AONB

A village speaks

An impression of a display at the BNPC Information Event. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Following the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan Group’s information event on Saturday 21 January we present a number of the comments made on the ‘Panoramic Views’ board. We believe these give a good flavour of the opinions expressed when residents were asked which views they want protected.

The views on display were: 1. Station Rd to Bridge (not Mill Lane as stated); 2. The Butts to Mill Terrace; 3. Bishopsbourne Hop Garden to Flint Cottages and beyond (not where indicated); 4. From Star Hill over Bridge; 5. Highland Farm to Bifrons Estate; 6. Town Hill to Bridge. Some significant views of Bridge were absent from the display.

Comments

All views should be protected

No. 6, Preserve the gap between Canterbury and Bridge. Is paramount {sic}.

Keep Bridge a rural village protect all views

{Pic 6} Do not build of the green gap {sic} between Bridge/Renville/Canterbury

Keep Bridge a village do not allow Canterbury to encroach. Save all these views

No. 6 It is essential to keep a clear green gap between Bridge and South Canterbury

We need to preserve all our areas of outstanding natural beauty

{Pic 6} The green gap must be preserved for Bridge residents now and for the future

{Pic 4} The view from ‘Star Hill’ is very special and has a fantastic history. DO NOT CHANGE IT!

All views should be protected – our village is special and so are our landscapes

Surely we must preserve all our green spaces and open views. It’s a bit ironic and sad that the major threat to Bridge — Mountfield Park — is outside the scope of this otherwise informative and useful exhibition

All views should be kept our village should remain a village

1 2 3 4 5 are outside the village envelope

No 6 will mean no green gap and no space between Canterbury and Bridge

Please ensure Bridge retains it’s identity & do NOT build on the green gap {sic}

4 A frequently used footpath with lovely views of bridge over the top

{Pic 6} Please do not build in this “Green Gap”

No 6 We must preserve the Green Gap between the village and south Canterbury where they are building 4000 new homes. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty

4 The footpath here is very well used. The views are fantastic. No building here

All views should be preserved and protected — they form part of the quality of the area and contribute to the A.O.N.B. in which Bridge is situated

The key aspects of the rural setting of Bridge lies to the south and west views (1-4) The “green gap” is on high ground affecting the views from the village centre. The topography is such that access is likely to be from Bekesbourne Lane – it can therefore be argued that these houses are C/B overspill rather than part of Bridge so it too should be avoid but detriment is less {sic}

4 This should remain as beautiful as it is Do not build on this land.

So much development is going on in Canterbury, namely Barton and behind Park-n-Ride N/Dover Rd. Why must we sacrifice Bridge. Legal advice should be taken to preserve us! And our spaces.

6 Must retain green gap! This is national policy. We do not want to be connected to Mountfield Park

No. 2 and all others. This (No 2) should be preserved it is an area that all villagers enjoy. Wildlife in abundance and it makes our village special. Please keep Bridge rural.

6 It is imperative to keep the Green gap between Bridge and Canterbury so we are not part of large complex of houses

Surely we must preserve all our green spaces and open views. It’s a bit ironic and sad that the major current threat to Bridge — “Mountfiled Park” — is outside the scope of this otherwise instructive and useful exhibition.

{Pic 1} Please leave this This is a preserved area

6 {first part hidden} before the extent of Mountfield Park was known. Building here will join Bridge to Canterbury. KEEP THE GREEN GAP

Please leave all of it alone!

6 This view must be kept preserved It is the green gap

All views to be protected Don’t spoil the very thing that most of us want to live here for

{Pic 6} We need to preserve the green spaces around Bridge — and especially between us and Canterbury — if we’re to maintain the character of the village

Bridge is in an A.O.B. we should not be building in any green sites and definitly not build on the gap between bridge, Canterbury {sic}

{Pic 6} Please do not build in this “GREEN GAP”

1. Quintessential view for protection

It is vital to maintain the identity of the village and not allow the defined gap to canterbury to be filled. 6 must be maintained if we are not to become an suburb of Canterbury {sic}

All areas in Bridge need to be preserved and protected, I have watched wildlife throughout seasons in all of these locations and it is not acceptable to take away any habitat. It is an A.O.N.B.

We thank all those who left comments: clearly our countryside is much valued by the people of Bridge. Having previously expressed BridgeNature.org’s position that we want all our local countryside to be protected, we are delighted with the response of Bridge residents. We do hope that this strength of public opinion will, in future, be reflected in the policies of the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan.

