Campaigners fight against loss of farmland in Thanet

Thanet farmland by Sarah Bowers

In Thanet our local plan will place 17,140 houses within an area of just 40 square miles. Most (around 87%) of these houses will be on productive, high quality farmland. This amounts to the loss of 700 hectares of Grade 1, 2 and 3 land.

Farming and farm land in Thanet

The Isle of Thanet is a peninsula located at the most easterly point of Kent. Being surrounded by sea on three sides makes it unique for agriculture. It has some of the best and most versatile soils in the UK and has a maritime, relatively frost-free climate. Grade 1 land is limited in the UK and much of it is at risk of flooding. In the southeast for instance, 62% of the best and most versatile soil is at risk of flooding. However, Thanet has Grade 1 and 2 land that is not at risk.

Historical Farming in Thanet

Farming in Thanet has been going on for hundreds of years and to this day there are families still working the same land as their ancestors, providing food initially for the London markets and now for the UK. Historically food was transported from Margate docks to London and then, in time, products such as cauliflower and potatoes were driven to the London Markets such as the old Covent Garden, where the superior quality would demand a premium. 

Today crops grown in Thanet include wheat, barley, cabbages, cauliflowers and oilseed rape. Potatoes are also still an important crop, a large proportion of which are used within Kent. 

The local plan ignores the value of farming

Given all of this history, it is perhaps somewhat surprising that farming is not considered or promoted anywhere in the local plan that was prepared by Thanet District Council. There is no assessment of the value of farming to the area, and no comment on the significant value of the land. The local plan to 2031 was formally adopted by the council in July 2020. 

The Westgate and Garlinge Action Group was formed by a number of concerned residents upon the submission of an application for 2,000 houses by Millwood Designer Homes in November 2020. These will be situated on 237 acres of Grade 1/2 agricultural land next to the villages of Westgate and Garlinge. Currently these arable fields are farmed to produce crops including wheat, potatoes, barley and oilseed rape. The land by Westgate and Garlinge is not in a flood risk zone, which makes it even more important for agriculture.

Field in Thanet by Sarah Bowers

The site in question also lies between two scheduled ancient monuments – Dent de Lion, Garlinge and Quex Park settlements. Historic views across arable fields to the 15th century Dent de Lion medieval gatehouse will be lost forever once the houses are built. This is because Phase 1 of the development application lies on the edge of Garlinge and around this listed building. 

Quex Park settlements are Romano-British farmsteads and are important from an archaeological and historical perspective. Having been occupied since Roman times, it is not surprising that Thanet is an area rich in archaeology and this has to be addressed in every development application. 

Building houses to service a new road

Application as well as others in the local area that are linked together by a Section 106 agreement that will force the developers to contribute to an ‘inner circuit ring road’. These other applications are for 1,650 houses at Birchington and 450 houses on land to the north and south of Shottendane Road. All three of these sites are situated in the open central undulating chalk character area of Thanet. This is a relatively small but important farming area representing one of the last large green, open spaces in Thanet. Taken together, these development sites with roads will consume around 40% of this important farming area. 

The irreversible loss of this amount of farmland in Thanet to provide houses that do not meet the local need, in huge developments that are there purely to fund a new road infrastructure, is reckless and unnecessary. The effects of climate change are already having a serious impact on food production across the world. It is vitally important that we retain our land for growing food in order to be able to feed ourselves now and in the future. It is also more sustainable to grow food for consumption locally than to ship food in from other countries that we could perfectly well grow here. 

Also, building houses in order to service a new road through a Section 106 agreement does not fit with the government’s stated desire to “build back greener and promote active travel.” Most of the proposed development sites will be car dependent because they are too far from public transport routes, and with no plans to improve public transport links, car dependence is inevitable. 

Farmland wildlife

None of the proposed developments provide proper mitigation for farmland wildlife. Farmland bird numbers have been in steep decline for decades, but the land around Thanet is known to provide a home to these birds. In particular large numbers of skylarks live and nest around these fields every year. No amount of ‘mitigation’ from developers will adequately replace acres of open, sensitively managed farmland which is needed by these birds for breeding and nesting. Other wildlife that uses the fields and their margins includes several species of bat, buzzards, kestrels, foxes and hares. All of these will be lost or seriously decline in number if all of the proposed development goes ahead.

The Garden of England turning into a building site 

And the view across the country is no rosier. Recent analysis has found that nearly 400,000 homes could be built on greenfield areas in southern England over the next five years to meet revised housebuilding targets. See article about

There has been widespread Tory backbencher anger over the proposed planning reforms. Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet, has said, “I’m not prepared to see the Garden of England turned into a building site.”

Local residents are objecting to the planning applications and are contacting their local town, district and county councillors and MPs. The action group has created a petition against building on farmland that gathered over 3,000 signatures in just a few days. The petition is still live and can be signed here.
Thanet local plan.

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Twitter: @OurWestgate
Thanet District Council planning application numbers- OL/TH/20/0847; OL/TH/20/1400; OL/TH/20/1755.