Column with Westgate and Garlinge Action Group against Houses on Farmland: Time to urgently reassess the Thanet Local Plan

Westwood development - All top soil from the grade 1 land is removed and sold

Written by Sarah Bowers on behalf of the Westgate and Garlinge Action Group against Houses on Farmland 

The Westgate & Garlinge Action Group Against Housing Development committee is a group of local residents that have come together because they are passionate about saving and protecting Thanet’s green space for generations to come. The group was set up in a bid to save Westgate agricultural land from being developed for a 2,000 home ‘new town’  on farmland,

Campaigners from Westgate and Garlinge Action Group against Houses on Farmland are calling for Thanet District Council to reassess the local plan to 2031 in consideration of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that has been issued this month.

The report states that human activity is impacting the climate and warns of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding, and a key temperature limit being broken in just over a decade. Temperatures will reach 1.5C above 1850-1900 levels by 2040 under all emissions scenarios.

Already the increase in temperature is having a marked impact around the world. Not only are we seeing wildfires in mainland Europe, but warmer temperatures are making it more difficult to grow food. Challenges to our food production systems will be just one of the impacts with changing rainfall patterns leaving many areas vulnerable to drought, while extreme weather will make agriculture harder and damage crops. For example, this year the unprecedented floods in Europe has decimated their potato harvest which means that there is likely to be a shortage of potatoes this year – a crop that Thanet is famous for growing well.

Barley harvest at Shottendane

It is vitally important that as a country we are able to grow our own food. In 2019 we were only around 64% food self-sufficient. This compares to 78% in 1984. To put it another way, in 1984 there was enough food produced in Britain to feed the nation for 306 days of the year. Today, that figure is 233 days, making 21 August 2020 the day that the country would run out of food if we were relying solely on British produce. As we respond and adapt to climate change, we must increase our food self-sufficiency. Consequently building on prime arable farmland seems very wrong.

The land in Thanet is special too. Being surrounded by sea on three sides makes it unique for agriculture. It has some of the best and most versatile soils in the UK and has a maritime, relatively frost-free climate. Grade 1 land is limited in the UK and much of it is at risk of coastal flooding. In the southeast for instance, 62% of best and most versatile soil is at risk. However, Thanet has Grade 1 and 2 land that is not at risk from coastal flooding.

Potato field

Thanet’s Local Plan (adopted in 2020) places 17140 houses within an area of just 40 square miles. Most (around 87%) of these houses will be on productive, high quality farmland. This amounts to the loss of around 700 hectares of precious Grade 1, 2 and 3 land. This decision must be reviewed in light of the IPCC report.

In addition, a key part of the Local Plan is the creation of a new ‘inner ring road’ that will be partly funded by developer contributions. The IPCC report states that fossil fuels are a big part of the cause of climate change so building more and more roads is simply not sustainable. In this country carbon emissions from transport have barely changed since 1990.  They are now 28% of domestic emissions, with about 91% of these from road traffic.

We urgently need to reduce emissions if we are to keep the earth’s temperature within safe limits of 1.5C. Building more roads and creating more traffic takes us in the wrong direction and locks us into an unsustainable future. Consequently, the road-building programme that forms a key part of the Thanet Local Plan should be reviewed. We should be investing in better and more reliable public transport instead, encouraging people to use it and getting cars off the roads.

Another concern is the potential for increased surface water flooding if all these houses are built. Our climate is changing and this has become particularly noticeable this year when we have a number of incidents of torrential rainfall that has led to localised flash flooding. This is partly due to our drainage system that simply cannot cope with the amount of rain that we are experiencing. It is also clear that we cannot carry on concreting our land and expect things to improve or even stay the same. We need green space to help manage the increased water flow otherwise flash floods will only get worse.

Ffooded farmland outside Birchington

Dr Jess Neumann, a hydrologist at the University of Reading, said: “Planning and development need to consider flood risk from all sources – river, groundwater and flash floods – and adapt accordingly. It is not acceptable to keep paving over the land and expect the public to deal with the water when it comes into their homes.”

