Published: 12:00, 11 February 2021
| Updated: 14:28, 11 February 2021
Helen Whately MP says she is “seriously worried” about the future of Faversham after Swale Borough Council moved a step closer to allocating space for almost 3,500 extra homes.
The Conservative believes there is a “totally disproportionate” focus in pinning more homes on Faversham rather than evenly distributing the demand for more properties across the borough.
Her fears come as the coalition-led council responds to the Government ramping up housebuilding targets for Swale.
It has been tasked with adding 10,000 homes to its Local Plan - the blueprint for what land should be developed over the next 18 years.
And in identifying areas it believes are best-suited for development, the council has chosen Faversham as the place which should bear the brunt of the additional houses - earmarking an extra 3,410 homes for the town.
That figure is on top of the 1,739 properties already set aside in the earlier plan on land such as Perry Court and Oare Gravel Works.
The thorny issue of adding thousands of extra homes to Faversham was discussed at an extraordinary meeting last Wednesday.
Borough councillors voted 30 to 17 in favour of getting the ball rolling with the revisions, meaning the new Local Plan is now out for a six-week consultation.
Residents are encouraged to have their say on the proposals by visiting the council website.
Should the plan remain unchanged when it is officially voted on in the coming months, there will be an immense concentration of house-building to the south and east of Faversham.
Housing estates will stretch all the way to Brenley Corner as part of what has been described as the “largest expansion of the town since the Victorian era”.
The largest plot to be built on will hold a 2,500-home development on 320 acres of land south of the town belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall’s royal estate in Selling Road, between the A2 and the M2.
A report compiled by the council explains why the town has been chosen as a prime spot for future development.
It reads: “Faversham enjoys strong viability and falls within the higher land value area.
“Focusing development at this location creates opportunities to deliver new infrastructure where housing affordability issues are more acute.”
But Mrs Whately says she is “alarmed” by the numbers set to be added to the town, and has written to the borough council’s leader - Roger Truelove - calling for a rethink.
“This is totally disproportionate and would drastically change the look and feel of Faversham, a historic market town, and the surrounding villages,” she wrote.
“Of course we need some new housing to support the local population and to play our part in meeting housing needs of young people, but from what I am hearing, the proposals coming out of the council are of a different order of magnitude.
“It’s clear, many of my constituents are shocked and deeply unhappy about the amount of houses planned for Faversham, the surrounding villages and the lack of meaningful consultation.
“I urge you not to ride roughshod over local opinions and feeling, to listen and engage with people in the town and surrounding villages - and rethink the current proposals.
“Faversham deserves so much better.”
Of the extra homes allocated in the revised Local Plan, 3,410 are in Faversham, 1,400 in Sheppey, and 1,050 in Sittingbourne. About 2,000 other homes will be built on ‘windfall sites’ not in the Local Plan.
'This is totally disproportionate and would drastically change the look and feel of Faversham...'
It is the huge demands of the Conservative government which are forcing the council into allocating more land for development - a reality which the council’s deputy leader says leaves the authority with its hands tied.
Mike Baldock (Ind) said: “Is this something I want to do? No not at all.
“It’s something I absolutely hate doing. I’m not happy in doing it. We’ve been left in this absolutely invidious position by the Government.
“We’re being told to impose housing way above what we can seriously deliver, and probably way above what the market will deliver.
“We don’t think the infrastructure in Swale sustains this level of imposed housing whatsoever. But if we turn it down, the houses won’t go away and the Government will take control and decide where they will go without any strategic planning.”
Accusations have previously been aimed at Cllr Baldock for opposing housing plans where he lives in Sittingbourne, and welcoming development plans elsewhere.
But the former council leader says every site is allocated in an official manner.
“It’s not my choice as to where housing goes,” he said. “Officers do it on an evidential basis and then it goes through the Local Plan panel and the cabinet.
“It’s a collective decision - not just one individual.
“I absolutely don’t want to see loads more houses in Faversham, but its something we need to allocate ourselves having followed the due process.
“In the last Local Plan, 85% of the housing allocation was in Sittingbourne and Sheppey.
“With this review we need to balance it out, so the extra housing predominantly goes to Faversham - it needed balancing. Overall though, Faversham is still getting less than Sittingbourne.
“All the MPs say ‘we don’t want any houses in our area’. But what have they actually done to challenge their own Government to get these targets lowered?
“You’re very limited as to where you can put housing and there was a lot more land volunteered around Faversham.
“I was very keen to avoid more houses on the west of Faversham as that would involve traffic going through the town on a regular basis.
“Putting these houses in the east will put more pressure on the Government to carry out improvements at Brenley Corner.”
The changes to the Local Plan are set to come into play from 2022 and run until 2038, when all of the homes are envisaged to be complete. The redrafting will see the council commit to building 1,038 homes in the borough each year between 2022 and 2038.
'Putting these houses in the east will put more pressure on the Government to carry out improvements at Brenley Corner..'
Mrs Whately has criticised the six-week consultation period, stressing that she is “seriously worried” the timeframe is too short for residents to fully engage with the process.
"The scale of these proposals is hard to exaggerate," she said.
"But most shocking is that these enormous changes to Faversham and our villages are being rushed through with bare minimum consultation.
“It’s now vital that people have their say on these proposals. Where residents and parish councils feel they have not had the chance to comment fully then they should make that clear.
"Trying to bounce people into these changes is completely wrong.”
But Cllr Baldock says the six-week period is legal, and must be done to speed through the process of getting the plan approved.