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Government orders Gravesham council to approve more housing developments

Council leaders have been ordered to push more housing developments through after falling behind government building targets.

Gravesham Borough Council says it has been informed the number of new homes delivered is falling below required levels, and the authority must now look to grant permission for any application deemed to be sustainable.

Builders at work on new homes
Builders at work on new homes

Last week, the government released its Housing Delivery Test measurement for 2020 for every local authority in England, which showed that for 2018-2020, 731 of the 1,043 new homes required by government targets – less than 75% - were delivered in the borough.

As a result, the council has been informed that it is one of 55 local authorities where presumption in favour of sustainable development is now in place.

This means the government expectation is that planning permission is granted unless an application relates to areas or assets that particularly require protection, such as designated heritage assets or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, or the disbenefits significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.

Leader of Gravesham council Cllr John Burden said: “What this means in reality is we now have very few options available to us when it comes to determining planning applications where housing is proposed.

“If applicants can show their proposals are sustainable under the planning definition, in effect we have to grant permission.

"When government assesses new homes delivery against targets, it looks at the number of units completed over a three-year period.

Cllr John Burden
Cllr John Burden

Cllr Burden added: “This is not a question of the council not granting permission for enough new homes. It is more a reflection of the delays in developers completing developments once those permissions have been given.

“Clearly, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on construction in the past year, but the government has made allowances for that in conducting its Housing Delivery Test measurement.

“Our planners are working with developers to encourage them to get cracking where permissions are in place.

“In recent months members have granted powers to officers to compulsory purchase key strategic development sites in the borough if they feel insufficient progress is being made in building out schemes. An example is the old police station site which has changed hands a number of times without any progress being made on redevelopment."

The news of the government's Housing Delivery Test measurement for 2020 came alongside a letter from Housing Minister Christopher Pincher reminding local councils of the need to progress Local Plans despite Covid lockdown measures.

The council has recently carried out the latest stage of consultation on its emerging Local Plan.

Cllr Burden noted a number of brownfield sites in Gravesend were due to be developed, such as The Charter and Clifton Slipways, and a planning application is expected for redevelopment of the canal basin.

But he feared the government announcement would lead to developers targetting Green Belt, with a presumption on granting planning permission.

"It opens up potential for building in the green belt in an uncontrollable way," he added. "It's taking away local people's choice and what local people want to see built.

"Some developers will see this is a free for all."

Most frustratingly, he said delays were even caused by government departments, such as the Highways Agency, who had stalled development at Coldharbour Road.

"We're now put into an impossible position," he added. "We've got other government agencies stepping in to stop us building. It's a circular position which is absolutely ridiculous.

"We're being punished by a government whose own departments have delayed us and caused problems."

Read more: all the latest news from Gravesham.

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