Published: 15:00, 22 October 2021
| Updated: 15:25, 22 October 2021
A parish council chairman says he is “astounded and angry” to learn Swale council did not apply for funding to develop brownfield land into housing, to protect countryside and green spaces.
Julien Speed, chairman of Lynsted with Kingsdown parish council, wrote to the authority’s CEO Larissa Reed asking whether it had applied for the funding from central government after noticing it was absent from a list of authorities up and down the country that had been allocated a share of £58 million.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) announced last week, that thousands of new homes would be built on underused and derelict land to “regenerate local areas and help people onto the property ladder”.
As a result, almost £58m from the £75m Brownfield Land Release Fund (BLRF) has been allocated to 53 councils – but in Kent, only Folkestone and Hythe district council was awarded £1,150,000 for its Biggins Wood project.
The funding for councils is said to boost local areas by “transforming unloved and disused sites into vibrant communities for people to live and work, with the demolition of unsightly derelict buildings and disused car parks and garages”.
This will help to “protect countryside and green spaces” while an extra 5,600 homes are built on these sites across the country.
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove MP said: “We are levelling up and backing home ownership in every corner of the country, delivering new high-quality, affordable homes and creating thriving places where people want to live, work and visit.
“Making the most of previously developed land is a government priority and it will help protect our cherished countryside and green spaces.”
Cabinet office minister Lord Agnew added: “This support being provided to local authorities is another clear demonstration of this government’s commitment to levelling up the country.
“The latest projects to benefit from this support will not only help unlock under-used public sector sites for homes but also help deliver jobs and save taxpayers’ money.”
In her response to Cllr Speed, Ms Reed said Swale council did not bid for this funding.
She added: “We considered it carefully as we are already undertaking work as part of the One Public Estate programme. In order to be successful, councils needed to have ‘shelf ready’ plans, which could be delivered quickly. We did not have any plans that would meet this criteria so we were not able to bid.
“We investigated whether our Housing Company Rainbow Homes might be able to bid for funding, but again the plans were not far enough advanced to meet the criteria. One of the things the cabinet have asked officers to do is to undertake work to ensure that we have plans, which would be ready should other, short-term funding bids be advertised.”
Speaking about the response, Cllr Speed said: “I find it astonishing that Swale council doesn’t have a single brownfield development idea, given the massive objections from residents to building on greenfield.”
He added: “I just couldn’t believe that here was £58m worth of money being offered by central government and Swale hadn’t even bothered to apply.
“I then thought maybe it did apply and didn’t get through, which is why I asked the question.
“I am astounded and angry. It keeps claiming, as a council, it doesn’t want to build on greenfield sites and it is forced to by government, and yet it doesn’t have a single brownfield site it has looked at.
“Another point is that the council is required to hold a brownfield sites register and keep it up-to-date with a list of sites and their availability.
“To say they don’t have a ‘shelf ready’ scheme could be argued they aren’t maintaining it properly. There must be brownfield sites on the register that should be being assessed routinely.”
Swale council was contacted for comment.