Published: 10:58, 18 February 2021
| Updated: 11:01, 18 February 2021
Cllr Alan Horton (Hartlip, Newington and Upchurch), a former police chief and leader of Swale council's Conservative Group, said: “This is the biggest, most important consultation the council carries out. To rush it through in the way the coalition administration is doing is simply wrong.
"People need the chance to fully understand what the plan means for them and their communities and have ample time to respond.”
He said: “I have written to the leader of the council (Cllr Roger Truelove) demanding he reconsider the timetable for the consultation and extend it to give residents, businesses and our communities extra time to reply to it.
"I have also written to the Secretary of State asking for a review of the consultation process as I believe it prevents certain members of our community from participating.”
Residents have been given six weeks, the minimum required, to comment on the plan, which is more than 1,000 pages long.
The controversial plan has already led to a split between Tory MPs Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) and Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) who are fighting to reduce house building in their own areas.
With the covid restrictions in place, copies of the plan are not available at libraries and council buildings. At one stage it was reported residents would be charged £25 for each printed copy.
Cllr James Hunt (Con, The Meads) said: "It is unrealistic to expect residents and parish councils to absorb such an enormous amount of information in such a short time, especially if the information is changing, incomplete or inaccurate.
"Regardless of the many issues with the Plan, there has to be adequate time for consultation, and the council should extend the period."
Cllr Mike Whiting (Con, Teynham and Lynsted) said: “Residents in Teynham and Lynsted are in shock at the scale of the proposed development in the two villages.
"There is no clear plan as to how the air pollution from the extra traffic will be mitigated, there is inadequate traffic modelling around the proposed bypass through Lynsted, and no identified funding for that bypass.
"The council needs to give those communities time to consider all aspects of what it is proposing.”
Cllr Cameron Beart (Queenborough and Halfway) said: "It is quite normal for there to be three stages of consultation for a new or revised Local Plan.
"The first, called a Regulation 18 consultation, asked for comments on a range of approaches to determine where development might happen.
"Taking responses to that consultation into account, the council made clear it would then publish a more detailed set of proposals under what is called a Regulation 18b consultation.
"Following that, a final draft would be subject to a Regulation 19 consultation. This council has missed out the second consultation, effectively presenting residents with a 'fait accompli' and only six weeks to comment.”
Faversham MPHelen Whately has also written to Swale council’s leader calling for a rethink on proposals to allocate space for almost 3,500 extra homes in the east of the borough.
She says she is “seriously worried” about the future of the market town and believes there is a “totally disproportionate” focus in pinning more homes on Faversham rather than evenly distributing new properties across Swale.
She also criticised the six-week consultation period saying it was too short for residents to fully engage with the process.
Gordon Henderson, MP forSittingbourne and Sheppey, said: “Sittingbourne and Sheppey over the last two or three decades has taken more than its fair share of housing that Swale has had to agree to.
“I agree Swale’s housing target is still too high and I will continue to lobby government to reduce it. But if I don’t succeed, I believe the bulk of any new housing development should go to the east part of Swale."
Swale has been told to add 10,000 homes to its Local Plan - the blueprint for development over the next 18 years.
The council has chosen to allocate an extra 3,420 homes to Faversham. An additional 1,400 are planned for Sheppey and 1,050 in Sittingbourne. About 2,000 other homes will be built on ‘windfall sites’ not yet identified.
The council's deputy leader Cllr Mike Baldock (Swale Independents Alliance, Borden and Grove Park) said: "In the last Local Plan, 85% of the housing was allocation was in Sittingbourne and Sheppey. With this review we need to balance it out. Overall, Faversham is still getting less than Sittingbourne.”
He added: "Our MPs both say they don't want any houses in their area but what have they actually done to challenge their own Government to get these targets lowered? Putting these houses in est Faversham will put more pressure on the Government to carry out improvements at Brenley Corner (at the end of the M2)."
He insisted the six-week period was legal.
He said: “If Swale decides to put more housing in Sittingbourne and Sheppey, I would like to see that built south of the A2. Communities north of the A2, including Sheppey, Murston and so on, have taken the brunt of past development and should be protected from any more.”
Cllr Truelove was asked for a comment.
Cllr Horton's letter to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government:
Dear Secretary of State,
I wish to bring to your attention a matter of grave concern to many residents of Swale in Kent regarding the currently open Regulation 19 consultation on the Local Plan.
The current Labour-led coalition has published a draft Local Plan which is almost 1,000 pages long and is radically different from what was expected by our residents and given them just six weeks to respond and made it clear that the only responses they are interested in are those that are concerned with the 'soundness' of the plan.
The draft document is incomplete and confusing in its structure and is presented as the single solution to the residents of Swale.
The previous Conservative administration published the Local Plan 'Bearing Fruits' and immediately started a review (which was required by the Inspector) with a Regulation 18 consultation on 'Garden Villages' together with a clear undertaking to consider the outcome of the consultation and then publish a further Regulation 18b consultation with options for consideration.
The current administration decided not to conduct the Regulation 18b and have instead proceeded directly to the publication of a Regulation 19 consultation, which the residents, businesses and community of Swale have not been consulted upon during the drafting, so the content has come as a surprise to many.
The consultation is being conducted in the statutory minimum six weeks, digitally, with residents told that if they wanted a paper copy it would cost £25, the Conservative opposition are concerned this disenfranchises a significant number of our residents who because of Covid restrictions are unable to view the documents at our offices or local libraries and many who simply do not have the access to the technology necessary to participate, a problem identified recently with school closures when we found many families only access to the internet was a single mobile phone.
The Secretary of State will be aware this is the same administration that recently notified him that they had a five-year Housing Land Supply and have now had to correct that to a 4.6 year supply because they made administrative errors and double counted allocations.
I have written to the Leader of the Council urging him at the very least to extend the consultation period to allow residents adequate time to read and respond to the consultation, and I am awaiting his response. I ask that you have this process considered by your team and assist the residents of Swale by insisting that they be given a proper consultation and sufficient time to respond to it.
Leader of the Opposition