Former Councillor, Ian Driver, has accused Thanet Council’s (TDC) ruling UKIP administration of “environmental vandalism” for bringing forward plans to this week’s Cabinet meeting (27 September) to sell off 86 acres of council owned agricultural land (1).The seven parcels of land at Dane Valley Road, Millmead Road and Shottenden Road Margate; Callis Grange Road and Crescent Road in Broadstairs and Preston Road Manston are being sold as part of an “accelerated” property disposal programme to raise extra funds to tackle the cash-strapped council’s budget problems.
The land is currently rented to farmers and generates an income to the council of £4,500 per year. However it appears from the disposal report that TDC hopes to sell the land to property developers so as to maximise income. Each of the plots are situated next to existing housing developments making the land more attractive to developers. The Cabinet report also recommends that any disposal of the land should include a clawback provision so that the Council can share in any future development value”
According to Driver, the sale of the land and its use for development breaches TDCs current planning policy on the protection of agricultural land which states that
|Extract from Cabinet report showing one of the proposed land disposals|
Agricultural land concerns have been dominant in determining planning policies and decisions in Thanet for many years. Thanet's farmland ranks as some of the best and most versatile productive land in Kent and in the South- East, by virtue of both the high soil quality, and the extensive and continuous nature of the land in production. As a national food resource it therefore merits long term protection from irreversible development (2)
Much of the land earmarked for sale also forms part of the so-called “green wedges” which are areas of open, mainly agricultural, land which provide “physical separation between the Thanet towns” and which “adjoin, penetrate or separate the urban areas” in order to prevent them from morphing into a large urban sprawl.
The green wedges are also protected from development because “the strong planning protection afforded to high-quality farmland in Thanet has helped historically to maintain the undeveloped and open character of the Green Wedges. This positive contribution to Green Wedge purposes has depended in part on a system of intensive arable farming, that is, large open fields (3)
|CPRE publication about housing and the countryside|
Said Driver “if TDCs UKIP controlled Cabinet agrees to sell off the land it will underme the council's own longstanding policies of protecting agricultural land and of separating the Thanet towns though the green wedges system. This would be an act of deliberate environmental vandalism which will set an extremely dangerous precedent and could easily lead to development on yet more valuable agricultural land, the destruction of the green wedges and the concreting over of Thanets countryside which will have a devastating impact on our environment”.
Although, on paper, Thanet’s existing planning polices appear to protect agricultural land and the green wedges system of urban separation, this protection is extremely weak and far from guaranteed. This is because TDC is one of the few remaining councils in the UK (part of a group of 53 out of 375) to have failed to have formally published a Local Plan.
Without an approved Local Plan decisions about the development of open spaces and agricultural land must be based upon the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Published in 2012, the NPPF includes a strong presumption in favour of house building on previously undeveloped green field sites, such as agricultural land, unless there is an approved Local Plan in place which includes strong reasons for prohibiting such development. TDCs lack of a Local Plan therefore makes its agricultural land very vulnerable to development. In 2014, the lack of a Local Plan with protection for agricultural land led to the Panning Inspectorate permitting, after an expensive public enquiry, the controversial development of a school and 650 houses on farmland adjacent to the New Haine Road, despites TDCs initial refusal. Having lost the planning enquiry, TDC was more recently forced, in July of this year, to grant planning permission for the massive 750 house Manston Green development on farmland close to the former airport site.
Driver’s concerns about development on agricultural land are supported by respected countryside charity the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) which has produced extensive research and policy proposals aimed at “saving our countryside from unnecessary and damaging development” (4). The charity’s Kent branch CPRE Protect Kent has campaigned vigorously and with great success to prevent unnecessary and inappropriate developments on agricultural land and woodland across the county for many years. Driver has contacted the group to alert them to the proposals going before the Cabinet and requesting that they intervene.
Said Driver “I have always argued that the unacceptable delay in producing a robust Local Plan, which provides strong protection for Thanet’s unique and beautiful environment, was a deliberate decision by the previous Labour administration. This was because Labour politicians had calculated that by dragging their feet on producing a Local Plan a window of opportunity would be created for speculative developers to stake their claims on prime agricultural land for profitable housing schemes. These schemes would also generate massive additional council tax income for TDC. But the need for new homes in Thanet could have been managed in a different and better ways without the need to sacrifice and concrete over our open green spaces and irreversibly damaging our environment and food production capacity”.
He went to say “the silence of the Labour and Conservative opposition on the Council about these extremely damaging proposals, demonstrates their appalling and shameful lack of commitment to safeguarding our environment. But, I am especially disappointed that the Thanet Council Labour Group has failed to say a word about this terrible situation and failed to publically challenge council leader Chris Wells and his UKIP Cabinet about their unacceptable disposal proposals. I thought that under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership the Labour Party was now staunchly pro-environment in its outlook. But bearing in mind that the council Labour Group is dominated by old-school councillors from the previous administration - Iris Johnston, Peter Campbell, Michelle Fenner, and Jenny Matterface, it doesn’t surprise me. These were the people who were directly responsible for delaying the production of the Local Plan and failing to put in place policies to protect our environment. Is it any wonder that they are now keeping their mouths tightly shut and turning a blind eye to the desecration of our environment and the destruction of a legacy for future generations”.
“But” added Driver “TDCs UKIP leadership does not have to follow the previous Labour administration’s environmentally destructive policies. I call on them to reject the sale of the land, which will only generate an estimated £300,000 over the next 2 years and focus instead, on bringing forward previously developed brownfield land in the council’s ownership for disposal. I also believe that TDCs precarious financial situation, resulting from Labour’s toxic £14.5million money-wasting legacy, will inevitably result in TDC having to increase council tax next year. A small rise in council tax is much preferable to losing altogether some of our valuable agricultural land and the seeing the destruction of the green wedges, which have so effectively prevented Thanet from becoming a large amorphous metropolitan splurge”.
The report to Cabinet also includes proposals to dispose of the council owned historic Westgate and Westbrook pavilions.
1. See report here http://democracy.thanet.gov.uk/documents/g4547/Public%20reports%20pack%2027th-Sep-2016%2018.00%20Cabinet.pdf?T=10
2. See current local plan polices relating to agricultural land and green wedges here http://thanet.devplan.org.uk/document.aspx?document=15&display=chapter&id=119
3. See 2 above