*Note: Public comments made at a Parish Council event are a matter of public record. All comments here can be verified as having been made at the event. Comments were written on small ‘Post It Notes’ so line changes sometimes replaced punctuation which might otherwise have been used. We have tried to record comments accurately as they were made. To this end spellings, grammar and punctuation have not been corrected. {Pic X} indicates near which picture the comment was posted, although the nature of the display did not always make this clear. This list does not include comments made by BridgeNature.org.

Important views of Bridge

Don’t Judge. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016

“An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is exactly what it says it is: a precious landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so outstanding that it is in the nation’s interest to safeguard them”.
Kent Downs AONB Management Plan 2009-14

Readers will be aware that residents of Bridge are invited to an information event hosted by the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan Group, which will be held at the village hall on Saturday 21 January 2017. The event will feature a display of photographic views of the village and its surrounds taken by some local people. Residents will be asked to express preferences on which views they consider the most important, so that they can be listed for protection in the new Bridge Neighbourhood Plan.

Of course photographs of our beautiful landscape are lovely to look at, but photographs are just selective images reflecting the particular tastes of the photographer. Pictures alone do not enable us to know or judge which areas are important out in the real landscape either visually, ecologically, for agriculture or for biodiversity, so they must never be used to set one aspect of our protected countryside against another.

In fact, BridgeNature.org was asked some weeks ago to provide photographs for this event, but we declined to do so because Bridge is a rural village within two Conservation Areas and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and these legal designations mean that our village and its surrounds must, by law, be protected, both to preserve its character and its appearance. The law is quite clear: it’s not about choosing this view or that view, all our rural landscape must be protected because our area is special. The government’s National Planning Policy Framework 2012 states that AONBs are equivalent to National Parks in terms of their landscape quality, scenic beauty and their planning status (1).

Modern planning law imposes “a duty on relevant authorities, public bodies {including parish councils} and statutory undertakers to take account of the need to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of AONB landscapes when carrying out their statutory functions”. Kent Downs AONB Landscape Design Handbook 2005 reprinted 2006.

To the modern mind the term ‘natural beauty’ may sound rather vague and perhaps, to use a contemporary term, ‘cheesy’, but in 1949 it was written as shorthand for something far more important than just pretty scenery: it describes the visible presence of what today we would refer to as a healthy local ecology and rich biodiversity within a flourishing rural landscape. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 (which first defined AONBs) makes this clear “References in this Act to the preservation or conservation of the natural beauty of an area shall be construed as including references to the preservation or, as the case may be, the conservation of its flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features”. NPACA 1949, Section 114.

With this in mind we suggest that asking residents to express a preference for certain areas of our protected landscape by voting on some amateur snaps of Bridge is a gross misunderstanding of the requirements of a Neighbourhood Plan for a parish within an AONB. Some might call it crass. We understand that some Neighbourhood Plan Group members and their advisors have tried to ensure that, at the information event, public votes on the views will be restricted, so that only a limited number of views will be accepted. One suggestion was to force the vote to reduce an original display of twenty views down to six. Why should we only be allowed to value six views of our local landscape? Another suggestion was to ask residents to give the views a value on a sliding scale from ‘very important’, through ‘important’ to ‘not important at all’. In a designated AONB this has appalling implications.

We do not know which method has been chosen, it may be something different, but any attempt to prioritise or rank certain areas of our landscape against others is unacceptable: we must not let our AONB be judged in this way. To ensure that it is not, we ask all residents to spare just 15 minutes or so to attend the information event in the village hall on Saturday 21 January, between 10am and 1pm and we urge you to make it clear to the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan Group that we will not subject our local countryside to an ‘X Factor’ type popularity contest in the village hall, nor, as one committee advisor suggested, a competition for ‘Likes’ on Facebook. We wish to preserve ALL our greenfield land, ALL the scenic views it provides and ALL the flora and fauna which depend upon it. Under the laws governing an AONB nothing less is acceptable, anything else is a betrayal of its original designation.

(1) NPPF 2012. Paras. 14 footnote 9, 115 and 116

The myth of ‘The Balance of Nature’

Nature does not stand balanced like some perfectly poised dancer pirouetting on a bar. Little Egret, Bridge. 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016

“The idea of a balance of nature has been a dominant part of Western philosophy since before Aristotle, and it persists in the public imagination and even among some ecologists today. In fact Nature is not in balance, nor has it ever been at any stage in Earth’s history.”
John Kricher. ‘The Balance of Nature; ecology’s enduring myth.’

On 7 February 2017 we finally had to concede that the Nailbourne had dried up. Not a trickle ran in constant flow through Bridge. Since it is a bourne, an occasional stream, which leaks from fissures in the chalk beneath East Kent, this is not to be unexpected; but it spells disaster for our local wildlife and the precious ecosystem of a rare chalk stream. A rich and varied biodiversity nurtured by the cool springwater will be lost: a delicate, heirarchical food chain which was gradually establishing itself in the heart of our valley will break and fail. Many species will either die or move elsewhere.

