed, skyglow can destroy their chances of studying the night sky completely.

… and this is what we’re missing (pic Bob Mizon)

How can we reduce the impact of ALAN?

Of course, the one preferred default is no light at all. However, the type of bulb you use can have a huge impact on how many insects are attracted, especially winged insects.
It is recommended that we use warm-coloured LED bulbs for outside lighting and avoid white LED sources. A study by Michael Justin from the University of North Carolina found incandescent light bulbs were attracted the highest number of insects, followed by CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps), halogen globes and cool-coloured (such as blue) LEDs.
The second-best light was the ‘bug light’ and surprisingly the winner, with the fewest insects attracted, was the warm LED bulb.
We can use light fittings that angle the light down where it is needed and do not allow the light to flood out across fields and into the night sky. As pretty as that lantern is, it’s not night-friendly. Further, lighting need be kept on only when necessary – we can turn it off once in bed or when our visitors have left. These are only small gestures in the great scheme of things, but if everyone did this it would collectively make a huge difference. Who knows, we might even get back our night sky and nature can begin to slowly mend.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Can we allow this popular cliff-top walk to be ruined by bungalow estate?

Pegwell Bay and the surrounding area attracts walkers from far and wide (pic Vicky Ellis)

The walk from Pegwell village along the cliff-top towards Pegwell Bay is enjoyed by locals, visitors and ramblers alike – but its setting will be ruined if a bungalow estate at the start of the footpath is granted permission.
A developer is looking to build the six bungalows on the edge of the village, which would of course itself suffer from the plans should they be approved by Thanet District Council.
Pegwell and District Association – a member of CPRE Kent – is objecting strongly to the application and inviting all concerned by the proposal to make representation by Thursday, September 17.
The application number is OL/TH/20/0564
The association is objecting to the application on the following grounds:

  • The planned scheme is totally incompatible with the rural nature of Pegwell village and its cliff-top setting – a designated conservation area.
  • The application seeks to widen the public footpath TR15 to create access to the proposed development. This is wholly inappropriate for this popular track that forms part of the England Coast Path and the Contra Trail, which is extremely popular with local people, walkers and visitors alike.
  • The loss of hedgerow that would be entailed in the planned widening of the footpath noted above is not acceptable. Hedgerows are a scarce feature in Thanet and home to a tremendous amount of wildlife.
  • The building of the bungalows would result in the loss of high-quality agricultural land, although note the observation below on an earlier planning application (OL/TH/20/0876).
  • The proposed development abuts the Thanet Coast Special Area of Conservation and is unacceptably close to Sandwich and Pegwell Bay NNR –Kent’s largest National Nature Reserve – and the Thanet Coast Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
  • The planned road entrance would be an obvious safety hazard to road- users and pedestrians alike.
  • The proposed access route would necessitate the loss of hedgerow between the site and Pegwell Road – see observation on hedgerows above.

If you would like to make a representation, visit https://planning.thanet.gov.uk/online-applications and search OL/TH/20/0564

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

£34 million on a new station that will increase journey time from Thanet to London: a ‘robust business case’… apparently

This is what a (£34 million) white elephant looks like

Sometimes a planning decision leaves you struggling for words – and that by Kent County Council’s planning committee to approve a parkway station that will increase journey times from Thanet to London certainly hits the spot.
Councillors decided by eight votes to five to approve the £34 million Thanet Parkway project, choosing to put aside a Department for Transport statement from 2018 that its panel was “concerned that accommodating an additional stop at Thanet Parkway would add two minutes to the journey on the line between Ashford and Ramsgate”.
The county council argument has been that the station will in fact cut journey times to London by three minutes – yes, you read that correctly: three minutes – although it is by no means clear how even that laughably small reductionwill be achieved.
Extraordinarily, Thanet now has eight railway stations.
The committee made its decision in a virtual public meeting on Wednesday, September 2.   
It is telling that committee members representing Thanet all voted against the scheme regardless of their party affiliation – but what do they know?
Clearly the statement by Sharon Thompson, the county council’s head of planning applications, that “We are confident the business case is robust” carried more weight, despite a lack of supporting evidence.   
KentOnline reported how committee vice-chairman Dick Pascoe dismissed the idea that Thanet would be oversupplied with train stations by talking about Chinese restaurants: “A Chinese restaurant wanted to open in a Kent area where there were several Chinese restaurants and we did not say no,” he apparently said.
How £34 million for a scheme that will increase journey times represents a robust business case is something you might like to ponder over your evening Horlicks. As for the Chinese restaurants thing, perhaps it’s best not to think about it.
For more on this baffling decision, click here    

