Published: 19:50, 13 August 2019
| Updated: 19:57, 13 August 2019
Residents across Kent are expectantly looking to Sevenoaks to offer some hope in the battle against ever-expanding housing growth.
As borough councils have submitted their Local Plan blueprints for housing development or started reviews of their existing plans, communities have been consistently told that their housing targets must increase.
That is because the Government has instructed them all to use a common formula to "obectively assess housing need."
Most councils have accepted the figure that the formula has produced and then sought to allocate sufficient sites to meet the target.
Just last week, the leader of Tunbridge Wells council told residents that the council had no choice but to plan to meet the target figure; Cllr Alan McDermott described it as "a Government diktat."
Sevenoaks alone has taken a stand and is submitting a Local Plan for fewer homes than the formula suggests, arguing that the Government's National Planning Policy Framework does sanction councils to aim for lower housing targets if there are "constraints" to development.
Sevenoaks' objectively assessed housing need figure was 11,312 homes over its 16-year plan period, but the council is aiming to deliver just 9,410 homes, which represents 83% of the "requirement."
A spokesman said: "Sevenoaks District is 93% Green Belt, which restricts where new homes can be built.
"In line with Government planning policy, we are only proposing to release Green Belt land where there are ‘exceptional circumstances’."
The council is interpreting 'exceptional circumstances' to mean only when the release of Green Belt land would bring significant community improvements, such as new medical and leisure facilities, schools and transport, to meet an existing local need.
Although the council's plan does contain some Green Belt sites, the council does need consider "housing need" alone sufficient grounds to release extra sites.
The Sevenoaks approach differs from that of other local authorities - both Tonbridge and Malling and Tunbridge Wells are preparing to release Green Belt land to meet their new "housing need" targets of 6,818 and 13,500 respectively, and Maidstone Borough Council is also seeking to allocate plots to meet its "housing need" target of an additional 10,593 homes in full.
The Sevenoaks plan goes before a Government inspector for a series of public examination hearings starting at the Stag Theatre on September 24.
The results of the hearing will be closely watched by residents' groups resisting housing growth elsewhere.
Farah Brooks-Johnson of the Save Capel Campaign in Tunbridge Wells said: "We wish Sevenoaks well for their Local Plan hearings and await the inspector’s comments.
"If their Local Plan is approved, maybe Tunbridge Wells and other borough councils will follow their lead and adapt their Local Plans to save our Green Belt."
The Sevenoaks' stance has been supported by the town's MP Sir Michael Fallon who criticised his own Government's housing need target as "unachievable".