It is a populist notion that such events are all part of what some people call the ‘Balance of Nature’. They are not. Balance implies a system of self-correction, a sustained position of equilibrium. This is not what happens in Nature. The natural world does not stand balanced like some perfectly poised dancer pirouetting on a bar; it reels and lurches from one disaster to another, like a confused boxer losing badly in a fight.

“Nature is not a balance, it is just one catastrophe after another!”
Professor Richard Dawkins

When a natural catastrophe occurs on a large scale in a meteor strike, a flood, a volcanic eruption, or, on a smaller scale, perhaps the drying up of a village pond or a local spring, there is destruction and there is death. This creates a vacuum in the natural world and Nature abhors a vacuum. Something, in a quest for survival, will fill it; this invariably will be some species of plant or creature which is more suited to the new environment. An opportunity arises, something seizes it, but this opportunism must not be confused with ‘balance’, for the state of things will now be different, the equilibrium has not somehow been restored. Things have changed and in consequence there may now be a new order in the food chain, a new king ruling the jungle. He will rule as long as the new conditions remain or until the next catastrophe arrives to topple him from his place. It’s a continuing struggle for survival in which each individual in each species fights for itself in the face of ever looming death. In the 3.5 billion year history of life on Earth, over 99% of all the species that ever lived here are thought to have become extinct, either because they just couldn’t live in the environment in which they found themselves, or because a new, more advanced or adapted species was able to out compete them. This is a process called ‘speciation’ and we modern humans may face it one day as did Neanderthal man who failed to compete with us.

Mother Nature is not of gentle mind, she is a violent and ruthless ruler in her empire of the sun. Her flowers bloom sublime, but don’t be confused by her apparent charm and her fondness for the young: she has no compassion. Her disasters appear random, but they are all a consequence of her brutal rule. There is an order in the chaos, but it is heartless, inequitable and cruel. Life on Earth staggers on, trying to navigate through constant adversity and change: ‘carpe diem’, seize the day and do your best to survive, but be assured your death will come and you won’t be calling it a balance when the reaper swings his scythe.

Sometimes we think we see Mother Nature as a beauty, dancing elegantly to illuminate our lives in the darkness of her universe. Her beauty, her dancing and even the colours of her dress are mere mirage; but the miracle, the sublime, spectacular miracle, is that she ever manages to stand at all. We must hope we never live long enough to know when she finally collapses and her empire turns to dust.

 

 

A world made in pictures

Blue Tit, Bridge Meadows. Unlike the fleeting glimpses of wildlife we catch in the real world, in photographs nature pauses, poses, and stands still to let us look at it, but we are creating an imaginary world. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Out in the countryside around Bridge it seems an increasing number of people are taking photographs. It is wonderful that residents have an appreciation of our landscape, but we must remember that, however much a photograph seems to capture the beauty of the scenery, it isn’t as important or as valuable as the real thing, and photography is not conservation.

For BridgeNature.org, creating and presenting pictures is not, and must not be our main objective. Conservation of our real, living, breathing wildlife and countryside is our essential purpose, not some pretty representation of it in photographic images. Can the same be said of the beautifully filmed natural history programmes we see on television week after week, and of the perfectly produced photographs we see in magazines, online sites and exhibitions? Well, many certainly appear genuine in their intentions, but, whatever the motives of their producers, conservationists fear a real danger that, in presenting films and photographs, the images themselves achieve a profile and value in the public mind, sometimes merely an entertainment value, that casts the pictures’ subjects, our real landscape and wildlife, into the shade. However sublime the photographs may be in their own right, this is cause for concern.

The issue lies within the very essence of the photographic image: capturing and re-presenting a visual likeness of something. Once we have accepted this medium as a way of seeing the world around us, a picture seems real. A film seems even more real, because it moves and captures sound. But both are real only as entities in themselves: the animals, trees and landscapes portrayed within them only exist as coloured dots, or pixels on a screen, the sounds they emit are electronic, made by a loudspeaker.

In public understanding, the old notion that ‘the camera never lies’ still persists to this day, yet it is in itself a lie. At best the photograph only tells us part of the truth, often it is a manipulated deception and, in the very act of switching our attention from the real object to the picture, the real object ceases to have form and substance as it is discarded in favour of a man-made image. We learn to accept this carefully manufactured representation, which, unlike the views of Nature we see in our real imperfect world, pauses, postures and poses to let us look at it until, in effect, the picture or film becomes more real, impressive and permanent than the real thing. To the conservationist this is alarming, because all the while these carefully selected images present a perfect vision of Nature, people assume everything is fine in our countryside: but it isn’t!