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Thanet Parkway railway station: is this the most expensive white elephant we’ve spotted for a while?

Early impressions of a Thanet Parkway station

Just weeks after the announcement that Kent County Council was facing the biggest financial crisis in its history, its officers are recommending that a £34 million Thanet Parkway railway station be approved.
The officers claim the development of the station will enable journey times from Thanet to London to be cut by three minutes… and yes, that is put forward as a positive.
KCC planning committee is to decide on the scheme during a virtual public meeting on Wednesday, September 2, from 10am.
Just to clarify a little background to that impending decision: a cost of £34 million (the initial estimate was £11 million), the loss of some 23 acres of high-quality farmland, no permanent station staff and no commercial bus services… all for a saving of three minutes’ journey time.
And even that alleged saving is very much up for debate. A damning Department for Transport statement from 2018 said its panel was “concerned that accommodating an additional stop at Thanet Parkway would add two minutes to the journey on the line between Ashford and Ramsgate.”
So the time-saving from Thanet to London is, in truth, down to one minute, while the journey from Ramsgate to Ashford, for example, would actually take longer!
Then factor in the added driving time for travellers using the Parkway rather than existing stations such as Margate and Ramsgate (and the resulting congestion) and it’s difficult to see any benefit to this scheme at all.
South East Local Enterprise Partnership has granted £14 million towards it, the government £12m and Thanet District Council some £2m. That leaves some £6m for the county council to pay.
It is reported that KCC could have to make up to £130 million savings… Thanet Parkway station might be a very good place to start.

  • To read more about the (very expensive) Thanet Parkway white elephant, click here

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Wind farm plan stopped in its tracks

Alok Sharma refused a Development Consent Order for the Thanet Extension Offshore Wind Farm (pic Vattenfall)

Proposals for a new wind farm off the east Kent coast have been blocked.
Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has refused a Development Consent Order for Vattenfall’s scheme for the 34-turbine Thanet Extension Offshore Wind Farm.
The developer said the new wind farm, which would have incorporated larger turbines than those already sited around much of the county’s coast, could have more than doubled the capacity of the existing 100-turbine Thanet Offshore Wind Farm.
The refusal, announced in June, centred on a potentially negative effect on the development of ports, as well as the new wind farm causing a maritime navigation risk.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

