Farmer’s shock at notice to quit Margate agricultural land tended by family for generations

Jonathan Tapp has been told to quit part of the land he farms by this October

A farmer whose family has been tending land in Margate for more than 200 years says he was shocked to receive one year’s notice from Thanet council to quit 50 acres of his farmland.

Jonathan Tapp can trace the family’s farming roots back to the Napoleonic Wars through the Taddy, Hatfeild and Tapp holdings and agricultural tenancies but says the area he farms is now “being nibbled away” from all sides.

He has received notice to quit land forming part of Hartsdown and Twenties farms in Shottendane Road by October 2024. The land currently produces potatoes through intensive farming as well as crops including wheat, beans, barley and oats.

Thanet council owns the site after it was sold to predecessor, the Margate Corporation, in 1923. It was let back to the family as tenant farmers. But now the council proposes to use part of the farm for a small Gypsy and Traveller site and another part is earmarked for use by Kent County Council for an Inner Circuit road network.

Jonathan said: “There have been encouraging comments on social media that buoy you up a bit but it was quite devastating. There have been fruitless exchanges with (council) but it does not seem to get through that we are running a business here with employees.

“It was unexpected to receive one year’s notice to get off. There is an idea that one year is plenty of time but we are running on a five year rotation.

“The notice was a bit of a shock. They had made noises the previous year about wanting to do things with the land and include it in the amended Local Plan so I made a mental note that we probably had another ten years. One year’s notice was sudden and unexpected.”

The Margate farmland Photo Ros Tapp

Jonathan has already lost some 50 acres of land at Shottendane which was sold for development by the private owner in 2022 and gained approval for a controversial 450 home development last year after a ruling by the Planning Inspectorate. Further land will be lost for KCC’s road widening plans and the use of land at Quex could also become uncertain as areas in Birchington diminish due to housing developments.

Jonathan currently retains some 450 acres in Margate and another 250 acres at St Nicholas but says this is a very small holding with most farms covering some 2,000 acres.

The lease for Hartdown and Twenties farm off Shottendane Road was initially granted to his grandfather Aubrey, then taken over by his father Arthur who passed away in 2019. Jonathan has been farming the site since 1983. He says, despite claims there was once woodland on the farm, it has been greenfield going back to the Bronze Age according to an archaeological survey carried out in 2000.

The area proposed for the new Gypsy and Traveller site Photo Ros Tapp

Thanet council says the proposal for the land is for two access points, one from Caxton Road and the other from Shottendane Road, with four permanent pitches and a community room, a children’s play area and an area for animals.

There are also proposals to transfer a section of the land to Kent County Council, for use in the proposed Major Road Network (Inner Circuit) improvements and a linked sustainable drainage scheme. This scheme is designed to reduce the pressure on the A28 and A256 trunk roads.

The wider plan includes allocation for housing under the Thanet Local Plan review.

‘Vast majority of site unaffected’

A Thanet council spokesperson said: “As a council there is a duty of care to all the people that live in Thanet.

“No decisions have been taken about proposing a small section of the Shottendane Road site for Gypsy and Traveller provision.

“The vast majority of the land at the Shottendane Road site is unaffected by this proposal and is still available for agricultural use.

“The council intends to undertake a consultation exercise, the preparation, completion, and review of which is likely to take a number of months. This will include engagement with local residents and members of the Gypsy and Traveller community. Following that consultation, the proposal will be reviewed.

“The current farmer has already been invited to meet with the council to discuss both the proposal and future agricultural tenancies on the site.”

Last month, council Cabinet members agreed to carry out the consultation on the Gypsy and Traveller provision at the site. This would be then subject to a planning application which will not be submitted until after consultation and further discussion by councillors to review the results.

Photo Jonathan Tapp

However, questions have been raised as to why just one site – the grade 1 agricultural land- has been put forward for consultation, particularly as the recommendation from councillors at a scrutiny meeting on January 16 was that multiple sites should be consulted on.

Council leader Rick Everitt said sites had previously been assessed in 2019-2020 with further work and visits carried out by the then-Conservative administration between 2021-2023. Shottendane was identified as a potential Gypsy and Traveller site at that time.

