April 24, 2017

Party People – achieving truly sustainable development in Medway’s Local Plan

Please see below a piece written by Steve Dyke for Medway Messenger’s Party People column and published on 13th April.

Since writing this, the deadline for responding to the Local Plan consultation has been extended once again to 30th May so there is still time to get your response in!

Details of the consultation can be found here.

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With the deadline for responding to Medway Council’s latest consultation on its Local Plan approaching, my hope is that the Council will review all responses received and be prepared to adapt the Plan accordingly.

To achieve truly sustainable development in Medway requires boldness in planning in order to reduce our ecological footprint to a ‘one planet’ level.  This should be seen as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.  Imagine Medway with a proper cycle network, reliable, accessible and cheap public transport and low energy homes affordable for local people.  Developing the technological expertise locally to build off-site constructed energy efficient homes and renewable energy technologies could reinvigorate our local economy.  This is what is truly meant by “meeting the twin challenges of global competition and a low carbon future”.

We must also ensure that we protect valuable existing green spaces from development.  The most sustainable development option would be to focus on brownfield sites in urban locations close to travel hubs, suggested by the Council within one of the four options in their consultation document. However, they could go much further, such as making better use of existing space through utilising empty premises or building above car parks and in the air space above existing buildings.

Of particular concern is that the Council still wish to press ahead with major development at the Lodge Hill SSSI.  This is despite a policy approach stated in their consultation promising that “a high level of protection from damaging impacts of development will be given to Sites of Special Scientific Interest”.

Medway Green Party would love to see Medway become an inspiration for other areas on how sustainable development can be achieved.  My fear is that we will end up with piecemeal, destructive, unsustainable growth.  I hope the Council will prove me wrong.

April 18, 2017

Green Party Election Broadcast 2017

Released today!

Intended for the local elections in May but could also apply to a General Election in June.

April 12, 2017

Medway Green Party slams Lower Thames Crossing decision

Medway Green Party has expressed its disappointment at the decision made today to proceed with ‘Option C’  for a new Lower Thames Crossing.

Steve Dyke, Medway Green Party Co-ordinator says:

“We feel sad for those in Shorne and Chalk and the other villages in Kent and Essex near the proposed tunnel or on the route of its associated road network who will be directly affected by this project.

“Once again an environmentally damaging infrastructure project has been justified on the grounds of making motorists lives better and the possible economic benefits it may bring.  Yet again it has been decided that the solution to traffic problems is to build more roads.

“However any short term benefits in tackling congestion are likely to be eroded by an increase in road travel and the existing Dartford crossings will soon be back up to full capacity.  The new tunnel will do little or nothing on its own to alleviate the existing high levels of pollution in Dartford and Thurrock.

“With the decision made, we now need to know urgently what mitigation measures will be put in place to safeguard the natural environment, address air pollution, protect the affected communities, minimise any increase in traffic on already stretched local roads and prevent infill development following construction of the tunnel.  We urge Medway Council to be mindful of the impact this project may have on its residents in Strood and other areas west of the River Medway.”

April 5, 2017

Medway Greens call for fairer politics in light of election expenses scandal

Medway Greens are calling for fairer politics in light of the confirmation that the Conservative Party broke the rules which limit election spending.

The Rochester and Strood by-election in 2014 has been highlighted by the Electoral Commission as one of the occasions in which spending exceeded legal limits leading to a fine being imposed on the Conservative Party of £70,000.

Clive Gregory, former Green parliamentary candidate in the Rochester and Strood by-election says:

“The confirmation of illegal spending puts further light on how unequal the battle is. It seems that the £100,000 limit on expenses, intended to produce a level playing field, wasn’t enough for the Tories, who have put themselves above the law and any sense of fair play. We are never going to take the corruption out of politics unless we remove the power of big money. The current way we do politics, including our unfair voting system, squeezes out grassroots political movements orchestrated by ordinary people in favour of the money men”.

Mary Smith, is Medway Green Party’s Treasurer and Election Agent and therefore responsible for declaring election expenses. Mary adds:

“There is zero possibility of Medway Green Party exceeding the limit as our available funds are very small in comparison to the limit. However declaration of expenses is rightly required by law of all individuals or parties competing in an election and we do of course comply.  It rather adds insult to injury that while we carefully record the smallest of amounts, the richest of the political parties has seemingly been covertly spending hundreds or thousands of pounds on hotel bills in order to bring in party staff and activists.  It must also be dispiriting for voters.  This isn’t how democracy should work.