And while on the subject of water then the management of our waste water and sewage deserves a mention. Southern Water have recently received a record fine of £90 million for illegally dumping sewage into the sea. But this is a continuing theme. Every time it rains more ‘waste water’ and effluent gets pumped out around our coast in order to prevent sewage from backing up into residents’ houses.  Investment in the billions is needed to upgrade their systems and in the meantime our coastline is regularly polluted, beaches are closed, and local businesses suffer. It seems unlikely that adding a further 17140 houses will help the situation. So until the Southern Water situation is resolved, there should be no further housebuilding in Thanet.

Finally a word on nature and biodiversity. The UK is one of the most nature depleted in the world. The Local Plan will destroy much of our farmland and none of the proposed developments provide proper mitigation for farmland wildlife. Farmland bird numbers have been in steep decline for decades, but the land around Thanet is known to provide a home to these birds. In particular large numbers of skylarks live and nest around our fields every year.

No amount of ‘mitigation’ from developers will adequately replace acres of open, sensitively managed farmland which is needed by these birds for breeding and nesting. Other wildlife that uses the fields and their margins includes several species of bat, buzzards, kestrels, foxes and hares. All of these will be lost or seriously decline in number if all of the proposed developments go ahead.

Overall, given the serious nature of what we are facing, we must come together and plan for a future that will be more sustainable for all of us. Alternative build sites must be carefully reviewed with the aim being to preserve our farmland. Town centres are emptying, can buildings there be repurposed for housing? How many empty homes are there in Thanet?

Do we really need another 17140 houses? And the new houses that we build must be more sustainable and made ready to meet a different future. Should solar panels and rainwater collection be mandatory for example? Should there be less focus on the car and more on cycling and public transport? As more people work from home, should access to fast broadband for everyone be a priority?

Times are changing fast so the Local Plan and its impact on the residents of Thanet must be urgently reviewed and reopened for public consultation. Otherwise what legacy will be leaving our children and grandchildren?

Information sources:


    • It is the government, not the Council, that said we must build 17000 houses.
      TDC did have a draft Local Plan that would have used an earlier government algorithm to determine the number of houses: had it been applied, there would have been a burden of several thousand fewer houses.
      Unfortunately, because that particular LP did not categorically declare that Manston should be for aviation only, it was kicked out by UKIP and Tory councillors.
      A revised LP was eventually adopted, too late to use the more moderate housing formula, but preserving Manston for aviation only.
      A double whammy. We end up with 1000s more houses, and hundreds of acres fewer land to build them on, necessitating the use of greenfield sites.
      So, rather than blame TDC, blame UKIP and the Tory councillors who obstructed the adoption of the original Local Plan.

  1. If you know local history you will know manston can never be built on.. but more importantly we don’t need these houses. Plenty of land that needs renewing, so let’s do the right thing and recycle, reuse what’s already here…

    • Why can’t Manston be built on (other than the Local Plan?)
      The government thinks we need the houses, even if you don’t.

    • If that’s the case Chris why was Sir Roger whipping up a frenzy saying the London overspill would be housed there instead? Why was the earlier LP kicked out so famously for fear it would be a housing estate? Either it can be built on or it can’t, it can’t be changed to suit the airport supporters narrative. I bet a lot of those complaining voted for the airport.
      I totally am for lowering carbon emissions as it’s so drastically needed, but it’s a bit hypocritical to oppose tearing up our fields and then pushing for a polluting cargo hub, that just defies logic. Is the penny finally dropping?

  2. Very good fact filled article, but the elephant in the room is the Manston site of the ex-airport. Why are we using grade 1 greenfield land to build houses when there’s a huge, unused, brownfield site with excellent road access. Because the UKIP and Conservative councellors refused to give up their insane dream of building a new airport in the midst of a climate crisis. Aided and abetted by our corrupt Thanet MPs whose lies are regularly called out, these incompetents are blighting Thanet. We need good quality green jobs and affordable housing, not vanity projects destroying our environment and diverting housing from excellent brownfield building land onto highly productive farmland.