‘Shocking’: CPRE Kent director responds to decision to grant Manston airport DCO

Manston: flying again in 2023… maybe

A developer has been granted consent to reopen Manston airport as a freight hub – a move described as shocking by the director of CPRE Kent.
After two postponements of the decision, in January and May, the Department for Transport finally announced today (Thursday, July 9) that the RiverOak Strategic Partners scheme to reopen the airport six years after it closed was being granted a Development Consent Order.
RSP says it will be investing £300 million in the scheme, which it claims will create up to 6,000 jobs at Manston. The developer predicts the reopened airport will be operational from 2023 and able to handle at least 10,000 freight movements a year.
The decision effectively dismisses the conclusions of the four-man Planning Inspectorate’s Examining Authority, which had been clear that the DCO should not be granted.
Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said: “It is shocking that four inspectors spent some nine months preparing a report and concluded very strongly that the DCO should be refused.
“The developer was not able to demonstrate need, there were adverse impacts on traffic and transport and there were concerns over noise pollution.
“Most importantly, though, the Examining Authority recommended the Secretary of State refuse the DCO due to conservation of habitats and species regulations.
“In short, the inspectors’ conclusions were ignored.
“This decision flies in the face of the Heathrow third-runway judgement where the Court of Appeal ruled that proposals had failed to consider this country’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions.”
Although by law the Manston decision had to be made in the name of Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, the DfT said Mr Shapps had “not personally been involved in this decision because of a conflict of interest, following previous statements of support made prior to his appointment as the Secretary of State for Transport” and the decision had “in practice been allocated to and taken by the Minister of State for Transport, Andrew Stephenson”.
Sir Roger Gale, MP for Thanet North, told the BBC’s South East Today: “The new airport, when it opens, will be the most environmentally-friendly airport in the world – it will beat Helsinki by a country mile. It’s going to be net-zero carbon – we’re going to be proud of it.”
The same programme reported that RSP had said there would be five flights an hour – but no night flights.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

No brownfield survey, no idea where the jobs will come from, no protection for farmland… is there anything good about Thanet’s draft Local Plan?

Light at the end of the Thanet tunnel? Not really…

Thanet CPRE has given a damning response to the news that the district’s draft Local Plan has an ‘appropriate basis’ to be adopted.
Two government inspectors included a list of modifications, and a requirement that the Plan be reviewed within six months of adoption, but indicated that Thanet had a Plan that could finally be taken forward.
One of its most contentious features was the provision for at least 17,140 new homes up to 2031.
Geoff Orton, Thanet CPRE secretary, said: “We remain concerned that there has been no survey of the potential for utilising brownfield opportunities, especially now that the current crisis has underlined the ‘online march’ even more emphatically to the detriment of retail premises, including car parks.
“Thanet District Council did tell the inspector that ‘invading the green’ was a last resort.
“We remain unconvinced that there will be sufficient employment to justify the housing figures and remain concerned that the Plan is oblivious to the real needs of the population for affordable social renting.
“And of course we are surprised that the highest accord is not given to the preservation of first-class agricultural land as a national food security resource.
“The Local Plan is hardly local and completely out of date, and will only compound traffic congestion if it ever gets implemented.”

  • For more on this story, see here

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Thanet loses an environmental champion as Eileen Randall passes away

Eileen and Oggle the goose, Christmas 1980

Eileen Randall, one of Pegwell’s greatest environmental champions, has died at the age of 90.
Eileen was one of the founder members of the Pegwell & District Association, set up in 1987 in response to plans for a railway line running through the bay and West Cliff foreshore to Ramsgate harbour.
That scheme was defeated, as was a proposal for a road that would effectively have destroyed the bay’s fragile environment. If it had not been for Eileen and her friends in the association, Pegwell would be a very different place to what it is today and we have so much for which to thank her.
Her cliff-top home, Driftwood, which she shared with husband Derek until he passed away in 2015, served as both centre of operations for the association – a CPRE member – and venue for parties and summer fairs as its flourishing social scene developed.
Eileen’s health prevented her being involved with the association in later years, but her love of Pegwell never waned.
She passed on Monday, April 27, and leaves behind sons Christopher and Julian.

  • For a deeper appreciation of Eileen and her efforts to protect Pegwell, see here

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Thanet finally sees a Local Plan on the horizon… and an awful lot more housing

