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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Bagpuss star Emily Firmin turns eco campaigner to oppose Kent development 

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Her first claim to fame was appearing on children’s TV as the owner of 1970s favourite Bagpuss.

Now Emily Firmin has a new role – protesting against a plan to build 1,300 homes on farmland.

Ms Firmin, 57, says the proposals for the outskirts of Whitstable, Kent, will endanger wildlife, adding: ‘The bird life in particular is amazing.’

The 195-acre Brooklands Farm site has been earmarked for housing by Canterbury City Council. It says no final decision has been taken and no plans submitted. But Ms Firmin, who lives in Whitstable, said: ‘There are so many brownfield sites available for developing. We cannot keep building on good farmland.’

Bagpuss, which was about an animated pink and white cloth cat, was created by her father Peter Firmin, who died in 2018 aged 89

Ms Firmin, then eight, appeared in sepia photographs at the start of each episode of Bagpuss.

The show, about an animated pink and white cloth cat, was created by her father Peter Firmin, who died in 2018 aged 89.

The site for the works, which is roughly the same size as 110 football pitches and is currently used as a beef farm, was earmarked for housing in Canterbury City Council’s Local Plan draft.

It is the largest put forward for development in Whitstable and will act as an extension to Chestfield village – which is two-thirds woodland and has a population of less than 10,000 people.

Papers produced by the local authority show plans to erect a new primary school and a Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) school.

The council documents also reveal the 195-acre site will be equipped with “shopping and community uses”, allotments, a cricket pitch and play areas.

Emily added: ‘There’s an ancient stream that goes right through some woodland on the farm called “Convict’s Wood”.

‘It was named that because escaped prisoners used to hide in the woodland and wait for foreign vessels to go by so they could escape.

Ms Firmin, then eight, appeared in sepia photographs at the start of each episode of Bagpuss

‘The stream itself belongs to whoever owns the land so if it’s sold to developers, it will just be destroyed.’

While her focus is saving Brooklands Farm from development, Emily is concerned for the future of Kent as a whole – having seen the landscape change considerably since her childhood.

She said: ‘Kent has changed dramatically in the last 10 years or so, with large amounts of houses being built.

‘It’s not just Brooklands – the whole of the Canterbury district is seemingly being built on – and we’re living in the Garden of England so it doesn’t add up.

‘We don’t have the infrastructure to support it. The sewage system can’t cope with the sewage we already have, and the roads can’t cope with the cars.

‘There’s no mention of building a doctor’s surgery on the plans. I’m not sure how the local services will cope.’

Canterbury City Council emphasised that no final decisions have been made about the future of the farmland.

A council spokesman said: ‘The land was submitted to the council’s call for sites process, which is an essential component of the preparation of the new Local Plan.

‘The cabinet approved an updated local development scheme in October 2022 which sets out that the final draft of the Local Plan is expected to be published in autumn 2023.

‘Even if this site is approved in the Local Plan, an application would be required and planning consent received, the process for which would allow further scrutiny of detailed designs. No planning application has been received.

‘No final decisions have been taken about the inclusion of this site in the Local Plan. 12 weeks of extensive public consultation on the draft plan recently ended and we are now in the process of analysing all the responses.’

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