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Swale Council misses deadline to stop huge housing plans on Sittingbourne farmland

By Rachel O'Donoghue

Swale council risks being strong-armed into approving a controversial application for a huge housing development in Sittingbourne.

Gladman Developments submitted plans to build 580 homes on farmland off Swanstree Avenue last December.

According to official guidelines, the council planning committee has eight weeks from when an application is accepted to decide whether to approve it or not.

The Highsted Road, Crossways and Marigold Drive. Picture: Simon Burchett

Gladman has since appealed on the grounds of ‘non-determination’ after the time period lapsed without a decision.

The application has now been taken out of the council’s hands and may be approved as the planning inspectorate will take into account the borough’s housing shortage when deciding.

“We are disappointed that Swale council has failed to make a decision on this and hope it now makes a robust case as to why it shouldn’t be allowed when it goes before a planning inspector” - Brian Lloyd, a former planning policy manager for Swale council

Jacqueline Nelson, who lives yards from the site on Swanstree Avenue, has called the council “incompetent” for failing to make a decision on the proposal sooner.

She said councillors were put into their positions to control such matters, adding: “I think it’s disgusting. If they can’t do the job properly, why on earth are they in that position?

“They can just mess up people’s lives through incompetence.

“I moved here from a large town – Basildon, Essex – to give my daughter and dogs a greener lifestyle; you don’t expect it to be paved over.”

The Campaign to Protect Rural England earlier pledged to try to block the Swanstree proposal.

Brian Lloyd, a former planning policy manager for Swale council, said the impact on the environment would be huge and it would create traffic problems.

He said: “This should be a straightforward decision – it is a greenfield site in a designated special landscape area and is high quality agricultural land so wholly unsuitable for a housing development.

“Nor has it been identified for development in the emerging local plan.

“We are disappointed that Swale council has failed to make a decision on this and hope it now makes a robust case as to why it shouldn’t be allowed when it goes before a planning inspector.”

A spokesman for Swale council said the appeal was not surprising, but decisions of this scale needed accurate information and expert opinion about their impact the development would have on the local community.

“This can take longer than we would like, but is vital to ensure legally sound decisions are made.

An aerial view of where part of the development will take place. Picture: Simon Burchett

“In order to make sure the planning committee have the information they need to make a decision, which may subsequently be challenged, experts are often commissioned to prepare in-depth technical reports.

“The planning committee will be asked to consider the application, with the best information possible available to them, on July 23.”

Any grounds for refusal would then become the focus of the appeal inquiry.

“Housing supply is not the only factor that the inspector will be considering.

“This is why it is vital the committee’s recommendation is based on the best information available, which, unfortunately, is not always quick to obtain.”

Swale council’s draft core policy strategy, published in 2012, stated 13,500 new properties would need to be built across the borough by 2031.

However, the government later adopted the National Planning Policy Framework, which favoured more house building to meet demand. Swale revised down its draft based on concerns about the level of building being too high and lack of adequate transport and services.

The earliest Swale’s local plan could be approved is the end of 2016.

Gladman Developments managing director Martin Twigg, said it was government policy that an authority had to have an up-to-date local plan and there were not enough brownfield sites. He was hopeful the Swanstree development would be approved.

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