Manston airport is to be safeguarded for aviation-related uses

Thanet might be close to having a Local Plan.
A seemingly interminable saga (see here, herehere, herehere and here) appears to be nearing a conclusion, with the two inspectors examining the draft Local Plan informing Thanet District Council on March 23 that the document has an ‘appropriate basis’ to be adopted as long as a list of modifications is included.
There is also a requirement that the Plan be reviewed within six months of adoption.
The inspectors’ report has now to be considered by full council, with adoption anticipated by summer, depending in part on the Covid-19 lockdown.
The Plan, which covers the period to 2031, was submitted for examination on October 30, 2018, with public hearings held between April 2 and July 18 last year.
The Report and the recommended Main Modifications to make the Plan ‘sound’ can be viewed on the council’s website. Social-distancing restrictions mean no paper copies of the document are available for inspection at Thanet Gateway, but it can be viewed online.
One of the most contentious features of the draft Plan has been housing numbers and this makes provision for at least 17,140 new homes up to 2031.
Manston airport is to be safeguarded for airport-related uses, with future use and development at the site to be determined through early review of the Plan.
The recommended main modifications all concern matters discussed at the examination hearings.
After the hearings, the council prepared a schedule of the proposed main modifications and where necessary carried out a sustainability appraisal of them. The main modifications were subject to public consultation from December 11 last year to January 27, 2020.
After considering the representations made on the proposed main modifications, the inspectors have recommended that these be included.

In summary they are:

  • Introduce new Policy SP01a, which supports the principle of development in the urban area and designated villages
  • Introduce new Policy SP01b, which requires the council to complete a review of the Plan within six months of adoption
  • Modify the stepped housing requirement in Policy SP11
  • Clarify which sites are allocated for residential development in the urban Area (Policy HO1) and the rural settlements (Policy HO11)
  • Modify the development principles for strategic housing sites and include land at Shottendane Road as a strategic housing allocation (Policy SP18A)
  • Amend Policies SP19 and SP20 to provide clarity regarding the type and size of dwellings and the thresholds for the provision of affordable housing
  • Include a requirement in Policy HO22 to identify and allocate sites for gypsy and travelling communities as part of an update to the Plan
  • Introduce a new policy (Policy SP05) concerning development at Manston airport
  • Modify Policies SP02, SP03 and E01 to support new economic development within settlement boundaries, clarify how much land is allocated for employment uses and provide criteria to assess proposals for the reuse of employment land and buildings
  • Modify Policy SP21 to support economic growth in rural areas
  • Delete unjustified and undeliverable transport routes from Policy SP47
  • Modify Policies SP22, SP25 and SP26 to provide effective criteria for development in Green Wedges, and for proposals likely to lead to increased recreational pressure on the Thanet Coast and Sandwich Bay SPA and Ramsar Site
  • Modify the town-centre policies (SP06-SP10 and E04-E06) for clarity and effectiveness
  • Support the extension of the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital through Policy SP37
  • Clarify how new medical facilities will be provided at Westwood and where new primary and secondary schools will be located through changes to Policies SP38 and SP40
  • Provide effective criteria to consider proposals for foster homes and childcare facilities, and the retention of family homes in Policies HO24 and HO26
  • Delete Policy CM04 relating to the expansion of Minster cemetery
  • Update Appendix B to reflect the latest position concerning site delivery

Other main modifications are also recommended to ensure that the Plan is justified, effective and consistent with national planning policy.
A striking feature is the proposed housing trajectory. The inspectors’ modification MM27 Table to Policy SP11 provides for the following average annual housing numbers:
2011/2012 – 2015/2016: 311
2016/2017 – 2020/2021: 600
2021/2022 – 2025/2026: 1,200
2026/2027 – 2030/2031: 1,317

The figure for 2011/2012 – 2015/2016 is based on actual completions averaged over the five-year period.
The modification requires a doubling of completions for the next-five year period 2016/2027 – 2020/2021. This has not been achieved in the first three years. 
For the years 2016/2017 – 2018/2019 only 993 dwellings were built. That averages just 331 per annum. Little more than that was achieved in the first five-year period.
So to average 600 dwellings per annum over the five-year period in the next two years, 2,007 dwellings will need to be built.
That is an annual average of 1,004 and three times that which has been achieved in the previous three years. Given the Covid-19 lockdown and the predicted slowdown in the global economy, it is highly unlikely that these levels will be achieved this year or next year. 
This means that in the last two periods more homes will need to be completed than required by the trajectory, suggesting an increase in housebuilding not seen here before and only in recent years experienced in growth areas such as Dartford.

