Campaign groups protesting at the decimation of agricultural land for Thanet housing developments say some 40% of high quality land could be lost forever.
Westgate & Garlinge Action Group and Birchington Action Group against houses on farmland are urging people to object to plans for thousands of homes earmarked for construction on grade 1,2 and 3, food producing land in Thanet.
The building of 450 homes on 50 acres of farmland off Shottendane Road was one of the developments campaigners said would ‘irreparably damage’ the isle and protesters say they were buoyed by the rejection of the current proposals but the battle continues.
Ros Tapp, from the campaign group and part of a long-term farming family, said a petition against building on best farmland at Shottendane was signed by some 3,000 people within just days, showing the strength of feeling across the isle.
Thanet has some of the UK’s most fertile land which is used for crops including premium potatoes, wheat, barley, cauliflower, oilseed rape and maize for biofuels. Campaigners say this food production will be lost forever if development of agricultural land is not halted.
The Thanet Local Plan was adopted on 9 July 2020. It is a blueprint for development in the district up to 2031. The plan sets out how much development is needed to support the future population and economy.
Thanet’s Local Plan has provision for 17,140 homes to be built between 2011-2031. Of this number 2,704 had been completed by March 2019.
Between 2021-26 the plan indicates 1,200 homes should be completed each year, equalling a total of 6,000 properties, Across 2026-2031 this number rises to 1317 per year to total 6585.
The plan is now under a review, with a call put out for more development sites, to take it up to 2040.
An estimated 750 hectares of fertile farmland is earmarked to be lost to developments including 2000 homes at Westgate and Garlinge, 1,600 homes at Birchington, up to 250 in Minster and 785 at Manston Green. Further agricultural land has been lost at Cliffsend and is likely to be built on at Shottendane once plans have been amended.
Shockingly, the campaign groups say some farmers who are producing food on the land have not even been consulted over development proposals.
A submission from Neil Woodward.on behalf of the Westgate group said: “This landscape is vital for food production and protected farmland birds.
“By not engaging with local farmers throughout the planning process and by not considering the current use of land and the economic viability of the farmer who is producing food on these two fields (Shottendane), the central character area is likely to lose current farming practice, eroding the current benefits it provides.”
The statement adds: “All these developments are in the same character area and combined will lead to a loss of 30-40% of the high quality farmland which should be safeguarded.
“The remaining central farmland will be carved up by road improvements ,footpath and bridleway upgrades.
“All of this is on land owned by the same farmer who farms the Shottendane fields. None of this has been assessed. We know because the farmer has never been consulted.”
Ros added: “Tenant farmers have no say if a landlord wishes to sell their land for housing developments. Losing land in a farming business leads to a loss of income and profitability. This puts further pressure on farmers already aiming to adapt to new Environmental land management schemes. We should be supporting farm and food businesses , not destroying them.”
This week a loosening of planning laws was announced in the Queen’s speech. The Planning Bill will mean decisions on new developments will be made via zoning land either for growth, where developers will be allowed to build homes and related infrastructure without individual planning consents, or protection where development will be restricted.
The new Bill is aimed increasing the number of homes being planned across the country by more than a third and considerably speeding up the planning process.
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale told Parliament this week: “Roughly a million planning consents have been granted for houses that are as yet unbuilt. That one million would make a huge difference. A vast swath of brownfield land is available to be built upon, and the Members of Parliament for Kent will not stand idly by and vote for measures that will turn the garden of England into a building site. I have said it to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister before, and I will say it again now: we should not be using arable land—grade 1 arable land in particular—for development before all the other available sites, particularly in cities, have been utilised and all the planning consents have been used up.
“The Members of Parliament for Kent want a moratorium on the use of agricultural land for development until all the other options have been exhausted. We shall fight that and vote against the Planning Bill if necessary.”
Thanet is around 40 square miles or 10330 hectares. Of that around 6,000 hectares is farmland. An estimated 1500 hectares is in areas at risk of flooding leaving some 4,500 best and most versatile land. An estimated 600-750 hectares of this will be lost if current developments are approved.
Land at Westgate, earmarked for 2000 homes, is the site of award winning malting barley and high yields of premium crops.
Strategic sites that have been approved for development include:
Birchington on Sea 1,600
Westgate on Sea 2,000
Manston Green (planning permission granted so not counted in allocations)785
Land at Manston Court/Haine Road 1400
Land north and south of Shottendane Road 550
Fronting Nash/Haine Roads 1020
Other Housing Sites/Areas 1,691
Rural allocations are:
Tothill Street, Minster 250
Land at Manor Road, St Nicholas 10
Land at Walter’s Hall Farm, Monkton 20
Land south side of A253, Cliffsend 62
Land north of Cottington Road, Cliffsend 41
Builders Yard south of 116-124 Monkton Street, Monkton 20
Former Jentex site Canterbury Road West, Cliffsend 56
Foxborough Lane (South Side), Minster 35
Land at The Length, St. Nicholas 25
Young’s Nursery, Arundel Road, Cliffsend 12
An allocation of 2,500 homes on the Manston airport site was removed in 2018 after a vote aimed at retaining aviation use only on the land. The 2,500 homes were then reallocated to other sites including Minster, Birchington and Westgate..