Cllr Helen Whitehead told the meeting last month that a meeting with Mr Tapp had been arranged.

She added: “That discussion, as it could have done previously, will also cover discussions of long leases for part of the site and short term leases for other parts. The reason for the termination of the lease links to the fact that all of this land is linked under the current lease.”

The yellow rapeseed field is the area proposed for development Photo Jonathan Tapp

She said there were complications around separating the current lease, with part of the site needed by KCC for the Inner Circuit road network, and so a new lease is needed.

Answering questions on social media Cllr Whitehead said the housing numbers required in Thanet by central government assessments and the withdrawal of housing plans for the airport site had left “no useable brownfield” and made options “limited.”

A call for sites in 2021 resulted in no offers externally to support development of a Traveller site, meaning the land has to come from that in council ownership.

However, Thanet Independent Garlinge councillor John Worrow says other, brownfield sites must be considered.

He said: “Protecting our farmland is a manifesto commitment that I take seriously, as I’ve seen part of the field opposite my own home get built on.  I also have a strong connection with the travelling community going back to my childhood, and my godson is of Romany heritage.

“However, it isn’t a question of choosing one over the other. It is absolutely crucial that we find a suitable brownfield site for the travelling community as we don’t currently have a proper site in our district.

“But I can’t understand why the council’s cabinet have singled out Farmer Tapp’s grade 1 farmland instead conducting a Thanet wide consultation as suggested by  the vice chair of the Overview and Scrutiny committee.”

Cllr Worrow has set up a Save Farmer Tapp’s Farmland group which is attracting support on social media.

Jonathan said: “I appreciate the overwhelming support from everyone. With a dedicated team, we’re working tirelessly to save our farm.

“Food security is crucial in today’s unstable world. All I am asking is that Thanet council’s leadership allows me to continue farming on my ancestral farmland.

“This farmland isn’t in the Local Plan (a blueprint for housing and infrastructure for the isle), so the council’s leadership doesn’t have to take it away from us, they can quite easily find a brownfield site which would be more appropriate for their project.”

Thanet farmland

Photo Jonathan Tapp

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.

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 750 hectares of this will be lost in total to development, some of that land has already been built on.

Developments include proposals for 2000 homes at Westgate and Garlinge and1,600 homes at Birchington, up to 250 in Minster and 785 at Manston Green. Further agricultural land has been lost at Cliffsend and Shottendane.

Previous Traveller site assessments

Travellers’ site proposals Photo Gavin Wallis

In December 2019 approval was given for further work to assess Potten Street in St Nicholas-at-Wade, Tivoli Brook in Margate and Ramsgate Port for use as temporary tolerated stopping sites.

But both Ramsgate Port and Tivoli Brook were removed from the plans in July 2020 and Shottendane was then added to the list without any meeting by the working group responsible for assessing the sites.

Thanet council’s Cabinet members in July 2020 considered 14 sites, looking at nine more than the task and finish group had presented in its report in 2019. The Shottendane site was scored as the most suitable option.

In September 2020 proposals for temporary tolerated Traveller sites at Potten Street car park and the land at Shottendane Road in Margate were put on hold.

Thanet council instead opted to launch a ‘call for sites’ through its Local Plan review but this yielded no responses, prompting the council to look at its own land holdings.

In 2021, a bid submitted to the government’s Gypsy and Traveller site fund for a capital grant to assist with the costs of establishing a site was unsuccessful. Delivery of the current project is dependent on the appropriate funding arrangements being in place.

Thanet currently does not have an authorised Traveller site, with the nearest being in Canterbury and Dover although these are often over-subscribed.

The Inner Circuit

  • New road link between A28 Brooksend Hill and Minnis Road Birchington
  • New road link between A28 Brooksend Hill and Acol Hill/B2050. Birchington
  • New road link between Shottendane Road and Manston Road.  Margate
  • New road link between Hartsdown Road and Shottendane Road.  Margate
  • Widen Nash Road along its existing alignment (or new alignment in line with future masterplan for the site) Westwood
  •  New road link between A256 Haine Road and B2050 Manston Road (on site section)

Consultation to take place over creating Gypsy and Traveller pitches at land off Shottendane Road