Picture this: protected fields north of Conyngham Lane, Bridge, under threat from development. In a few years’ time, will we just be left with pretty images as mementos of our countryside? Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Today, our wildlife and countryside are under threat as never before. They are not as valued or as protected as we might hope they are. In recent years large tracts of our AONBs have been lost to housing development. Even specially protected Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest have been neglected: in 2011 only 26 out of 710 ASSIs and SSSIs on enclosed farmland were in favourable condition (1). Our farmland birds have declined by 56% since 1970 (2); woodland butterflies have declined by 51% since 1990 (3); 728 wildlife species are at risk of extinction from Great Britain (4). We need to decide what it is we want to value, treasure and protect: is it all the wonderful photographs and films we see of our wildlife? Or is it the real thing? If we make the wrong choices now, all that will be left are some pretty pictures to remind our grandchildren of what we squandered.

(1) UK National Ecosystem Assessment 2011
(2) BTO Farmland Bird Indicator 2016
(3) Woodland Butterfly Indicator 2016
(4) State of Nature Report 2016

Campaigns for conservation

Valued countryside: fields at Brickfield Farm, Bridge. The historic Bridge Place can be seen in the background. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

BridgeNature.org was conceived in 2012 with the objective of encouraging the appreciation of the wildlife and countryside in our local area. We began with a monthly newsletter, but later moved on to a website with regular articles, environmental information and picture galleries.

This is all very well meaning and, we hope, informative, but it has little value if we are not prepared to stand up and be counted when the very countryside and wildlife which we write about is under threat. So, from the outset, BridgeNature.org has campaigned zealously to protect our countryside with lobbying letters to local bodies like The Kent Downs AONB Management Unit, Kent Wildlife Trust and Natural England, as well as our own Parish Council and Canterbury City Council. We have also spoken on behalf of our countryside, hedgerows, trees and wildlife at public meetings and planning consultations.

So far, the success rate of campaigns which we have initiated or with which we have been associated has been astonishing, but it has been a team effort involving members of public bodies, action groups and of course the support of the public.

1. In 2014 we reported on an application to build a large equestrian arena and accommodation block in a field next to the hop farm in Bourne Park. This would have had a dramatic impact on the local scenery and would have brought heavy traffic into the area. In combination with Bishopsbourne Parish Council and local residents we campaigned to stop the progress of the application. The proposal was refused. Success

2. In 2015 we supported a resident in Union Road, Bridge, who was campaigning to save some of the oldest trees in the village from being felled by a local property developer. Together, and with immense public support, we achieved our aim. Only one tree (a dead one) was cut down. Success

3. In 2015 and 2016 we joined the campaign led by some residents of Lower Hardres and Nackington to stop the development of a huge solar farm between Nackington and Bridge on some of the best agricultural land in Britain. Bridge Parish Council Planning Committee voted to take a neutral stance on the issue, but, as a result of the combined protests of other local authorities, concerned environmental groups and the public, the proposal was twice withdrawn and now appears to have disappeared. Success

Sparrows in a devastated nesting site, Mill Lane, Bridge, 17 July, 2015. The result of inappropriate hedge cutting practices by Canterbury City Council. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

4. In late Summer 2014, 2015 and again in 2016, we made formal complaints to Canterbury City Council and Natural England regarding CCC’s regular policy of cutting the hedge on Mill Lane, Bridge, during the nesting season while a number of birds were clearly nesting there. This has led to the annual devastation of active nesting sites. To date CCC have not changed their policy, claiming that the hedge cutting is to make the road safe! This is nonsense. BridgeNature.org will continue to campaign to prevent this vandalism in our parish and we are now in contact with CCC Councilor Simon Cook who is kindly working with us to resolve this issue. Pending
***UPDATE***
On 5 Jan 2017 we were informed that this issue has now been resolved and the hedge will be cut after 31 August each year in compliance with modern environmental guidelines. We thank Councilor Simon Cook for his efforts in bringing about this change. Success

5. In Spring 2016 we campaigned to save two trees on Bridge Recreation Ground from being hacked back to their stumps in the potentially terminal exercise of pollarding. Two beautiful, healthy mature trees were to be vandalised simply because they were considered to be taking up too much room and causing moss on the tennis courts which were built in a damp location long after the trees were planted. Bridge Parish Council initially approved the pollarding, but, with a BridgeNature.org campaign involving local residents, letters to the Parish Council and the rigorous lobbying of Canterbury City Council Planning Department the Parish Council were persuaded to change their policy. The trees remain under threat, but we are ever vigilant. Success