  • Read the 63-page inspectors’ report here
  • See the recommended main modifications (to make the Plan sound) here

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Love Thanet’s remaining countryside? Please join us at Eco Expo in Margate if you do

The development onslaught on Thanet has surely never been greater. Its natural environment already trashed and degraded to a scarcely credible degree, you might be tempted to simply throw your hands in the air and give up as the diggers move on to yet another site.
However, please don’t! You are not alone – other people do care about the isle and are trying to do help salvage something good from the wreckage.
Some of those people will be at an event called Eco Expo being held in Margate this month – and CPRE Kent will be among them, hosting a stall at which you can learn more about what we do.
The “ecological afternoon” includes Karen Jones from the University of Kent speaking on The Urban Green Idea, Dr Clive Nuttman addressing Biodiversity – Global to Local and Dr Hannah Scott talking on Verges – Nothing to be Wasted.
It promises to be an uplifting event – please join us.

  • Eco Expo is being held at the Margate School (old Woolworth building), 33 High Street, Margate CT9 1EA, on Saturday, March 28, from 2pm

Manston sale: what’s the way ahead now?

Manston: new owner awaits verdict on its DCO application

Manston airport: the very name raises more than the odd eyebrow and elicits any number of sighs, but this month’s twist in a seemingly never-ending story caught out just about everyone.
Just as the Planning Inspectorate’s examination into its application for a Development Consent Order was nearing its end, RiverOak Strategic Partners agreed to buy the airport site for £16.5 million from Stone Hill Park Ltd, which had its own plans to build some 4,000 homes, business units and sporting facilities there.
Three representatives from CPRE Kent (director Hilary Newport, Thanet chairman David Morrish and environment committee member Chris Lowe) had been present at various stages of the inquiry, which was led by a four-strong Examining Authority.
The Planning Inspectorate gave public notice that it had completed its examination on Tuesday, July 9, confirming that its findings, conclusions and recommendations would be sent to the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, no later than Wednesday, October 9.
Mr Shapps will then decide whether the airport scheme should be regarded as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project and a Development Consent Order approved; it is unlikely that the recommendations of the Examining Authority will be made public until after that decision is made.
Contracts were exchanged between RSP and SHP on Wednesday, July 3, but the deal could only be completed a week later (July 10) once permission had been given by then-Secretary of State Chris Grayling.
That permission was necessary due to a Special Development Order designating Manston’s use as a lorry park to cope with potential post-Brexit congestion at Dover – the contract for that runs until December 31, 2020.
SHP has withdrawn its objection to the DCO and will no longer take part in the Local Plan inquiry. However, it keeps its DfT contract (and payments) in relation to the Brexit lorry-park plan, while it will be responsible for providing equipment should HGVs need to use the site.
The deal leaves RSP subsidiary RiverOak MSE owning more than 95 per cent of the site required for its airport plans; the compulsory-purchase provisions of the DCO are now not essential for the reopening of the airport.
SHP reportedly owned 742 acres of the 770-acre site, with some plots belonging to other parties.
Mr Morrish, of Thanet CPRE, said: “These events have emphasised the need for Manston to be resolved before the draft Local Plan can be properly considered – a view that we at CPRE have consistently put forward.
“Manston airport has been the elephant in the room throughout the Local Plan inquiry and there is still no real point in the Local Plan deliberations continuing until the Secretary of State for Transport has made a binding decision on the DCO.”
It is understood that RSP will only be able to progress its airport plans if the Transport Secretary approves the DCO application, a Planning Inspectorate spokesman telling KentOnline: “In order to construct and operate a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, development consent is required in the form of a Development Consent Order.”

Monday, July 29, 2019

Thanet, child poverty and staggering hikes in house prices… what a mess!