“As often happens, the person or persons who are prepared and able to spend the most money get the result.  Ironically, in the Rochester and Strood by-election they didn’t. However we will never know how much impact the money spent on the by-election had in raising the profile of the previously little known Conservative candidate and her subsequent General Election success”.

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April 5, 2017

Medway Greens saddened by Gibraltar Farm decision

An adapted version of this was published in the Medway Messenger last week.

**Steve Dyke: “We already have excessive demand for housing in Medway and the goalposts keep shifting”.  

**Sonia Hyner: “Capstone Valley is the only green area now in this part of Medway. The rest of it has been built on”.

**Steve Dyke: “There are better alternatives to building on Greenfield, such as higher density development on Brownfield sites in urban locations and close to travel hubs (to cut down on car use)”. 

Like many in Medway, the Green Party was saddened by the Government Planning Inspector’s decision which gave the go ahead for development at Gibraltar Farm.  The plan to build 450 homes on the site had been rejected by Medway Council but they were overruled by the Inspector.

Sonia Hyner, a Medway Green Party Officer who lives in Lordswood comments:

“I was truly horrified to hear about the proposal for 450 new houses to be built at Gibraltar Farm and hope that it can be further challenged. I have known this area for the past 50 years and, in this time, it has shifted from a patchwork of farms to being largely built up. Most of the building has been in relation to new housing and there have been some benefits such as new linking roads and new shopping areas. However, Capstone Valley is the only green area now in this part of Medway. The rest of it has been built on”.

Medway Council stipulates a low standard of green space provision compared to adjacent local authorities of 3.25ha per 1000 population. This compares to standards of 6.14ha per 1,000 people in Tonbridge and Malling, 10.1ha in Gravesham and 7.39ha in Swale. [1] Medway also has a higher population compared to adjacent areas [2].  However, in Medway Council’s Local Plan consultation, much of the land proposed for potential development is Greenfield.  Additionally the Medway Towns are under additional pressure because of migration from London boroughs, due to the high property prices there, which in 2014 totalled 33% of all migration into our area. [3] According to local Estate Agents this trend has continued. [4]

Steve Dyke, Medway Green Party Co-ordinator comments:

“We already have excessive demand for housing in Medway and the goalposts keep shifting.  There is a risk that landowners will be tempted by the high premiums offered by developers. This is not helped by the decision regarding Gibraltar Farm which could open the floodgates for similar planning applications. The only real way to protect Medway’s green spaces is to draw a hard line around them and not allow development in them under any circumstances.

“There are better alternatives to building on Greenfield, such as higher density development on Brownfield sites in urban locations and close to travel hubs (to cut down on car use).  This is suggested by the Council within one of the four options they have proposed in the Local Plan consultation.  This may end up as the preferred option of Medway Green Party which is currently drafting its full response to the consultation.  This is not least because all the other options on offer explicitly mention development at Lodge Hill, an SSSI and of national importance to wildlife.”

Medway Green Party is encouraging those with concerns over developments such as Gibraltar Farm to visit the Local Plan consultation on the Council website and share their views.

The deadline for responses is 18th April.

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NOTES:

[1] Issues and Options consultation (p65) http://www.medway.gov.uk/PDF/Final%20Issues%20and%20Options%20Public%20Consultation%20Copy.pdf [p66]

[2] Strategic Market Housing Assessment – “Based on the 2011 population level, Medway makes up the largest proportion of the population in the wider HMA, at 34%” – Housing Market Area (HMA) has been identified as consisting of Medway, Gravesham, Swale, Maidstone and Tonbridge and Malling)  http://www.medway.gov.uk/pdf/Medway%20SHMA%20Final%20Report.pdf (p42)

[4] http://www.medway.gov.uk/pdf/Medway%20SHMA%20Final%20Report.pdf (p38)

[5] http://www.medway.gov.uk/pdf/Medway%20SHMA%20Final%20Report.pdf (p53)

March 15, 2017

Noise, Health and Ecopsychology

An issue that effects us all as with increasing development is the rise in noise levels mainly from additional road networks which impede on our ability to enjoy the noises of nature such as birdsong.  The tranquility that nature provides has been suggested in studies to be important to our mental health and wellbeing. Additional discussion of the content of the video is provided in this accompanying article.

 

March 3, 2017

Community Land Trusts – building the homes we can afford

Could this be the future for building affordable homes in Medway?

