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Kent council reveal wish list for new housing minister Michael Gove

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The new housing minister Michael Gove has pressed pause on controversial reforms that could see significantly higher house-building targets for our councils that they neither want nor have room for.

An equally contentious feature of the shake-up has been plans for zones in which developers would have an automatic right to build and bypass the normal planning process.

Michael Gove (Aaron Chown/PA)
Michael Gove (Aaron Chown/PA)

Mr Gove says he wants time to consider the measures after a backlash from party members, councils and his own MPs - particularly in Kent.

So, with the breathing space offered by the government, what is on the wish-list of council leaders in the Garden of England?

Here’s what some had to say:

Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council cabinet member for planning David Lettington (Con):“The two main things we are hoping to see from Michael Gove are a fair and transparent system for allocating new housing, and a stable set of planning regulations that enables us to plan for the long term.

"The government is extremely keen to keep to their manifesto commitment to protect the Green Belt. But that desire is in direct conflict with top-down housing targets which ignore the fact that in excess of 70% of land in our area is Green Belt, and 27% is Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Cllr David Lettington (Con)
Cllr David Lettington (Con)

"As development is restricted in Green Belt and AONB areas, it doesn’t leave much land available for building, and the land that doesn’t fall under those designations is all in one geographical area.

"This means the “Medway Gap” is unfairly burdened with additional housing and local infrastructure is struggling to keep up.

"We very much want to be able to help people into good housing, especially first-time buyers and people on low incomes, but unfettered growth is not the answer. “

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council leader Tom Dawlings (Con): “Undoubtedly one thing we would like to see is for planning applications fees to cover the cost of running a full planning service, including producing a local plan.

"At present, planning application fees for development, whether a small household extension or a major development of hundreds of homes are a relatively small percentage of the overall cost of a development.

"There is clearly scope to raise application fees, and for these to be ring-fenced to be spent on providing a planning service.

Tom Dawlings
Tom Dawlings

“The planning system has its faults.

"However, this measure would, without doubt, have the single biggest impact on the speed, quality and effectiveness of the planning system, which will be to the benefit of all of society and the economy.”

“We are all very well aware of the borough's local housing need, but it would be preferable to be focused on delivering that need alongside, and ideally after, providing the necessary infrastructure to support the housing.”

Maidstone council leader Cllr David Burton (Con): “Of course we would like to see a reduction in the housing numbers target.

"The affordability uplift, although well-intended does not seem to be significantly lowering house prices and simply raises targets.

“Further measures that help councils such as Maidstone bring forward more truly affordable housing for local people must be key to any reforms.

Councils are being asked to build thousands of houses.Picture: Martin Apps
Councils are being asked to build thousands of houses.Picture: Martin Apps

“Control over where the new housing goes must be kept by the local planning authority. How the suggested zoning would have worked is unclear and must not become a free ticket for developers.

“Stronger levers to bring forward infrastructure ahead of development or at least alongside its delivery are desperately needed.

“Let’s make sure that any planning reforms are about good placemaking and communities and not just the sterile delivery of brick boxes.”

Swale council leader Cllr Roger Truelove (Labour): “The Jenrick reforms were obviously politically toxic.

"They were unacceptable to local government but also to Tory backbenchers after the Chesham and Amersham by election.

"The concept of zones that exclude local decision making has to be dropped. But that won't solve the underlying problem, which is that the government aims to concentrate far too large a proportion of its target growth in London and the South East.

How the suggested zoning would have worked is unclear and must not become a free ticket for developers..."

"This leaves all of us in Kent with undeliverable target numbers. We need the government to do more to assess these numbers against real infrastructure needs, especially the provision of health and schooling.

"With its "levelling up" agenda, the Government has to allocate more housing development to other regions of the country. I have little confidence that Gove will listen any more attentively than Jenrick.”

A spokesman for Dover District Council said:“We are cautiously welcoming the new minister Michael Gove’s proposal to reflect before publishing a new Planning Bill which was due this autumn. Dover produced its own comprehensive response to the proposals, which were generally welcomed by the development industry.

"The council did not support a binding annual new housing requirement that is to be set nationally as to empower local planning then local housing needs should be identified, discussed, agreed and set at a local level.

"We also raised the issue of giving planning permission “in principle” at the Local Plan stage. The perceived loss of democracy in the decision-making process needed to be considered and many people only get involved at the planning application stage when detailed impacts are fully appreciated.

An artists impression of the new homes at Connaught Barracks. Picture: Dover District Council
An artists impression of the new homes at Connaught Barracks. Picture: Dover District Council

"The perception currently is that Local Planning Authorities would have reduced ability to take account of local concerns and that they would be unfairly penalised for doing so. Expediency cannot be at the expense of localism.

"Whilst the Council supported the streamlining and speeding up of the plan-making process, it had a number of concerns in relation to the proposals for a 30 month statutory timescale for the production of a Local Plan.

"This timescale does not provide sufficient time to undertake all the key stages required to produce a Local Plan in a robust manner and risks the quality and soundness of the Plan. On proposals to improve design quality and “Build Beautiful”, DDC flagged up that this would depend on confidence in the design skills of the LPA and take time to build such skills - the Government should be making additional resources available for this now.

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