Margate has seen house prices soar by 55 per cent over the past 10 years

We are indebted to the local media for two stories highlighting some of the many issues affecting Thanet.
The district is usually at the wrong end of socio-economic statistics, so it comes as no surprise to learn it has the highest proportion of children living in poverty in the county, even taking into account a 4 per cent fall on the previous year (2017-18).
The figure of 35 per cent equates to a staggering one child in three (some 11,500) living below the breadline in Thanet, the Kent Messenger Group reports.
This compares with a Kent average of 28 per cent and figures from the ‘right’ end of the table: Tunbridge Wells (22 per cent) and Sevenoaks (23 per cent).
Now consider the issue of rising property prices in Thanet – indeed the entire Kent coast, where it costs an average of £150,000 more to buy a home than it did 10 years ago.
House prices across Thanet rose by an average of 48 per cent over the past decade; in apparently trendy Margate, the hike was 55 per cent, from £151,520 to £235,012.
The spiralling increase is, of course, fired largely by London and puts the prospect of local people buying their first home ever-further out of reach.
It is against such a backdrop that the government’s much-criticised housing methodology is anticipated to produce an Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) of 17,140 new homes in Thanet between 2016 and 2031.
It is a number that is highly unlikely to be fulfilled; in the region of 8,500 homes were built in the past 20 years, so the rate would need to more than double for the OAN to be achieved.
And when such a shortfall occurs, a local authority is unable to demonstrate a five-year housing supply, leaving the door wide open for speculative developers to try their luck at just about anything, no matter how inappropriate or undesirable.
There is a growing belief among some commentators that the ludicrous housing targets being imposed on some (but by no means all) local authorities are designed to do just that: effectively put planning powers in the hands of developers. Or is that a conspiracy theory too far?
CPRE Kent has long advocated the building of social housing for local people, highlighting the fact that developers’ keenness to put up four- and five-bedroom houses at prices beyond the wildest dreams of many is going to do precious little to ease the much-reported ‘housing crisis’.
Thanet residents concerned at the manner in which property prices are being skewed are often told of the ‘trickle-down effect’: the notion that an influx of cash-rich newcomers shares the posterity far and wide.
The idea would in truth seem to hold little truth, at least if those child poverty figures are anything to go by.

  • The saga of Thanet planning rarely makes uplifting reading, but for more see here, here, here, here and here

Monday, June 10, 2019

Thanet goes big in its approval of greenfield development

Plans for Westwood Village were approved in February (pic Greenacre (Thanet))

Some of our Thanet readers might already be delighted by the decision to approve plans for the 900-home Westwood Village. After all, the substantial loss of farmland combined with potential traffic gridlock should be enough to gladden the stoniest of hearts.
Such joy can surely only be heightened by the news that the scheme is one of the largest to have been approved across the entire country this year.
Planning magazine has listed the largest planning consents to be granted during the first six months of 2019 – and Westwood Village, which lies essentially at the joining point of Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs – comes in at an impressive sixth place.
The plans, from Greenacre (Thanet) Ltd, were approved, with conditions, by Thanet District Council’s planning committee on Tuesday, February 26. The final agreement, incorporating legal provisions, will be concluded by officers.
As well as the 900 homes (of which 30 per cent are scheduled to be ‘affordable’), Westwood Village will include a 4,900 square-metre commercial centre, a local centre and a primary school.
As for what all those new households are going to do for work, answers on a postcard, please…
PS: The largest application to be approved in the Planning survey?
The intriguingly named Margarine Works development in Southall, west London, incorporating more than 2,000 homes, up to 10,076 sq m of flexible office/community space and 2,688 sq m of flexible retail space.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Government chooses not to take over Thanet Local Plan: was this the ‘easy way out’?

Thanet… what next?

