Published: 09:53, 27 June 2019
| Updated: 16:57, 10 December 2019
Controversial plans for nearly 700 homes have been put on ice after a massive about turn by a council.
Back in January, Swale council's planning committee resolved to grant permission for the huge scheme in Borden, near Sittingbourne.
It had been set to grant permission for up to 675 homes, a primary school, a new home for Sittingbourne Rugby Club and shops off Wises Lane and Cryalls Lane.
But on Thursday last week it voted to reject the terms of financial contributions from the developers linked to the proposals, put forward by Quinn Estates and Mulberry Estates.
Instead, members agreed the whole application should be referred back to the committee.
In doing so, they argued the section 106 agreement – the amount of money housebuilders would have to pay towards vital infrastructure – fell short of what was required.
Huge amounts of funding had been promised, including just over £3 million for a new primary school, up to £1.51m for the sports club and £1.345m for the Key Street roundabout.
It also had been offered £885,158 for a new slip road onto the A249, should a bid for government funding be unsuccessful.
But opponents lined up to criticise what had been proposed.
Clive Sims of Borden parish council, Nicola Butlin of Borden Residents Against Development (BRAD) and councillors whose wards would be affected spoke against the plans.
They urged members to reject the section 106 agreement due to fears about traffic and its impact on other areas of Sittingbourne, GP provision, the lack of affordable homes, doubts over whether a school would be built and the serious implications for air quality.
A representative of developers Barratt and David Wilson Homes Kent, which had signed an agreement to build the homes, described a “suite of benefits” for the local and wider community.
Members voted by 13 votes to two to reject the 106 agreement, with one abstention. It was then agreed by 13 votes to three that the application be referred back to the committee.
Quinn Estates expressed its disappointment with the outcome of Thursday night’s meeting.
A company spokesman said: “We are obviously very disappointed that the committee voted to reject the substantial package of mitigation measures agreed with officers and consultees; this is more funding per housing unit for infrastructure and contributions than has been achieved by any other scheme in the history of Swale.
“The decision was against the expert advice of Swale council’s planners and the committee resolved to reconsider the entire application at a forthcoming meeting.
"It will lead to further delays in the delivery of much-needed new homes in Sittingbourne, as well as significant investments in infrastructure and road improvements that would benefit over 50,000 residents across the local area.”
Despite the setback, the firm vowed to carry on with its plans in the borough.
The spokesman added: “We are committed to Swale’s regeneration and will continue to work with officers to ensure the strategic vision for Swale, set out in their own local plan, is delivered.”
It took almost three hours for the planning committee to reach its decision on Thursday.
Members, most notably Cllrs Monique Bonney (Ind) and Nicolas Hampshire (Con), quizzed planners and raised concerns including commuter parking, the NHS not taking up an offer of a medical centre as part of the plans and payments towards a “Sittingbourne Hub” - part of future regeneration plans for the town centre, the detail of which is yet to be revealed.
Council leader Cllr Roger Truelove (Lab) said his Homewood ward, next to Borden, had been ignored in the section 106 negotiations. He said approving the plan had been marginal and had left the council with unresolved highways constraints.
Cllr Mike Baldock (Swale Ind), member for Borden and Grove Park, reeled off a list of reasons to reject the plan, concluding that the council now expects a higher standard of development.
Speaking in favour, Roger Down, chairman of the rugby club, said the new clubhouse and pitches would provide a “legacy facility for future generations”.
Eyebrows were raised by the decision to refer the application back to the planning committee.
Senior Tory member, Cllr David Simmons, asked: “Can we do what has been proposed? Surely the original decision was to grant the application subject to the 106. Can we now turn around and say we want the whole application to come back to the committee?”
Legal advice was sought and it was said that a substantial change to the terms of the 106 agreement would be enough to bring it back to the committee.
Three Conservative members, including Cllr Simmons, opposed the move.