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Council for the Protection of Rural England objection

Mr D Brown
Development Services
Thanet District Council
PO Box 9
Cecil Street

9th May 2008

Dear Mr Brown,

Planning Application F/TH/08/0400 - Redevelopment of land for B1c, B2 and B8 (industrial and warehouse uses) mixed commercial use with ancillary parking and landscaping on land at Manston Business Park, Manston Road, Manston, Ramsgate

On behalf of CPRE Kent I write to register objection to the above-mentioned planning application.

CPRE Kent acknowledges that the application is for land allocated for employment development in the adopted 2006 Thanet Local Plan under Policy EC1, and we acknowledge the importance of the site for employment development in the District.  However, the application is being promoted as phase 1 of a significantly larger development that has no status in the development plan, and we consider that an approval of the application on this basis would pre-empt the proper consideration of the additional land proposed through the statutory development plan process.

Chapter 4 (Planning Policy Context) of the Environmental Statement seeks to make the case for providing additional employment land in Thanet.  This though is first and foremost an argument that must be made through the Local Development Framework (LDF) process rather than through a planning application.  It is entirely inappropriate for the Council to support phases 2 and 3 of this development on the back of this application.  It should also not be overlooked that Thanet already has a generous existing employment land supply of 288,766 sq.m, which more than adequately covers the Local Plan period to 2011.  Indeed, it meets 95% of the Kent and Medway Structure Plan requirement to 2021.  The need to identify further employment land, therefore, is a matter for the review of the Local Plan through the LDF process, which the Council is already progressing and will be consulting on shortly.  This process should not be pre-empted now by approving this application, as it will be necessary for the Council to consider all appropriate options for accommodating future employment needs, and to consult on them.

All the supporting information is presented in the context of the much larger scheme, with Chapter 11 of the Design and Access Statement (DAS) clearly stating that development will be delivered in 3 phases.  As a consequence it is extremely unclear as to whether the phase 1 land, comprising the allocated land, could viably be developed as a standalone development as proposed in the Local Plan, which is the proposition that the Council must consider.  

Whilst Chapter 11 of the DAS states that funding is in place for immediate commencement of phase 1 once permission is granted, there is no suggestion in the supporting information that this would be the case without phases 2 and 3.  The applicant is clearly looking to the Council to consider this application in the context of the larger scheme, and it is on this basis that the commitment to implementation and delivery must be seen.  Approval of the application as presented, therefore, would inevitably mean the Council would be giving at least implicit support for phases 2 and 3.  This, in our view, would be totally unacceptable and undermine the forthcoming consultations on the Council's LDF documents.  In effect, the Council would be going into the LDF process with a closed mind contrary to at least the spirit, if not the legal requirements, of the statutory development plan process.

Furthermore, because the supporting information is presented for the larger site, we have found it impossible to disentangle relevant information to enable the phase 1 land to be considered independently to the larger site.  We consider that the Council will similarly be unable to assess what the impacts of phase 1 alone would be if it were permitted to proceed on its own in accordance with the Local Plan.  Consequently, we consider that the Council is not in a position to approve the application in the context of the Local Plan allocation, i.e. as a standalone and self contained development.

The inclusion of phases 2 and 3, in addition to the allocated site, makes the proposition entirely different to that currently proposed in the Local Plan.  It raises some very serious planning issues of principle that demand proper justification and examination through the development plan process.  We would, therefore, strongly urge the Council to refuse planning permission for phase 1 as proposed, and if the Council considers that a larger scheme is necessary to deliver its economic objectives this should be pursued as a single proposition through the LDF process.  This would avoid the piecemeal and backdoor approach currently being advocated and give third parties the proper opportunity to comment on the scheme as a whole.  The Council and the developer might see this as delaying the delivery of much needed new employment, but there is no indication that the developer will proceed on the basis of permission for phase 1 alone without a commitment from the Council to phases 2 and 3.  This commitment can only be properly given through the development plan process, so it is unlikely that development will proceed before the LDF is progressed in any event.      

In addition, we would raise the following concerns with the application and the proposals for phase 1:

The application describes the proposal as the “redevelopment of land”, whilst some of the supporting documentation refers to the phase 1 land as brownfield (for example see para. 3.1 of Chapter 3 of the Environmental Statement).  This is clearly a misleading and wrong description of the land involved, as it is obviously largely, if not entirely, greenfield land.  Notwithstanding the fact that it is allocated for development in the Local Plan, this greenfield status must be properly acknowledged.  Phases 2 and 3 will similarly involve greenfield land, very likely high grade agricultural land, and the future loss of this land is an important implication if phase 1 is approved.

The Local Plan indicates that the outstanding commitment at Manston Park is for 121,789 sq.m of employment land.  The application for phase 1, however, is for 137,664 sq.m, though it does not include all the land remaining available within the allocated area.  This suggests that the proposal for phase 1 is at a higher density than envisaged by the Council.  This higher density, we believe, is an over development of the site with the consequence being some very large buildings, which will be very visible in the landscape.  This is a point that I return to later.

It is clear from the Local Plan that it is the Council's objective to diversify the local economy, and PRC's covering letter to the planning application seems to respond to this objective by explaining that the site will be developed for “high-tech manufacturing purposes”.  It is clear, though, from the application form and the supporting information that the precise uses for the site are far from certain.  This is particularly clear from Chapter 12 of the Environmental Statement, which deals with transport issues.  Such is the uncertainty as to what the specific mix of uses will be that the transport assessment is forced to consider two vastly different development scenarios, within which completely different patterns, types and distributions of traffic are considered.  

