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Swale council dismisses Conservatives' claim it has performed housing 'u-turn'

Swale council has dismissed Conservatives' claims that it has performed a u-turn on its housing policy.

A report to the local plan panel tomorrow night (Thursday) will explain what the coalition is doing to meet government building targets.

Conservative Cllr Peter Marchington. Picture: Swale council
Conservative Cllr Peter Marchington. Picture: Swale council

Cllr Peter Marchington (Con, Queenborough and Halfway) said: “We are seeing the coalition go back on its word. It was elected on a promise to argue against more housing. But the report clearly states it will support ever more housing in the future."

The report sets out ways the council will deliver an "uptick” in new homes across the borough, which covers Sittingbourne, Sheppey and Faversham, and talks of "more flexible policies to support further housing."

Cllr Marchington said: "The report also talks of Swale council working with others to secure government funding for improvements to Key Street and Grovehurst roundabouts while, all along, the coalition refused to support a bid by Kent County Council (KCC).

"I think the coalition has a lot to explain before we support delivering this plan to the Secretary of State.”

Swale has been told to add 10,000 homes to its Local Plan which will cover development plans for the next 18 years.

Building work at Watling Gate off Mill Way, Sittingbourne
Building work at Watling Gate off Mill Way, Sittingbourne

The council wants 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.

According to the government, Swale should be building 776 new homes every year to keep pace with demand. That works out at 2,328 over three years. But the council has consistently failed to meet the target and has been asked to explain why in a paper called the housing delivery test action plan (HDT).

In the three years up to 2017/18 Swale had built 1,721 (74% of its target) and in 18/19 1,802 properties (77%). In 2019/20 it achieved its highest of 2,014 (89%), ironically when the government had reduced its figure to take into account the effects of the Covid pandemic.

Cllr Mike Baldock (Swale Independents Alliance, Borden and Grove Park), the cabinet member for planning, is asking for delegated powers to send the action plan to the Secretary of State for Housing Robert Jenrick.

He said the Conservatives' comments "demonstrate a serious failure to understand even the basics of local planning."

Swale council's spokesman on planning Cllr Mike Baldock. Picture: Swale council
Swale council's spokesman on planning Cllr Mike Baldock. Picture: Swale council

"It represents serious hypocrisy from a party which was planning on 17,000 extra houses rather than the far lower number the coalition seeks to deliver," he said and pointed out the targets, which are to increase again in 2022, are set by a Conservative government.

He said the 'uptick' referred to delivering houses already agreed in the Conservative's own Bearing Fruit Local Plan of 2017 to meet the five-year supply the government required.

He added: "​The action plan does not allocate extra housing, it sets out what the council expects to happen in the immediate future about housing delivery and what, if anything, we can do to support a five-year supply of housing as required by the government."

He said: "Cllr Marchington says he sees the coalition going back on its word. The coalition opposed the local Conservative's housing plans which would have delivered 17,000 extra houses. We are delivering a far lower figure, as we said we would."

On funding to improve the road junctions he said: "The coalition made it clear we did not support funding based on the delivery of greater housing numbers. But we need the improvements just to cope with existing levels of traffic."

Read more: All the latest news from Sittingbourne

Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey

Read more: All the latest news from Faversham

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