March 3, 2017

Development must not be at the expense of local environment #SaveLodgeHill

Lodge Hill in Autumn - Kent Wildlife Trust

Lodge Hill in Autumn – Kent Wildlife Trust

The Green Party notes that in the consultation document for the latest phase of their new Local Plan, Medway Council states that their aim is to ensure Medway grows sustainably while protecting and enhancing our local natural environment.

We hope that they are genuine in their environmental aims and would welcome the creation of a truly green Medway Towns. However it concerns us that the Council seem to wish to press ahead with major development at the SSSI designated site at Lodge Hill, near Hoo, whichever development option on offer in the consultation is eventually chosen. This is despite a policy approach in the Natural Environment section of the consultation that promises “a high level of protection from damaging impacts of development will be given to Sites of Special Scientific Interest” [1].  It is also pre-empting the outcome of the public Inquiry about the site, due to take place next year.

We would also like to know why the updated Strategic Land Availability Assessment (SLAA) 2017, commissioned by the Council to inform the Local Plan, did not include Lodge Hill in a list of sites screened out early in the process, on the basis of having an environmental designation (SSSI), [2] despite this being a clear part of the methodology of determining that sites chosen meet sustainable development criteria.   Is the Council being honest about its sustainability aims?

Lodge Hill is the best and most important site in the UK for nightingales. It also has rare grassland, ancient woodland and is home to many other rare and protected wildlife species and plants. It is also located in a wider environment of national and international importance. What we are talking about is not just the Hoo peninsula, but an area interconnected with the Thames coastline of Essex, the North Kent marshes and more, including many other SSSIs. Taking away Lodge Hill will disrupt or damage an entire local eco-system. Does Medway Council really want to be known as the local authority that did this?

Of course we recognise that the people of Medway Towns need more homes but it is questionable whether development at Lodge Hill would address real housing needs. If the Council continues with its current agenda in relation to approving developers, most, if not all, properties will prove too expensive and inaccessible for those who already live here, especially young people struggling to find an affordable home.

If the projected figures for population growth in the Medway Towns are correct, we will need many more homes. However it is important that these are not built at the expense of ruining our local environment. Future generations will not thank current politicians if the Medway Towns becomes just one large urban sprawl, devoid of plants, trees, green spaces and wildlife.

Details for taking part Medway Council’s Local Plan consultation are here.

[1] http://www.medway.gov.uk/pdf/7.%20Natural%20Environment%20and%20Green%20Belt.pdf p65

[2] http://www.medway.gov.uk/pdf/SLAA%20Report%20&%20Maps%20February%202017.pdf p45

 

March 2, 2017

Lodge Hill and the Nightingales by RSPB

March 2, 2017

Party People article on housing, Lodge Hill and the Local Plan

The article below, written by Medway Green Party Coordinator, Steve Dyke, was recently published in the Medway Messenger Party People column.

Medway residents are encouraged to respond to the The Local Plan consultation.  The deadline for sending comments has been extended to Monday 10th April at 5 pm. Details here.

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In drafting last week’s housing White Paper, the Government had a chance to radically tackle the housing crisis in this country.  Unfortunately, while some positive moves were outlined, there was no real change in direction.  They could have allowed Local Authorities to build their own Council homes by removing the cap on borrowing. They could have introduced measures to shift development from the South East. Instead they are simply tinkering on the margins of the problem.

This comes at a time when Medway Council is consulting on the latest phase of its Local Plan, including its vision for the Medway Towns and four options for the direction which planned development may take.

Whichever option is chosen, the Council seems determined to press ahead with housing at Lodge Hill.  Large scale building there would certainly destroy natural habitats of national importance as well as setting a damaging precedent for other Sites of Special Scientific Interest. It is difficult to reconcile any such development with the Council’s aim stated in its consultation document of protecting and enhancing our natural environment.

It is also uncertain what mix of homes we will end up with.  The Council’s research identified a need for 17,112 ‘affordable’ homes in Medway.  This represents nearly 60% of the 29,463 being planned for.  Yet the Council seem to envisage no more than 25% of the eventual mix being affordable, failing to meet the needs of many residents.

A direction encouraging the wrong type of development would lead to needless expansion of the Medway Towns and could result in over 9,000 homes being built which don’t meet the needs of our local population.

It is good to have a future vision, but also important to think past current political limitations. It doesn’t need to be like this.