Published: 22:42, 22 September 2020
| Updated: 22:48, 22 September 2020
Maidstone Councillors have approved plans to speed up the Local Plan Review timetable in a bid to lock in lower housing numbers, as higher Government-imposed figures loom.
Under Whitehall proposals to change the method used to calculate housing need, the number of homes required to be built in the borough per year could rise from 1,214 to to 1,569 , resulting in an extra 5,325 units built between 2022 and 2037.
This has raised fears for the Local Plan Review, currently being worked on, with Cllr Martin Cox, leader of Maidstone Borough Coucil (MBC) warning it could result in starting the process again and spending an additional £2million.
However, local authorities may be able “lock in” their current targets if within nine months of the new figures being implemented, the final draft of their local plans will be consulted on and then submitted.
Earlier this month, members of the strategic planning and infrastructure (SPI) committee heard of how they could achieve this, with an officer warning the council is in a "high risk scenario" whatever option they choose.
Councillors opted for a consultation on MBC’s spatial strategy for the Local Plan Review, being held in December, to be halved from a minimum of six weeks, and agreed to move “very quickly” to the final draft consultation.
This evening, during the next SPI meeting, members debated whether to approve that option, with some arguing it would be better to skip the spatial strategy and go straight to consulting on the final draft of the local plan, known as regulation 19.
Cllr John Perry said: "This would give us the best and possibly only chance to retain lower numbers."
But Cllr Brian Clark said by going straight to regulation 19 councillors will not be able to adapt the Local Plan Review to feedback received from parish councillors, Kent County Council and other consultees.
He said: "We will just be picking up the housing sites in a vacuum."
Claudine Russell, who is campaigning against potential news homes being built in Marden, said a three weeks consultation period was only "playing lip service to the procedure".
A motion to move straight to regulation 19 failed and the motion to shorten the spatial strategy passed. The new timetable will be put to full council.
'We will just be picking up the housing sites in a vacuum...'
During the same meeting, members also noted the latest deliverability and viability assessment on garden communities proposed to be included in the Local Plan Review.
In June, the communities were whittled down from the seven to four , following a suitability assessment carried out by company Stantec and commissioned by MBC. These sites are known were Lidsing, Heathlands, north of Marden and the Leeds-Langley corridor.
In its latest assessment presented to councillors, Stantec said that the Leeds-Langley Corridor was no longer being considered, as it was unlikely a garden settlement proposal would be available for analysis currently, leaving three sites.
The firm said: "Having considered the available information we consider that all the schemes are potentially deliverable as garden community proposals. However, there are requirements that each depend on to be deliverable and there are also risks that may make them undeliverable."
A raft of recommendations included securing adequate connectivity through the Lidsing site and neighbouring areas, address the employment shortfall and deliver more employment spaces on the North of Marden site as well as providing high a quality safe pedestrian and cycle route to local facilities.
In regards to the Heathlands, which is being promoted by MBC, Stantec said that in order for the site to be delivered, among other recommendations, it needed to deliver a train station early as a core part of the scheme and include more employment in the scheme.
The report was noted by council.