6. Since conception BridgeNature.org has campaigned to protect the green fields around Bridge from housing development. They lie within our designated Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so housing development on them is generally restricted, but that has not stopped a long list of city councilors, parish councilors, prospective MPs, landowners, confused residents and aspiring property tycoons from trying to build there in order to satisfy their own wants. BridgeNature.org has spoken out vociferously on this issue, and just this month our views were endorsed by a government inspector who ruled that a city council proposal for a housing development of 40 houses cannot go ahead on Brickfield Farm, Bridge, because it would breach planning law and damage our AONB. We thank all those who joined us in this campaign. Success

These successes in protecting our wildlife and countryside have not necessarily been brought about by some innate ability or powerful political authority, they have been achieved by the combined actions of ‘people who care’ standing up to make their voices heard, or, more practically, sitting down to write, sometimes in defiance of local political authority.

The countryside of our AONB and the trees within our Conservation Areas have been protected by law for the good of us all and the future generations who follow because they are rare assets in an increasingly urbanised national landscape. Who would seek to destroy such treasures? Only the ignorant, the arrogant and the selfish; but we have all within our midst! Whatever the ambitions, lack of awareness or political powers of such people, we must make it clear to them that we will not allow them to destroy the things that we hold dear, and the more people who join in that call the louder it will be heard.

As 2016 draws to a close BridgeNature.org thanks all those residents who have supported our campaigns to date and we hope that you will support us in the future.

Brickfields, a farm reprieved

Brickfield Farm, Bridge, May 2015. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Following Canterbury City Council’s recent proposal to include the building of 40 new dwellings at Brickfield Farm, Bridge, on their new District Local Plan, the government inspector who checks such plans has written to the city council telling them that he is refusing permission for that inclusion and the proposal must be removed from the plan. The inspector gave his verdict on the basis that such development would damage The Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty within which Bridge village and much of our surrounding countryside is situated. We include this from the inspector’s letter:

“Brickfield Farm, Bridge (allocation for 40 dwellings). This is one of the sites that the Council has identified to address the 5-year housing land supply position. I am not satisfied that the inclusion of this site has been justified, particularly in terms of its effect on the Kent Downs AONB in which it is located. It could be considered through the emerging Neighbourhood Plan but the MM [Main Modification] proposing its inclusion in the LP [Local Plan] should be removed, as should the proposed change to the PM [Proposals Map].”

*NB: We have added what we believe are the correct explanations of abbreviations in brackets.

This is a wonderful reprieve for Brickfields and a vindication for all those who have campaigned to protect our local countryside, but something even more important has happened here: this inspector’s judgement is a victory for all the National Parks and AONBs across the nation because it acknowledges and verifies the significance of designated areas of protected countryside and recognises that reckless and irresponsible housing development by local authorities must not be allowed to go ahead in protected areas.

While this is excellent news, the new Bridge Neighbourhood Plan still includes plans to build on Brickfield Farm. Our Neighbourhood Plan Committee may say they want small scale incremental development now, but, over the years, this adds up and consumes just as much land as one large development. We currently have 8 dwellings on Brickfields with a proposal for 8 more. Is this the final tally, or when and where will it end? Those of us who have been working for years to prevent building development on the green fields of our AONB (often in the face of sneering disinterest from within the Parish Council) now have the backing of a government inspector with the view that housing development across the fields at Brickfield Farm would constitute unacceptable damage to a designated landscape and a breach of the law which protects it. In the future Brickfield Farm must not be held in limbo, as a building site waiting to be built on, it must be recognised for the valuable farmland that it is: a treasured asset in our sector of the AONB which we are legally and morally obliged to conserve for future generations.

When making his comments, the government inspector was checking Canterbury District Local Plan, he was not examining the (yet to be completed, yet to be adopted) Bridge Neighbourhood Plan and has therefore made no criticism of it; that plan will be examined later, on its own terms. In the meantime BridgeNature.org urges all our residents who care about our local countryside to make it clear to our Parish Council at every opportunity that they should respect the designation of our AONB together with the import and implication of the government inspector’s decision. With hundreds of new affordable homes about to be built at Mountfield Park, just 3 minutes’ travel away from Bridge, we believe further housing development on Brickfields is not acceptable; in the bright new light cast by the government’s inspectorate building more housing on Brickfields would constitute wilful, obdurate vandalism, and any suggestion of it should be removed from the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan.

BridgeNature.org would like to express thanks to all those who have voted, campaigned and written letters against development on Brickfields. Somewhere up in the ether your voices have been heard.

