Published: 06:00, 13 August 2019
| Updated: 20:28, 13 August 2019
About 1,000 homes earmarked for construction across Canterbury have not been built, council documents reveal.
Adopted in 2017, the authority’s Local Plan predicted work at all 14 of the largest sites would have begun by the start of April.
The document forecasted almost 1,600 homes would have been completed by the end of the last financial year.
Phil Wellbrook spoke to local councillors about the problem
But as yet, just seven of the developments have been given the green light – meaning house building across the district has fallen well short of expectations.
Lib Dem councillor Nick Eden-Green branded the city council’s expectations “completely unrealistic”.
“I think the government simply expected that by imposing certain housing figures on local authorities that would magically build houses,” he said.
“It’s a complete falsehood for the government or the local authority to expect that just because figures are put into a Local Plan they will be built.
“It’s completely unrealistic and a fundamental misunderstanding.”
Labour leader Alan Baldock also argues the delays to house building have had a detrimental effect on the district’s housing market.
“The council was wedded to the idea of having a developer-led Local Plan,” he said.
“It wasn’t necessarily about where it was best for the communities; it was just based on where the developers wanted to build on.
“This is affecting normal people because we all need the housing market to flow.”
But council spokesman Leo Whitlock says legal challenges to a number of the proposals – such as at Mountfield Park and Strode Farm – have delayed progress.
“This is a really difficult issue,” he said.
“A number of large schemes have been delayed by legal action that hits the council taxpayer in the pocket.
“Even when a site is allocated for development, we cannot force developers to start building. Their decisions are dictated by the market conditions at the time.”
Clean air campaigners lost their Supreme Court fight against the planned 4,000-home Mountfield Park development in the south of Canterbury last month.
Similarly, the four-year saga surrounding Strode Farm in Herne appeared to be brought to a close in May after the High Court upheld a decision to approve the proposals.
Seasalter councillor Ashley Clark compared the extended planning process developers have to endure to death row.
“It’s so difficult for developers as they have to jump through so many hoops,” he said. “The bricklaying is the easy part, but they have to get through a mass of paperwork that really delays the building of the sites.
“The courts and the lawyers have to get their fingers out to get these matters resolved once and for all. It’s almost like death row as they are waiting for years and years before getting a decision.”
Across the 14 strategic sites earmarked in the Local Plan, more than 11,400 properties are expected to be built by 2031.
Mr Whitlock added: “Our target is to ensure a further 10,700 homes are built in the district by 2031 with an annual target of 900.
“Since 2011, more than 5,000 homes have been delivered. We believe a further 6,000 will arrive over the next five years.”
Taylor Wimpey, the developer of the latter, says just 28 homes have been built so far. It expects the remaining 500 to be completed in seven years’ time.
Ian Hardman, from Pentland Homes, believes the first batch of completed properties will be moved into at Cockering Farm in November.
And at the former Herne Bay golf course more than 170 have been built.
In Whitstable, work has begun on the 400-home site north of the Thanet Way and developer Kitewood has appealed against the decision to refuse its plans for Grasmere Gardens.
As yet, applications have not been submitted by A E Estates for its 300-home plot at Hillborough and for Ridlands Farm in Canterbury.
The local plan is causing problems for other parts of Kent too.
Swale Borough Council is facing similar problems with their local plan having failed to provide the target of 776 homes a year it has been set by the government. In a recent cabinet meeting the leader of the council, Cllr Roger Truelove, branded the target "ridiculous".
In Medway, the local plan hasn't been put in place yet as councillors wait for the outcome of a bid for £170 million bid to help local infrastructure. It was pushed back in December but in a cabinet meeting last week it was confirmed it would be put back again.
Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council have reached the examination stage of its local plan, however planning inspectors have already raised concerns about the number of homes planned for the Greenbelt.