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Kent Coalfields

The Kent Coalfield Regeneration Programme is the South East England Development Agency's (SEEDA) largest derelict land reclamation project. It involves the recovery of more than 190 hectares (470 acres) of brownfield industrial land in East Kent, on four former colliery sites: Betteshanger, Snowdown, Tilmanstone and Chislet. SEEDA is acting effectively as English Partnerships' agent, with SEEDA acquiring the sites and carrying out the development, with EP providing the finance within the national coalfields programme.

Three of these collieries closed in the 1980's as a result of the radical restructuring of the UK coal industry; the fourth – Chislet – ceased mining operations in 1969. The closure of these collieries has had a significant economic impact on the communities of the surrounding areas.

The sites

Betteshanger - 120 hectare site near DealThis 120 hectare site near Deal is the largest in the Kent Coalfield Programme. By 2005 the project will have received a total of £18.8 million English Partnerships investment, aimed at creating a sustainable, mixed-use development with a strong emphasis on high quality design and landscaping. Planning permission for the scheme was granted in February 2003.

The development has planning permission for a new country park and covers 85 hectares, along with a range of community and leisure amenities including playgrounds and a social club. A three-acre community park featuring skateboard area and swing park opened in May 2004. There is also permission for 22,500 square metres of commercial development, including the refurbishment of an existing building to create 550 square metres of new office space for small expanding businesses with new occupiers already established.

As a model mixed development, the regeneration of Betteshanger exemplifies SEEDA's commitment to sustainable development and enhancing the physical environment to raise the quality of life for local people.

The former Snowdown Colliery site extends to 50 hectares and is adjacent to the parishes of Aylesham and Nonington, which together have a population of 4,700 (approximately 1,750 households). It has been identified as having potential for economic regeneration, and as such is currently subject of a detailed feasibility study to assess the appropriate scale of development. The objective is to prepare a planning application which will set out the detailed case supporting comprehensive re-use of the site for the appropriate balance of hard and soft end uses.

To complement the regeneration of Snowdown, new community workshop facilities have been developed in Aylesham providing 950 square metres of incubation space. The workshops were completed in September 2003 and three units are now occupied, creating 15 jobs.

At just 10 hectares, the smallest of the East Kent colliery sites, Tilmanstone – between Betteshanger and Snowdown – has already been completely remediated and the land prepared for development. The centre of this development is the new 15,000 square metres food-processing factory that has already created over 500 new local jobs. SEEDA and English Parnerships' financial commitment to this project is £4.95 million and the site has demonstrated a rapid and effective response to its incorporation by the Coalfields Task Force into the National Coalfields Programme in 1998.

SEEDA completed the purchase of four hectares of derelict land in January 2003 in order to unlock a total site area of 12 hectares and act as a catalyst to wider improvements. The core of the project is focused entirely on business growth and will provide up to 25,000 square metres of new employment for local Canterbury businesses needing to expand. The Chislet project aims to help job creation in the area and enable businesses to overcome the shortage of serviced development land in the area around East Kent's historic cathedral city.

There is a range of issues which distinguishes the coalfield regeneration work in Kent from the National Programme. They are as follows:-

Local Economy
Major industrial investment was historically unusual in East Kent, which is, and remains, primarily a rurally driven sub-regional economy, but with specific strengths, such as cross-Channel transport. Large-scale coal mining activities were therefore a unique industrial operation in this part of the south east and the primary activity of coal extraction did not lead to subsequent investment in 'downstream' industrial processes such as steel manufacturing or related forms of industrial production. The majority of Kent coal was transported for use in power stations in east London, the east Midlands and Humberside.

It is important to analyse the potential recovery of the east Kent economy in the context of economic performance and returns from the rest of the south east. It is an oversimplification to compare economic disadvantage in Kent with other former mining areas in the National Programme which have completely different sub-regional economic structures and prospects for improved future economic performance. Whilst job prospects for unemployed miners may be better in Kent than Yorkshire or the north east, achievable wage levels mean that ex-miners in Kent remain just as excluded, both economically and socially, compared with the rest of the south east, as their counterparts in Barnsley or Grimethorpe.