 

Winter’s little refugee

Shore Lark (male), White Cliffs near Dover, 6 Nov 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Shore Lark (male), White Cliffs near Dover, 6 Nov 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

This week we report the sighting of a rare bird near Dover. The Kent coastline is not normally within our area of inclusion, but the section of The White Cliffs where the bird was observed is within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which we campaign to protect, and the sighting is of such significance that we believe it should be noted, both for public record and for general interest.

The bird in question is the Shore Lark, a distinctive little bird, of a similar size to a sparrow, which visits Britain in very small numbers from Northern Europe and Scandinavia to pass Winter here. In its northern home the bird lives in large flocks, but, since the entire Winter population of Shore Larks in Britain is thought to be about 75 up to perhaps 300 birds, a large flock of Shore Larks would be an incredibly rare sight indeed.

It is extremely rare for the Shore Lark to attempt to breed in this country so it is considered to be a visiting bird only. On arrival they confine themselves to the east coast of England, with a particular focus on East Anglia, that being an obvious landing point from a southbound North Sea crossing. As their name suggests they stay close to the shore, or nearby open farmland, where they potter about, in constant motion, feeding from the ground. The Shore Lark we observed was resting on its own.

In Britain the Shore Lark is specifically listed for special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and extra penalties apply to anyone who harms them or disturbs a nest, if sighted.

The presence of this little Winter refugee in our AONB gives us cause to remember that the countryside is not ours alone in which to do as we please: so many diverse species rely on it for survival. Another reason too to remember why special areas of our countryside should be protected in perpetuity.

Land of plenty

'Land of plenty' Sheep in Bourne Park, June 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org

‘Land of plenty’ Sheep in Bourne Park, June 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org

As we stand a moment on the downs and contemplate the beauty of our Nailbourne Valley, shall we pause to spare a thought for those poor refugees, or economic migrants if you will, who strive to steal into this country, at any cost, from the ruined and war torn countries of the Middle East and far beyond? Let us consider the horror of their situation and wonder what those who make it across the white cliff border line of Dover, by fair means or foul, would think of this rural idyll.

To them every aspect of our local scenery must suggest a land of wealth; a lush green paradise dotted with farms and elegant country homes, the stately manors of the rich. We have gentle pasture land in green, buttercups in yellow, forget-me-nots in blue and a tangled kindle of woodland full of timber. We have a patchwork of fields full of crops: wheat for making bread, and golden barley, which, in ancient times, was more the favourite in the Middle East. We have fields of field beans which we feed to our livestock or export for staple dishes right across North Africa and the deserts beyond, and we have orchards filled with row upon row of trees laden with delicious fruits. For those genteel garden parties on our English summer lawns we have plastic tunnels so full of strawberries that we cannot begin to count them, and we have lines of hops for making beer: the very essence of the English pub, indolent leisure and the westerners’ love for having a good time.

Flocks of fattened sheep meander lazily across grassed chalky downs, and muscled beef cows chew the juicy cud in pleasant water meadows under the dappled shade of ancient ash and oak. We have such store of food, that even the fishes in our lakes and the wild birds like the little egret, the honking greylag goose, and the white mute swan, so good for eating, are left to live their lives in peace and plump prosperity.

And think upon those suffering souls in other parts who walk for miles each day to pull some dirty water from a rusting pump, that they may drink or wash their children: how would they view the crystal water of our little trickling stream? What music would they hear in its soft chatter?

How perfect must our own lives seem to those who look with hungry eyes upon our happy valley, in this, our land of plenty.

Figures in the landscape

Table A: Summary and consultation preference data as presented on the Bridge Parish Council website.

Table A: Summary and consultation preference data as presented on the Bridge Parish Council website.

Canterbury City Council’s proposal to build 40 unspecified dwellings on land at Brickfield Farm as part of the Amendments to the Canterbury District Local Plan has now gone forward to the government’s inspector of local plans and is awaiting his approval. This proposal has not been withdrawn (as has been rumoured) and neither has it been reduced in number because of the results of Bridge Neighbourhood Plan Committee’s recent consultation (as some of our residents seem to assume). We understand that 5 site proposals from local landowners have also been put forward by their own agents in the hope that their sites will be built on instead of, or in addition to, the 40 dwellings CCC are proposing for Brickfield Farm.

Independently Bridge Neighbourhood Plan Committee recently held a consultation event with Bridge residents to gather opinion on which of these sites the public would prefer to see developed. Arriving as it did, with Canterbury City Council and local landowners all vying to impose their building proposals onto the village ahead of the deadline for the District Local Plan, it would have been easy to gain the impression that new building is a sweeping tide that is just too strong to resist and it is all just a matter of directing where it goes and what benefits we may get in return. We believe this overwhelming sense of inevitability may have contributed significantly to the very low attendance for the consultation.

