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Housing targets jump by 21% as Tonbridge and Malling council ditches Local Plan


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A council’s housing plan lies in tatters as it starts the process all over again and is forced to find an extra 2,574 homes.

Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council has officially withdrawn its Local Plan proposals, which were submitted to the Planning Inspectorate back in 2019.

Now the council must find space for 15,000 new homes
Now the council must find space for 15,000 new homes

The plan was thrown back at the council by government inspectors who said the borough had failed in its duty to consult with neighbouring boroughs to see whether it was able to help them make up any shortfall in their housing targets.

Sevenoaks in particular was struggling to meet its allocation because most of its district falls within the protected Green Belt.

Tonbridge and Malling rejected the accusation, saying there had indeed been cross-authority talks, but it was unable to produce minuted discussions to convince the Government that this was the case.

So now the borough has bowed to the inevitable, and started the whole Local Plan process again.

The failure of the first plan has huge implications for housing building in the borough, which will now have to be ramped up by around 21%.

Ian Bailey: It was a hard lesson
Ian Bailey: It was a hard lesson

It will also cost council tax-payers an extra £750,000.

The council had started the plan using March 31, 2011, as its base line. That meant it was able to determine its housing need under the old locally estimated methodology that applied at the time - which resulted in a housing target of 696 new homes per year.

Now the borough will have to use the government's current "standard methodology" that generates a target figure of 839 houses per year.

The previous plan covered the period 2011 to 2031. Now it must plan for 2021 till 2039.

So the council has to find space for 15,102 new homes.

Happier days: at the launch of the first Local Plan in 2016: Cllr Nicholas Heslop, Cllr Howard Rogers, communications manager Linda Moreau, director of planning Steve Humphrey, head of planning Louise Reid and planning policy manager Ian Bailey at the Kings Hill council offices
Happier days: at the launch of the first Local Plan in 2016: Cllr Nicholas Heslop, Cllr Howard Rogers, communications manager Linda Moreau, director of planning Steve Humphrey, head of planning Louise Reid and planning policy manager Ian Bailey at the Kings Hill council offices

Planning policy manager Ian Bailey told a meeting of the council's Planning and Transportation Advisory Board that he was confident the whole process would be much faster the second time around, because it had all the data already gathered as a starting base.

There would, however, have to be a new "call for sites" in which the borough invites developers and landowners to submit their suggestions for where development could take place.

However Mr Bailey said that the borough had obtained new computer software that would greatly speed up the assessment of any sites suggested.

It would also automatically assess all possible sites in the borough, allowing the council to pro-actively approach landowners and suggest they submit their site, if it scored highly on the suitability assessment.

For that reason, the call for sites period would be reduced to only four weeks. Last time it had been 14 months.

Cllr Howard Rogers: We did hold talks
Cllr Howard Rogers: We did hold talks

Several councillors thought four weeks "remarkably short" and raised concerns that it might lay the council open to legal challenges further down the line from developers who missed the submission deadline, but Mr Bailey assured the board that there was no minimum time laid down in law.

Asked how the borough would find the additional housing sites needed. Mr Bailey suggested it could allow higher densities of development on some sites.

He said: "Last time we estimated housing yield by using a blanket density of 30 dwellings per hectare. This time we will see if there are some sites where a higher density might be appropriate."

Cllr Howard Rogers (Con) had been the portfolio holder responsible for the Local Plan last time around.

He insisted that he had held meetings with neighbouring authorities, but said: "It is frustrating that these meetings were not documented. The discussions did happen, but now it is going to costs us £3/4m to go through the whole process again."

David Lettington: Absolute nonsense
David Lettington: Absolute nonsense

Mr Bailey admitted: "We have learnt the hard way. We shall make sure there is a robust approach this time."

He set out the council's ambition of going for the first stage Regulation 18 consultation on the new plan in the spring of next year, with the the Regulation 19 final draft consultation late next year, submission to the Planning Inspectorate in 2023, and - hopefully - the plan's adoption in 2024 .

In the meantime, the council remains unable to demonstrate that it has a five-year housing supply, which makes it far more difficult to refuse planning applications in the meantime.

Cllr David Lettington (Con) said: "The Government's position is an absolute nonsense. You can't have both the housing numbers it seeks and the Green Belt allocations it says it wants to protect.

"It is clear from what (the Secretary of State for Housing) Michael Gove has said that the national target of 300,000 homes per annum is here to stay, which invariably puts pressure on Sevenoaks and ourselves to look at releasing Green Belt land."

Cllr Nicolas Heslop: Government has got what it wanted
Cllr Nicolas Heslop: Government has got what it wanted

Cllr Nicolas Heslop (Con), who was leader of the council, during the development of the previous plan, said: "I think the government has got what it wanted."

He said: "We had the audacity to get our Local Plan agreed by this council before the 21% uplift in housing targets, but because we weren't willing to take 600 homes from Sevenoaks our Local Plan has been thrown out and now the national government gets the 21% uplift - that's 2,574 extra homes - that it wanted."

Read more: All the latest news from Malling

Read more: All the latest news from Tonbridge

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