Alternative employment opportunities
As in many other mining areas the Kent collieries were gradually rundown in advance of closure in the mid 1980's. Chislet closed earlier than the other mines in 1969, meaning that on closure, Betteshanger, Snowdown and Tilmanstone employed approximately 2,500 miners and management staff compared with nearly 15,000 in the 1940s and 50s. This resulted in a sudden increase in male unemployment in east Kent in the late 1980s (about 15% unemployment in Dover District). However, other emerging employment opportunities (such as the construction of the Channel Tunnel) meant that with the benefit of local retraining programmes, persistent long term unemployment in east Kent could be partially addressed by some out migration of the local workforce. By the mid 1990s unemployment in Dover District had fallen to around 10%. Research indicated that former miners who were relatively young and able to secure new employment opportunities had been relatively successful (but often needed to commute outside the local area) but a significant proportion of older unemployed had been without work for several years.

Local Plan Policies as a context for regeneration
All the former Kent sites were allocated for redevelopment for employment use once it was clear that coal production had ceased and would not recommence. However, virtually nothing happened in terms of site development during the 1990's until SEEDA was empowered to take on the coalfields regeneration programme. Preliminary research carried out by SEEDA indicated that the employment allocation for these sites, if developed to the maximum permitted capacity, would result in a considerable over supply of serviced development land in the short to medium term (the next 5 to 10 years). Research into the expansion needs of east Kent employers (particularly the corporate requirements of global companies such as Pfizer) indicated an acute shortage of serviced development land for immediate expansion and inward investment requirements, but that this was still only a relatively small proportion of the total land supply for commercial development as allocated in terms of Local Plan policies.

SEEDA needed to approach the masterplanning for each site on the basis of a realistic demand profile for the take up of development land over the next 5 to 10 years. The critical issue in each case was to generate a framework for new, sustainable job opportunities in the locations where businesses required the expansion land and would be competitive with the rest of Kent and the south east. Community research also made it clear that SEEDA needed to avoid the situation of creating large scale in-commuting and increases in traffic through villages and country lanes in locations not necessarily preferred by prospective employers. In each case, community consultation resulted in the balance of the surplus land on each site being masterplanned for a range of new community based recreation activities by the inclusion of open space for walking, cycling, outside events, nature trails, bird watching and educational visits.

Policies to create new employment opportunities
The Kent Coalfield Regeneration Programme aims to create approximately 2,500 new jobs among the four former colliery sites. In consultation with the local community, SEEDA has aimed to maximise new job opportunities in the locations where business expansion requirements can be most readily accommodated. In all cases, this means significant investment in on and off site new service infrastructure, road improvements and traffic management measures.

All the sites require very significant capital investment in new off site service connections (water, gas and electrical supplies together with new drainage) as well as new road connections (roundabouts, junction improvements, new cycle ways and traffic calming measures). The cost of new road connections and highway improvement works under Section 278 and Section 106 Agreements has amounted to nearly one quarter of the total capital investment required for each site. The result is that sites such as Chislet and Tilmanstone have been developed to the capacity allocated in terms of local plan policy, whilst the much larger sites in relatively isolated locations have been masterplanned to provided an appropriate level of new jobs in the context of their access and locational constraints.

A good example is the private sector investment of £15 million by Geest Foods Ltd for the construction of a 15,000 m 2 food production facility on the site at Tilmanstone. Tilmanstone matched the business needs of this employer almost exactly and the contractors for the new building moved on to the site immediately after SEEDA had completed its own infrastructure reclamation and servicing works. This investment has generated about 250 new jobs and safeguarded 250 jobs for the local economy.