Furthermore, in the scramble to prioritise sites to build on, we believe not enough weight has been given to the possibility of building no new houses at all. This inhibition may have arrived because the survey was conducted for the new Bridge Neighbourhood Plan which, from its inception, has accepted the possibility of more building around the village because such plans are not permitted by law to refuse all new building. It can, therefore, be argued that neighbourhood plans are not necessarily an effective tool with which to defend protected landscapes from development, particularly where they actually present a mandate for new building. The unmentionable ‘elephant in the room’ is that we don’t really need to have a Neighbourhood Plan at all, and without one the parish council and the people of Bridge could make a vociferous case for ‘no new building on greenfield land within our AONB’, which is of course what we believe we should all be doing in compliance with the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000 and the National Planning Policy Framework 2012.

Unfortunately the methodology used in the consultation itself did not give the ‘no building’ option the status which we would have preferred, and it was left to respondents to try to work out how best to express a preference if they wanted no new building to take place.

Looking into the presentation of the preference data of the survey, then checking against the raw data on Bridge Parish Council’s website, we see something odd: the summary figures for ranked preferences 1-6 for the various sites also include those where people marked 0 (zero) or a blank space for the number of houses they want built there. Some people who did not want building were clearly confused about how to express it on the preference sheet or felt obliged to express a preference for certain sites even though they wanted no building there (Residents have mentioned this in conversation). Some put a 0 or a blank space in the preference column for some or all of the sites; others ranked sites 1-6, but put a 0 or a blank space in the housing number column. This clearly suggests that either they do not really want any houses built there at all (but if they have to accept them they have a heirarchy of less problematic sites in mind) or, perhaps it indicates that they have no particular idea of how many houses should be built, or where. Inevitably attempts to interpret these opinions are subjective, and they cannot be adequately represented in a simple numerical statement.

Adjusting the Ist Preferences
Taking out figures for respondents who have ranked the sites 1-6, yet specified 0 and ‘blank’ number of houses, respondents’ 1st preferences are much closer than it first appears:

According to these revised figures ‘no additional building’ was the runner-up when set against first choice preferences. It is only when second and third choice preferences are factored in that the preference for ‘no additional building’ loses ground. We believe this is a consequence of the survey methodology used: the invitation to rank 6 sites in order of preference rather than a straight vote on one site or another or no building at all. However those 2nd – 6th preferences also included figures for people who wanted 0 and ‘blank’ number of houses, which clearly leads to further disarray in the figures.

What about the ‘no building’ preference?
Looking more closely at the original ‘complete set of preference data’ presented in Table A above, we notice a line at the bottom titled ‘other/blank/etc’: this shows numbers of people who declined to rank the various sites, presumably because they don’t want them built on, certainly not as a priority. If we take account of the people mentioned above (who ranked the site 1-6 but marked a 0 in the building column) and we add in their 0 building preferences, the real weight of opinion against building becomes more clear:

These figures provide, what we believe, is a more sophisticated assessment of preferences against building on the various sites. They only include 1st-6th choice preferences that specified 0 building; if we included those which left a blank in the building column (and possibly meant ‘no building’ also) the figures against building would be even higher.

Revising the data presentation
Using these revisions Table D below suggests that for every site, more people have indicated some kind of preference for no building than for house building as a first choice! The number of preferences to build only exceeds the ‘no build’ preference on the most popular two options (Site 2 and Brickfields) when second preferences are added. This is the case even if we use the original (unadjusted) 1st choice data presented on the parish council website:

However, if we use the adjusted figure of first choice preferences from Table B (which excludes those which ranked the sites 1-6 yet specified 0 housing) the ‘no building’ vote becomes even more pronounced:

Clearly there is some weight of opinion against building on these sites and we see no obvious mandate for development on any of them.

Conclusion
We understand that the findings of the consultation will be assessed by Bridge Neighbourhood Plan Committee (an unelected body) and, in some way, entered as revisions into the plan, which residents will then be asked to approve. If it is accepted by the public, Bridge Parish Council will formally adopt it. They then hope to persuade both the government inspector and Canterbury City Council to accept the proposals in the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan and only allow any new building to occur in the manner and numbers specified in the plan. However, approval by these official bodies is by no means a foregone conclusion.

So just what building development will Bridge Neighbourhood Plan Committee propose in their plan? We cannot foresee that. However, we do have concerns that the consultation upon which such decisions should be based was not as clear or comprehensive as we would have wished for any profound assessment of the real views of the public. For a start only 14% of eligible residents responded, and obviously some of them (possibly many) who did not really want building at all felt obliged to prioritise sites across the village in order to prevent development near their own homes. This is disappointing; perhaps a better presentation of the planning, legal and environmental issues and a different style of survey could have avoided this approach. Mathematical averaging does not clarify a misunderstood motive.