Heard the one about Thanet District Council’s Local Plan?
Of course you have.
Well, there’s more…
This comitragic tale has been well covered (see herehere, herehere and here), so it will suffice for now to say that it is back in the news.
Eventually approved in July last year, the draft Plan is now in the phase leading up to the Examination in Public, scheduled to begin in April.
Despite this, the council has been slated by James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, over its lack of progress and failure to deliver new housing. Mr Brokenshire has, however, stopped short of direct intervention, saying only that the situation would be “closely monitored”.
Mr Brokenshire’s predecessor, Sajid Javid, had threatened to take over production of the isle’s Local Plan, along with those of Castle Point in Essex and Wirral in north-west England.
Writing to Bob Bayford, leader of the council, he said: “Thanet have consistently failed to bring forward a Local Plan in accordance with its Local Development Scheme as legally required.
“Based on Thanet’s revised Local Development Scheme, it is unlikely that Local Plan production would be accelerated by my department taking over.
“In my judgement, given the authority’s track record of persistent failure in plan-making, the intervention I have decided upon will provide more certainty and is the best way of ensuring that a Local Plan will be produced.
“I am also, for the avoidance of doubt, now putting on public record my concerns about the low level of housing supply and delivery in Thanet.
“I expect planning decision-takers to have regard to these concerns as a material consideration when deciding local planning applications.”
Critically, at least as far as the local authority is concerned, Mr Brokenshire concludes: “I have decided not to prepare the Thanet Local Plan. However, I will continue to closely monitor your Local Plan progress.
“I appreciate the constructive way Thanet District Council have engaged in this process so far and I trust that you and your officers will continue to engage positively.”
Commenting on a situation in which no one seems very happy, David Morrish, chairman of Thanet CPRE, said: “The government’s Housing Delivery Test 2018 shows that from the years 2016-18 Thanet had a new-homes delivery rate of just 44% of target.
“The only thing the table demonstrates is that the calculation of housing for Thanet is completely ridiculous and that a housing projection of around 8,000 – back where we started in 2014 – is what the Thanet requirement should be. Such a target could be accomplished without using valuable Grade 1A agricultural land.
“When will Mr Brokenshire realise that a flawed model is being applied that is of no help to anyone whatsoever?
“The government targets are derived using an algorithm to develop targets for each council based on government policies but take no account of the deprivation and lack of jobs and employment prospects in an area.
“The houses that have been built in Thanet are in large part attributable to development at Westwood Cross. It is rumoured persistently that this is being earmarked for social-housing tenants moving in from London, yet Thanet people find it next to impossible to find social housing themselves.
“If nothing else, Thanet council needs to clarify the situation to help calm local disquiet.
“Also, Thanet has the highest proportion of empty homes in Kent but makes no attempt to bring some of them into use to house its homeless.
“I think it is probable that Mr Brokenshire’s Chief Planner realised, after taking a close look at the shambles of Thanet’s poorly-thought-out planning regime that has placed all the power in developers’ hands, that it is not something  anyone with any sense would want to take direct responsibility for sorting out.
“Instead, he has taken the easy way out by letting the two Local Plan inspectors carry on with their invidious task of inspecting in detail the existing mess of the draft Local Plan, neatly wrapped up in 4,000 pages of planning speak on the Thanet council website.
“This inspection begins in Ramsgate in April, with public hearings in May, while  another, separate, quartet of inspectors based in Margate are already grappling with 5,000-plus pages of evidence relating to Manston airport, with public hearings in March and a conclusion in July.
“Never, as far as we are aware, will the two sets of inspectors meet formally, and by the middle of this year two different ministers – Mr Brokenshire and Chris Ayling, Secretary of State for Transport, will be given the two different reports upon which to make their own individual decisions.
“It would test the patience of a saint and the genius of an Einstein to unravel this muddle.
“What is certain about this farrago is that the only winners will be the developers, who will continue to receive licences to build wherever they want in Thanet at the current leisurely speed, further increasing pressure on strained public services and with the community having as much certainty of the public costs being paid for by developers – as happens elsewhere in Kent – as a philosophy student at McDonald’s has of paying off their student loan.”

Monday, February 25, 2019