This uncertainty is worrying given that the applicant states that this is not a speculative development (para. 4.126 of Chapter 4 of the Environmental Statement).  If the development is not speculative, the developer must know what the development will comprise and who the users will be.  However, this does not seem to be the case and as a consequence there is considerable doubt over the mix of uses, and the emphasis of the development.  Therefore there can be no certainty that it will deliver the Council's objective of diversifying the local economy.  There would seem to be a very real danger that the focus will be on storage and distribution uses rather than the high-tech manufacturing promised by the applicant.  It is our view that the Council must be assured by the applicant that the site will deliver in accordance with the Council's economic objectives, but the supporting information does not give this assurance.

Given the very great uncertainty about the uses that are likely to be accommodated, we consider that the transport impacts of the development on the local roads are far from clear.  Two development scenarios are presented and assessed, but in reality this is just two of an infinite number of scenarios.

In particular we question the reliance placed on the travel plan as the solution to potential problems that are predicted to arise at certain junctions.  Whilst we fully support travel plans and the encouragement of non-car modes of transport, the isolated location of this site inevitably means that it will be entirely dependent upon car based journeys.  A travel plan that seeks to achieve a 20% modal shift to non-car modes plus 20% car sharing is extremely ambitious.  Such reliance on an ambitious travel plan as the solution to predicted traffic problems caused by the development must be seen as being of great concern and a significant risk.

Within the development proposal a range of buildings are proposed, which are described as being single or two storey.  Some of the buildings, though, are very tall and bulky.  For example in phase 1 the units marked `A' will be upto 16.975m high whilst those marked `X' will be upto 12.775m high.  Additionally, the landmark `Gateway' building is 14.5 m high.  These are all very imposing buildings, and will be clearly visible in the landscape from a distance.  

The site falls within the Central Chalk Plateau Landscape Character Area as defined in the Local Plan.  Policy CC2 of the Local Plan, which relates to this area, specifically states that “particular care should be taken to avoid skyline intrusion and the loss or interruption of long views of the coast and the sea”.  We note that the applicant proposes that landscaping in the form of bunds, native hedgerow, trees and low lying grass will be provided to soften the bulk and the mass of the buildings.  However, we consider that it will be impossible to avoid the skyline intrusion that is the concern of Policy CC2 given the bulk and the height of the buildings proposed.  This is clearly evidenced in the computer generated views of the site provided by the applicant.  These clearly show that the landscaping, even when mature, will not hide the bulk of the buildings, and demonstrate in particular that the Gateway building will be very prominent on the skyline.

Paragraph 5.20 of Chapter 5 (Landscape and Visual Impact) of the Environmental Statement explains that “a sensitive approach to the scheme design needs to be taken into consideration due to the surrounding land designations” (i.e. the Landscape Character Area).  However, we are told in Chapter 3 (Proposed Development and Alternatives) of the Environmental Statement that the Gateway building will be a principal feature of the development, and that it is “a standard inclusion within future Chinamex developments worldwide” (para. 3.4).  This standard inclusion is hardly sensitive to the particular surrounding circumstances here.  Furthermore, paragraph 3.6 of Chapter 3 explains that the industrial units “will all be standard rectangular shape units varying in size and height”.  Again, this is hardly sensitive to the site's location on a plateau that commands long views.  We would submit that the standard design approach proposed fails to respond to the sensitivity of the site in the surrounding landscape, and will make it particularly visible in long distance views.  This we feel makes the proposal contrary to policies CC2 and D1 of the Local Plan.

Finally, we would raise issues with regard to hydrology, and the site's location within a groundwater protection zone.  Chapter 10 (Hydrology) of the Environmental Statement clearly acknowledges that the development has the potential to impact on the water resource features within the area (para. 10.5).  Mitigation measure are proposed, and we leave it to others more qualified than ourselves to comment on the technical aspects of this, but it is difficult to distinguish from the assessment what specifically is proposed to mitigate phase 1 as opposed to the larger development proposals.  The situation is complicated further by the fact that the mix of development, and therefore the potential impact on water resources, is unknown.  Again we consider that the Council is not in a position to judge what the potential impacts of phase 1 on this crucially important resource will be, as distinct from the larger scheme.

It is clear from the submitted Environmental Statement that the development will have impacts for both phase 1 and the subsequent phases.  It is openly acknowledged by the applicant that there will be impacts on ecology, archaeology, ground water, ground soil conditions and the highway network, and that there will be implications for noise, lighting, drainage, air quality and vibration (paras 3.30, 3.31, 3.35, 3.36, 3.40 & 3.41 of Chapter 3 of the Environmental Statement).  These are serious admissions.  Although the developer submits that these inevitable impacts and implications are minimal or can be mitigated, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions on the impacts for the allocated site, the subject of the planning application, as distinct from the larger site.  The impacts will inevitably be different, as will the mitigation required.  Crucially, is the provision of the mitigation measures necessary for the allocated site dependent upon phases 2 and 3?

The difficulty for the Council is that it must determine the application in accordance with the prevailing statutory development plan, and this does not propose the larger scheme.  The Council, therefore, needs to satisfy itself that the allocated site can be delivered, with appropriate mitigation, as proposed in the Local Plan.  We do not consider that the Council has the appropriate information provided by the applicant to reach a positive conclusion in this regard.  The applicant is proposing the site as a first phase of a larger development.  If it is this larger site that makes the development viable then, in our view, the Council has no choice but to refuse planning permission.  Any commitment to a larger development site must be a matter for the LDF, not by sanctioning phase 1 of a scheme that has not been independently assessed and examined and subject to the proper consultation and considerations that would be expected for such a major development.  

We would strongly urge the Council, therefore, to refuse planning permission.

Yours sincerely

Brian Lloyd
Senior Planner

Cc.     Colin Bridge, CPRE Thanet