Yet clearly, even within these figures, public opinion against development on our local fields is much stronger than any cursory summary of the initial figures may indicate, and we believe that in a more refined consultation, the preference against building new houses on greenfield land would have been expressed with an even stronger voice. We hope that the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan Committee will take account of this in their revisions to the plan.

* Revised data presented in this article has been compiled and calculated by an unqualified person for group discussion as part of an educational study. This article presents theoretical debate and alternative viewpoints using statistical data, it does not seek to question the validity of others’ assessments of the data or the accuracy of others’ calculations, or their right to present such calculations or assessments; nor does it allege wrongdoing by anyone who has undertaken any consultation, or compiled or presented figures taken from any consultation. To ensure accuracy, readers should seek expert opinion or check the raw data provided by appropriate sources, make calculations for themselves and form their own conclusions.

 

 

Our duty to protect.

AONB Map FINX.lr

Following the announcement of several new building proposals for fields around Bridge village, we do hope that residents will go to the parish council consultation meetings and speak out in defence of our local fields and countryside.

Bridge lies within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a designation which gives it the same status as National Parks like The Lake District, Dartmoor and Snowdonia. In law the fields around Bridge are some of the most protected fields in the whole of the United Kingdom; so why are we even discussing the possibility of building on them?

With Canterbury City Council setting out plans to build nearly 16,000 houses in the district, 4,000 of them (including hundreds of affordable homes) just 3 minutes’ drive from Bridge, and on the very same regular bus route, there is no real ‘need’ to build on any land in our AONB.

Every piece of legislative evidence indicates that the original purpose of both National Parks and AONBs was to preserve the natural beauty of the landscape and protect it from development, but for many years the AONBs were the poor relation to our much publicised and cherished National Parks. The difference in the original recognition was that AONBs are farmed agricultural landscapes rather than wild landscapes.

Since the careless mass building of the 1960s and 70s the law protecting AONBs has been significantly strengthened and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 placed a statutory duty for Management Plans to be prepared for AONBs in order to further bolster their protection and advise local authorities on how to comply with this purpose.

“The Act clarifies the procedure and purpose of designating AONBs, and consolidates the provisions of previous legislation. It requires local authorities to produce management plans for each AONB, and enables the creation of Conservation Boards in order to assume responsibility for AONBs, particularly where the land designated crosses several local authority jurisdictions. The Act also requires all relevant authorities to have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of AONBs when performing their functions.” (defra.gov.uk/page-1378. Year 2010)

In 2012 the protected status of AONBs was further strengthened, giving AONBs and National Parks equal status in the The National Planning Policy Framework 2012. In terms of environmental protection the NPPF 2012 is not ambiguous; this is from its introduction:

“The final Framework retains all of the key elements of the draft Framework published in July 2011, including: guaranteeing robust protections for our natural and historic environment, including the Green Belt, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.”

Later the document considers the natural environment:

“Section 11 – Conserving and enhancing the natural environment,

115. Great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty. The conservation of wildlife and cultural heritage are important considerations in all these areas, and should be given great weight in National Parks and the Broads.” (NPPF 2012. Section 11. Pdf. page 25).

Section 14 states that it:

commits to protecting areas of valued green space and AONBs” (NPPF 2012. item 14. Pdf. page 12).

Regarding housing development, the National Planning Policy Framework 2012 (item 14. Pdf. page 12) states:

“14. At the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking.

Local Plans should meet objectively assessed needs, with sufficient flexibility to adapt to rapid change, unless:
– specific policies in this Framework indicate development should be restricted.(9)

(9.) For example, those policies relating to sites protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives (see paragraph 119) and/or designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest; land designated as Green Belt, Local Green Space, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Heritage Coast or within a National Park (or the Broads Authority); designated heritage assets; and locations at risk of flooding or coastal erosion.”

In the recent scramble to build new housing, Section 14’s presumption in favour of development has been seen as an overriding mandate for house building, but it should not be allowed to ride rough shod over our countryside in ignorance of protections set out in clause 9. Government guidelines clearly indicate a responsibility to protect valued landscapes, for example AONBs, when considering planning proposals and a continuing theme through the law is ‘conserving or enhancing scenic beauty’. It is hard to see how housing development on greenfield land in AONBs preserves or enhances their beauty. If these planning guidelines are properly followed, we believe no building should occur around our village.

The law demands that we protect our AONBs and the people of Bridge have every justification to say ‘no’ to building.