Published: 00:02, 08 February 2018
Consultants hired by Swale council have suggested new settlements of between 2,500 and 10,000 homes be built in the borough to prevent a housing crisis.
Peter Brett Associates (PBA) says it wants to spark a debate about the future of Swale and the town/village garden concept is due to be discussed at a Local Development Framework meeting tomorrow (Thursday).
The report was commissioned after planning inspector Sue Turner ordered the council’s Local Plan be reviewed by 2022 due to concerns over the road network being insufficient to cope with all the homes.
And the government is proposing to standardise the way each local authority calculates its housing allocation, which would see Swale’s house-building target rise from 776 a year to 1,054 over the next 20 years.
This would mean land for an additional 7,500 homes being allocated by 2038.
In addition to these 7,500 homes, the 144-page PBA report looks at where a further 7,500 new properties could go beyond 2038 as housing projects of this scale would take many years to complete.
The report states: “It would also be helpful to think in terms of the longer term, outside the plan period, so as to avoid having a similar housing shortage at each successive round of plan making.”
PBA was paid £24,858 to produce the study, which also included several workshop days with officers and members. The consultants say a “business as usual” approach has “few major advantages”.
Maintaining the Local Plan strategy of adding to the fringes of built-up areas would require major infrastructure improvements, such as increasing capacity on the A249 and building an A2/M2 link, with no way identified to pay for it.
Various potential sites for new settlements are identified around Sittingbourne, which PBA states would be most likely to provide delivery of an A2/M2 link road, address air quality issues and boost the local economy.
One option is a new town of 10,000 homes south of Teynham, moving the proposed A2/M2 link road to the east of the village and creating a link to Kent Science Park. Another three scenarios place various settlements of between 2,500 and 10,000 homes to the east, south and south east of Faversham.
These would be the most attractive plots to developers, according to the report.
A third option is suggested for two settlements of 2,500 homes each near Upchurch and Newington. However, this might not prove to be possible as it would need a bypass at Newington to alleviate air quality issues.
Disadvantages of all options would be the potential impacts on rural land, landscapes and areas of natural beauty.
Sheppey has not been considered suitable for a new settlement due to “its geography” and constraints with access to jobs, says the report.
The PBA states Swale should look at making the new settlements “garden” communities, which would involve having a wide range of easily accessible jobs, recreational and shopping facilities, a mixture of “imaginatively” designed homes with gardens and an adherence to certain environmentally-friendly principles.
The consultants also champion the idea of “self-built” communities, meaning properties could be designed by landowners and built by contractors rather than by developers.
The PBA also provides a rough estimate that each 5,000-home development would need social infrastructure costs – for services such as schools, GP surgeries and leisure facilities – costing more than around £13,000 per home, or about £70m in total.
It also calculates a further £200m would be needed for transport infrastructure, including an A2/M2 link road, a northern relief road in Sittingbourne and Junction 5A to the M2.
Cllr Mike Baldock, above, Ukip leader on Swale, questioned the premise that the consultants were working under.
He said: “They seem to have been working to a target of 15,000 houses which is, even in the most extreme interpretation of the government’s possible future changes, about twice as much as we need.
“Are they proposing we scrap all the allocations in the Local Plan?
“Unless they are planning to take some of the existing allocation, which there is no mention of, then 15,000 is more than is in the current Local Plan.
“It’s an absolute disgrace that they are considering another 15,000 houses.
“I will be pointing out there is absolutely no need for this – that it isn’t any part of our Local Plan but it has been planned in the background, in secret.”
Swale council leader, Cllr Andrew Bowles (Con)said he agreed with the idea of new settlements “in principle” but only if the council was required to allocate them to meet higher housing targets.
He said: “We can go around putting housing in every single town but you don’t please anybody and you antagonise everyone in my view. We have to look at where it will be of most benefit to the people of Swale. I still feel that the housing numbers we are being asked to provide are too high.
“But I think it’s a decision that elected members are going to have to make over the next two to four years – whether we comply with the figures and allow the government to decide where the housing will go or to make these choices on our own.”
Cllr Roger Truelove (Lab) said: “This report will spread alarm around many parts of Swale. It is important to remember it is a consultant’s report forced upon the council by ever-growing pressure from the government.
“It is getting frustrating seeing development in our area through the prism of outside consultants, rather than through elected members engaged with our communities.
“I am not going to opt for any of these suggestions because we must first question the premise on which they are based.”
He questioned why there was a need to discuss settlements of more than 10,000 homes when the report discusses an increase in housing allocations of 7,500 homes.
He said: “There is still too much uncertainty about exactly what the government wants and what essential infrastructure will be delivered.
“We have a growing birthrate in Swale and homes are needed but this report acknowledges that much of this housing is intended to draw down migration from London and the rest of the South East.”
Hilary Newport, director of the Kent branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, pictured right, said the report was one of the early documents that would inform the very lengthy process of reviewing Swale’s Local Plan, and is intended to spark debate rather than reflect current council policy.
She said: “The report appears to have been prepared in the context of the proposed reforms to the Government’s national planning policy, which if implemented would see Swale’s annual house-building target rise to more than 1,000 homes per year from the current target of just over 750. These centrally calculated targets put increased pressure on the highly-constrained and overheating South East and nowhere more so than Kent.
“Averaged over the last 10 years, developers in Kent have not managed to deliver the existing house-building targets, let alone the higher targets that are being proposed.”
Dr Newport called for a serious re-think of national planning policy to drive sustainable development to where it is needed.
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