Links with health. welfare, education and other social needs
SEEDA's objective of securing community based regeneration solutions in respect of all its sites has resulted in a significant volume of evidence from local community leaders, forum groups and volunteer representatives to establish clear community orientated priorities. This evidence suggests that, from the community perspective, the comprehensive reclamation and renewal of the sites themselves only addresses part of the range of problems created by the closure of the collieries and the downward spiral of economic disadvantage. In some instances, communities would prefer to see more action to help individuals in terms of retraining, re-skilling, family support, practical help for single parents (especially working mothers) etc rather than the overall focus to regenerate the colliery sites. Many community representatives also point out the critical importance of restoring dignity, confidence and a sense of hope to communities which have 'had their heart ripped out'.

SEEDA has prepared options for a broader application of the investment from the Coalfield Fund to directly benefit community based projects in the Kent Coalfield towns and villages. However, the regeneration funding remains applicable for the sites only in spite of the clear case for much wider community financial support. SEEDA's Coalfields Programme Regional Review 2001-2004 listed several community based 'Potential New Initiatives' which SEEDA has now funded independently from the mainstream Coalfields Programme. These community based initiatives are all linked to the former colliery sites and mining communities and may be briefly summarised as follows:

Betteshanger – North Deal Community Partnership
Many former miners at Betteshanger lived in Deal, about two miles east of the colliery. North Deal, in particular has several deprived wards and SEEDA has developed a programme of community renewal for this area with local community representatives and in close partnership with Dover District Council. SEEDA has funded a detailed 'community needs audit' and is now working with consultants to establish a community based Development Trust which can be mobilised to acquire a suitable site or sites to accommodate a range of community needs from crèche facilities for the under 5s to a meeting place for teenagers and family support 'drop in' centre.

Betteshanger – Renewal of former miners' welfare facilities
The miners welfare hall at Betteshanger is in an advanced state of dilapidation and SEEDA has included a site for a new community facility in its masterplan. If successful the new community hall could accommodate a wide range of local activities closely linked to the site regeneration programme at Betteshanger.

Snowdown – Partnership with Aylesham & District Community Workshop Trust
The Aylesham & District Community Workshop Trust was established in Aylesham with assistance from SRB funds in 1995 as a community based initiative to fill the vacuum left by the colliery closure at Snowdown six years earlier. From the community perspective, the problems created by the mine closure were compounded by a succession of further setbacks including the closure of the secondary school in Aylesham, closure of the library, a reduction in local bus services and the withdrawal of other community services. SEEDA's early community consultation and organisation of public meetings uncovered a wide range of views culminating in 'total disillusionment with establishment' announcements and processes. It became clear that SEEDA's biggest challenge was to re-create a framework for engagement and positive community support for future regeneration solutions.

In parallel with the feasibility appraisal for Snowdown, SEEDA invested £1.5 million in 10 new workshop units (929 m 2) immediately adjacent to the Workshop Trust to provide immediate space for local small businesses. They were completed in September 2003 and three units are now occupied, providing 15 jobs This investment directly complemented the Trusts community based initiatives of education support, child care, training and business support and enabled SEEDA to send a clear signal of its support for the community in advance of addressing the reclamation works on the Snowdown colliery site itself.

Snowdown – Aylesham Expansion Programme
In addressing the key feasibility issues underpinning the comprehensive regeneration of Snowdown Colliery, SEEDA, English Partnerships and Dover District Council have developed a masterplan for the residential expansion of Aylesham by up to 1,000 new housing units. Clearly, there are very strong strategic and sustainable objectives for combining the job creating investment at Snowdown (up to 365 new jobs) with the ability to provide well planned residential expansion – local housing and local jobs.

SEEDA and its partners have engaged with the community and the Prince's Foundation to develop a community led masterplan driven by a series of 'Enquiry by Design' open public consultation days and evenings. This has provided the community with a powerful controlling stake in the development of the masterplan and this is now being refined into Supplementary Planning Guidance in advance of a planning application being submitted. This has enabled SEEDA to understand the network of details which make up community life in Aylesham and to create a new sense of local confidence that those in positions of authority and decision making can be directly influenced to incorporate community views and opinions.

