Published: 06:00, 28 January 2021
A lack of new homes being completed has led to the government imposing new rules which are feared will hand developers an advantage over communities.
Medway Council delivered half of the challenging housing target it was set by government for the past three years and ministers have now taken action to force through more planning applications to catch up.
It means Medway will be under greater pressure to approve schemes and have less power to reject developments.
The government's Housing Delivery Test 2020 was published last week which ranks each local authority based on its housing target and the number of homes completed.
The towns have the highest target in Kent but saw just 55% of its new homes targeted delivered – putting it among the 55 worst performing areas in England.
Of the 4,556 homes the government had wanted to see built between April 2017 and last March, only 2,498 were completed.
Housebuilding in Medway is at its highest rate in 22 years with 1,130 completed in 2019/20 and the council passed an action plan to meet the shortfall against its target.
Only Thanet (54%) had a lower rate in Kent. The lowest in the country was Eastbourne (29%).
Neighbouring Gravesham has also been told to pass more applications which are shown to be sustainable.
The authorities face rules which mean "presumption in favour" of an application is in place and give planning officers and councillors sitting on planning committees less leeway to refuse plans.
Council leader Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con) said: "Clear sustainability standards and projects can benefit both residents and developers. Residents will have access to more homes because developers will receive planning permission to build more homes if they meet the sustainability requirements
"It doesn’t work in a developer’s interest to not be sustainable as it means they won’t be favoured for planning permission and that slows down the planning and development process
"The consequence of this is less housing for residents and no income for the developer, which leaves both parties unsatisfied. The two are inextricably linked.
"Clear sustainability standards and projects can benefit both residents and developers..."
"The use of sustainability standards also contributes to minimising the effects of climate change, so it is of the utmost importance developers remember this when submitting for planning permission."
Council leaders across the country were angered by a government U-turn in December which had proposed to reduce housing target numbers only to revert back to initial levels.
In Medway, this would have seen 8,000 fewer homes needed by 2037.
Cllr Jarrett previously said the government's actions had been "extremely disappointing".
He added: "The council is working hard to achieve sustainable and realistic growth for Medway’s residents, providing additional facilities with new builds.
"However, we now face an uphill struggle to reach the target we’ve been given by government of building 28,300 new homes by 2037.
"What’s even more disconcerting is that we potentially face repercussions from the government if we fail to squeeze 1,662 new homes into Medway each year."
Cllr Naushabah Khan (Lab), opposition spokesman for housing, said by "changing the goalposts" the government had "failed to work with councils in a meaningful way".
But she added the lack of new homes delivered in Medway and the rules now being imposed by Westminster are "really concerning".
"It takes that control away from communities," she said. "I understand why the government has done it but it's a sledgehammer to break a nut.
"It's going to cause a lot of frustration and lead to some developments that don't meet local needs. It's going to be in favour of developers and that's not really the point. Our ability is hampered when the government is chasing a figure.
"I'm disappointed we've failed to get even close."
Cllr Khan added the numbers are "especially bad when it comes to the lack of affordable housing" and said just 23% of all new homes were affordable housing.
"It's going to cause a lot of frustration and lead to some developments that don't meet local needs..."
"There is a clear issue here in the slow delivery of housing but more importantly, the lack of affordable houses being delivered for community given the growing population.
"The numbers are really worrying, and there are a number of complex factors at play including land values and developer’s focus on viability assessments.
She added the government had not stepped in to help support councils deliver the high targets it is demanding.
Jackson Fraser-Hague, secretary of the Arches Chatham Neighbourhood Forum, said: "As a neighbourhood planning forum within Chatham we are looking to better shape new developments in our area.
"The idea of undermining community representation/involvement in the formal planning process does not feel like a step in the right direction.
"On the face of it, this proposal may be an unnecessary thumb on the scales that creates homes which may fail to meet community needs or desires.
"With that said, more information is required as to how we define and implement the term sustainable to better understand the potential impact that it will have in our area and across Medway.”