Small but Significant Victory for Locals in Battle to Save Lodge Hill

rsz_cg_rspb01

Clive Gregory with RSPB at Northward Hill Nature Reserve

Medway Green Party has welcomed the good news that the proposed development at Lodge Hill has been called in by the government. This means that it cannot now go ahead without a public enquiry.

Please see below some comments on this decision by Clive Gregory, our candidate for Rochester and Strood:

Good news.  The proposed development at Lodge Hill has been called in and now cannot proceed without a public enquiry.

The by-election in Rochester and Strood last year gave me, and the Green Party, a platform to fully inform the people of Medway and further afield about the importance of Lodge Hill.  We additionally sought the advice of the RSPB to increase our knowledge of the site and saw, first hand, that in isolation it is of vital importance but, when taken in the context of all the SSSIs on both sides of the Thames estuary right out to the north sea and including the Medway estuary, it is of national and international importance.

In the recent by-election, where Lodge Hill was one of two main local issues, over 81% of votes went to the three candidates who had vehemently opposed this development, including myself, the UKIP candidate and the Conservative candidate. This represents a total rejection of the project by local people.

So, for now, let’s celebrate this important decision from, Brandon Lewis, the Minister, and appreciate that he’s made the right decision.

However, although this certainly is a victory, we need to be aware that the Minister may simply be ensuring that this matter does not create controversy prior to the General Election in May. It is important that we continue to apply pressure on both Medway Council and the government to now confine this vile project to the scrap-heap.

In addition to joining others in highlighting the vital importance of the site environmentally, we have spoken out about the likely failure of this project to address Medway’s urgent housing needs. Most of the properties proposed in this plan are likely to be too expensive for local people. Along with the Green Party’s national policy, we call on Medway Council to look at both bringing empty properties back into use, and building truly affordable rentable housing for the benefit of those in desperate need.

A project on this scale is not only wrong for the proposed area but will likely expand the population of Medway by creating homes for people being priced out of London. We think a project of this type may well make Medway’s housing problems worse.

Unlike other party candidates, I’ll never change my mind on this issue, or go with the flow – this is our world we’re campaigning to protect, not a political system.  We’ll always oppose this development and we will continue the fight until it is finally scrapped”

Clive also wrote the following letter recently to the Medway Messenger, in response to one published by Derek Munton, Chairman of Rochester and Strood Constituency Labour Party.

Lodge Hill – Labour just don’t get it!

In a recent edition of Medway Messenger, Derek Munton, Chairman of Rochester and Strood Constituency Labour Party was reported to claim that “walking away” from the proposed development at Lodge Hill would be “irresponsible” a position that I will strongly refute.

Yes, Medway needs housing. However, this grandiose scheme will do little to address our real housing needs. Most of the properties will be in excess of £250k, most will be significantly more. Sure, they’ve promised some, so called affordable housing, but even these do not address the most urgent housing needs. The most important housing needs are for those people who are in temporary accommodation or sub-standard housing. These people are in need of low rent property and there’s very little of that planned for Lodge Hill.

The Green Party would take the bold steps needed to get to the heart of the housing crisis with key policies that focus on bringing empty homes back into use, a better deal for private tenants, ending the Right to Buy, and action on rent levels plus a pledge to build 500,000 new rentable social homes in the UK over five years.

In contrast, Labour is saying they will build 200,000 more homes a year but do not specify how many would be affordable, just ‘more homes’[1]. It is likely that under Labour we will get more of these out of town estates in areas that destroy wildlife habitats; estates of houses that those in real need cannot afford.

Last week I visited the RSPB site at Northward Hill to learn more about the environmental importance of Lodge Hill and the Hoo peninsula. The most striking impression was that what we’re dealing with here is an area made up of, not just the Hoo peninsula, but interconnected with the Thames coast line of Essex, the North Kent marshes and more. DEFRA’s map of the Thames estuary area displays vividly the importance of the entire region with SSSI sites at regular intervals. Even before we take into account the specifics of why Lodge Hill was designated an SSSI, a study of the map shows that, to link these SSSIs together, Lodge Hill is essential – take it away and build on it and the entire eco-system is disrupted and quite probably destroyed.

This environment is vital, not just for the animals and plants and especially the world’s birds – millions of them that migrate along this route – but for us too. Why can’t our local councillors understand how special this site is – it is not for them, or any of us, to have any right to destroy it – we must nurture it.

The Green Party’s housing plans mean that we would have greater control than if we just let big private builders like Land Securities (the developer responsible for the Lodge Hill proposal) build where they want.  We will be announcing planning reforms that ensure councils can put new homes in the right place, without taking up prime agricultural land or wildlife havens or parks.  This is not as difficult as it sounds; according to the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, only a tiny fraction (just over 2%) of the UK has been built on.  The issue is not whether houses should be built to address our housing needs, this is absolutely necessary, but what kind of houses should be built and where they should be built. This leads me to my next point – who would buy the houses at Lodge Hill?

Geoff Juby, the LibDem candidate in the recent by-election, and a councillor, seems to think that this development will help his children buy their first home. But will it? I very much doubt it. The problem for Medway currently is that thousands of people are being priced out of London. They look for somewhere they can live more cheaply but still have good access to London. Well, guess what, here we are in Medway in just such a position. Typically, many of these people will have more money to spend than those currently working and living in Medway. As a result they’re more likely to be able to afford these high price units and can always pay a little more and so outbid the locals.

I predict this: should this evil be perpetrated on the Hoo peninsula, less than 50% of properties will go to those currently registered as living in Medway and virtually no one regarded as being on the 20,000 housing waiting list will benefit. Instead, we’ll expand the population of Medway with people piling out of London to exploit cheaper housing. This may even exacerbate our housing problems in the long run.

Thus, don’t be taken in by the arguments of Labour or other councillors. For all the reasons stated here and more, Medway Green Party continues to call on Medway Council and the Government to make the truly responsible decision and abandon this scheme.

Notes:
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s