The residential expansion of Aylesham is now planned to proceed in parallel with the reclamation, servicing and renewal of the Snowdown Colliery site. Supplementary planning guidance on the expansion is expected to be adopted by Dover District Council by August 2004.

Chislet – Hersden Neighbourhood Project
The former mining community at Chislet has waited for a comprehensive regeneration programme since the closure of Chislet Colliery in 1969. Chislet was not included in the National Programme in 1997 and SEEDA joined with Kent representatives from the Coalfield Communities Campaign to ensure that it became part of the programme in 2001. Reclamation works on the site itself will be completed by mid 2004 and around a dozen new companies have now moved on to the site creating approximately 750 new jobs.

Hersden village has suffered in the same way as other former mining settlements. The Hersden Neighbourhood Project was established in 1995 to support community based programmes including crèche facilities, retraining and re-skilling initiatives and support for the long-term unemployed.

In its detailed discussions and meetings with community representatives it became clear to SEEDA that the Neighbourhood Project could provide a valuable networking and training link between the community and the prospective employment requirements of new businesses committed to expansion at Chislet. SEEDA has agreed to invest £50,000 to help the Neighbourhood Project expand into new accommodation in the village which will enable community representatives to interview and recommend new job opportunities for local people and give support for any additional training which might be required.

SEEDA is also working with community representatives to address the following health, social and welfare issues:

  • Health – The long term health problems encountered by former miners are well known and east Kent is no exception to this. The Aylesham and District Community Workshop trust has promoted a series of health management courses for local residents and there is the potential to offer this initiative to all other former mining communities.
  • Education – One of the most important actions for Aylesham is to ensure that a new secondary school is re-established locally to complement the residential expansion which will take place during the next five years. At present, when local children leave primary school they are obliged to travel to either Sandwich or Dover for their secondary education. This results in significant time spent travelling on a daily basis resulting in children missing valuable extra-curriculum activities in the early morning or late afternoon at school. SEEDA will continue to work closely with the County Education Authority to resolve this issue and create a proper, sustainable framework for local children approaching secondary school
  • Cultural Heritage – SEEDA's early research generated widespread concern that the Coalfield Communities and their historical context were being systematically “airbrushed” from history. Dover District Council is committed to the creation of a detailed account of the history of coalmining in Kent with valuable first hand input from former miners and their families. SEEDA has actively participated in this process and to help celebrate the unique economic achievement and contribution of coal production to the Kent economy, has arranged to re-print the book “Once a Miner”, a graphic account of working at the coalface at Snowdown Colliery in the 1940s by Norman Harrison. The book will be distributed to libraries and reading rooms in all the former Kent coalfield locations.
  • A commitment to long term community partnership – SEEDA's work with the coalfield communities has resulted in all community leaders, local authorities, and education, health and transport representatives agreeing to participate annually in the Kent Coalfield Community Conference which is now in its fourth year. SEEDA is the only RDA which has made the commitment to organise and fund this event each year and it provides an excellent forum for open debate on key issues as the comprehensive regeneration programme for Kent moves forward.

Looking to the future

Kent was a latecomer to the National Programme but has now completed and sold one site (Tilmanstone), and has two sites currently undergoing comprehensive reclamation and servicing . The site works at Chislet, are due for completion in mid 2004 and for Betteshanger in December 2005 . The appraisal for Snowdown, the last site, is nearing completion, with site works expected to commence in early 2005 and completion due in December 2007.

The overall objective is to create long term, independent and sustainable economic prosperity which enables all the economically active from these communities to participate fully in the expanding local economy. SEEDA will also continue to work to ensure that the educational prospects for school children in the area at least matches the opportunities for a university education available to a wide range of school leavers elsewhere in Kent.

© South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), 2009 
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