  3. Manston has underground hangers, tunnel and more. Do your history and you will find information about this. Also contamination with water table from fire n rescue over the years. Roger gale said houses would be used for London unwanted not locals. Best thing to do at manston is to create woodlands,open green spaces let nature take it back.

    • Please provide links to your resource saying that Manston has ” underground hangers, tunnel and more”.
      Roger Gale was pinning his electoral hopes on the votes if the anti housing lobby. He would have said anything to get their votes.
      How would London’s “unwanted” be able to afford the £500,000 price tag you mentioned?

    • Contamination with PFAS chemicals would not be contained to Manston which until 2019, when I called in DWI to secure ban on water supply use of Manston aquifer, was a drinking water source not tested by swa for PFAS

      Since PFAS are soluble they spread fast in ground water. Hence the farmland, lauded in this article, has a big question mark over, yet to be considered in Environment Agency enforcement of UN Stockholm Convention.

      Thanet best hope is that Manston outfall at Pegwell put most PFAS to sea. Just don’t eat the fish. Also advisable not to eat Thanet grown crops.

  4. A very good detailed description of what may happen/is happening to our area. Central government is pushing for new developments/housing throughout the country. Incompetent local decisions are also making things more difficult. No doubt Manston people don’t want their country idyll to be ruined. We need our green spaces and our productive fields in Thanet. Top grade soil being sold off……disgusting. We must keep fighting for our local lands. ‘Little boxes’ appearing with scant regard to the environment.

  5. Also if manston was to be built on once they survey the land the cost of building would put house prices way above £500,000 plus so would become a rich man’s play ground so no benefit would there be for locals to buy. Most of manston history was distroyed so only know as past family was there. Let nature take it back that way it benefits use all in a positive responsible way for generations to come. With good use of land already built on, planning for more homes can be achieved. Retail land can be reused for housing all can be done with clever thinking,it’s got to be the way forward

    • Outline Plans were prepared by experts and submitted by the previous owners of Manston airfield, and from memory they included 4,000 dwellings, light industrial/high tech premises similar to Pfizer’s Discovery Park, medical centres, schools, and leisure facilities! Whats not to like?

  6. Building on prime farmland is the fault of the Manston cheerleaders, both MPs and a variety of inept administrations at TDC, determined we need knackered old cargo planes here.

  7. Protecting the legacy for our grandchildren?…so not building new houses for them and asking them to live in recycled high st properties with no gardens?
    Most towns around here, including Westgate have grown and expanded over the past 100 years which has been as a result of building in farmland…
    The government have already threatened to take over the Town plan due to TDC inability to plan for new houses…progress is inevitable

    • Eh? Imagine that you have a few hundred acres if land not doing very much; you’re a bit short of brass, and someone comes along and makes a reasonable offer.
      What would you do?

  8. Certainly not sell it to the greedy developer’s.
    Plenty of old unused buildings could be made into affordable flats to rent or buy that the local people who have grown up in Thanet could be able to move into. NOT people from outside the area.

    • Could be, but won’t be, unless the government gives all councils plenty of money specifically to CPO and convert/ rebuild empty properties.

  9. Drinking water is from rainwater soaking into the ground and chalk that is then pumped from ever deeper bore holes under this farm land which cause the water to drop below sea level which results in us getting saltier water and eventually seawater with polluted water pulled in from under the urban areas and unsealed TDC rubbish dumps in Thanet. Southern water is about extracting money not clean safe water services, they want more customers, they are not interested in the damage to ground water or sewage in the sea. It is not southern waters job to protect the water catchment area.

    • If we didn’t concrete over our front gardens, then rain, instead of flashing straight off into the sewers and causing flooding, would soak into the ground and top up the aquifer.

  10. There is no reason not to put a new town on manston and preserve our agricultural land. Roger fail is useless and whipped up a frenzy. Much happier seeing his rich farmer mates getting millions by selling their land for development.

  11. Moan moan moan same people got nothing better to do than bloody moan it’s gonna happen no matter what you armchair worriers say just sit back and let it happen give your fingers a break from your company.

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