Swale Borough Council allowed only one month for the Reg 18 consultation on the new Local Plan for Swale which covers issues and preferred options. The Society asked the Environment Committee to look in detail at the sixty-page document and to draft responses. This inevitably took time. Those draft responses were considered and debated at a special meeting of the Board on Tuesday 23rd November. The Board's response on behalf of the Society has been submitted and can be found below.
The Reg 18 consultation is required by the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) Regulations of 2012 and is a scoping stage. It requires that various bodies and stakeholders be notified that the council is preparing a plan and invites them to comment about what that plan ought to contain. There will be a one-month public consultation in February on the Pre-Submission Draft Local Plan (= Reg 19 consultation) prior to it being submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for Examination in Public. It is the version that the council seeks to adopt, subject to that examination, as the future framework for decision-making on planning. The Board is actively considering how we can best engage with our members in discussing Swale's plan at Reg 19. It is at this stage that the Society needs to consider opposing or supporting the plan, or particular parts of it.
Swale Borough Local Plan (October 2021) Issues and Preferred Options (Regulation 18)
The Faversham Society was founded in 1962 in response to the threatened destruction of historic buildings and the consequent loss of architectural and cultural heritage. The Society’s mission today is to ensure that Faversham’s outstanding heritage features are safeguarded for future generations and its unique sense of place maintained. The town’s relationship with its surrounding landscape is especially important since its history is entwined inextricably with its coastal location, the fertility of the Fruit Belt, its place on the fringe of the North Downs, and the archaeological heritage embedded in that landscape. Those and other values are reflected faithfully in Swale’s Landscape Sensitivity Assessment of 2019. Inevitably, large-scale development around the town will detract from that relationship and those attributes. As a result, the Society on behalf of its 800+ members and in line with its charitable purpose seeks to ensure that what development does take place addresses local needs as its top priority, in ways that are as sympathetic as possible to the town’s natural, historic, architectural and cultural heritage.
It is in the light of our history that we set out below our responses to some of the questions raised in the Swale Local Plan Reg 18 consultation document and raise some other concerns.
We are very aware that Swale is vulnerable to speculative planning applications and sites being allocated by developer appeals to the Planning Inspectorate without a Local Plan in place.
We cannot over-emphasise our belief that Swale must have an approved Local Plan that delivers a five-year housing land supply and ensures that the central government's housing demands are met, even though we disagree fundamentally with the way in which central government sets and imposes housing targets.
We are aware that the government's housing targets are not based on local housing need and that they are driven by demand from Londoners selling up in the city and purchasing in Swale and particularly around Faversham. Developers are meeting the London demand for four- and five-bedroom houses while local demand for one- and two-bedroom units for starter households and people wanting to downsize are not met.
The vulnerability of Faversham to speculative development means that we do not want to see any delay in the delivery of a sound Local Plan. There are also some outstanding matters of concern that we would like to see addressed at the Reg 19 stage.
Question 1: How do you think the Local Plan should be amended to address the NPPF requirement for Local Plans to set larger scale developments within a 30 year vision?
COP26 has reminded us of the need to adapt to the consequences of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The NPPF asserts an environmental objective: “to protect and enhance our natural, built and historic environment; including making effective use of land, improving biodiversity, using natural resources prudently, minimising waste and pollution, and mitigating and adapting to climate change, including moving to a low carbon economy." The NPPF advises that, in doing so, “Planning policies and decisions… should take local circumstances into account, to reflect the character, needs and opportunities of each area.”
The Faversham Society has a number of concerns relating to climate change:
- Sea level rise and flooding: The south east of England is sinking relative to the rest of the UK. This combined with climate change, the effects of rising sea levels, and more frequent and more severe extreme North Sea surges and high winds will render useless the present marginal protection for the low-lying areas around Faversham Creek.
For a coastal community like Swale, flood risk is not adequately addressed in the Section 3.2.1 list of key issues and challenges. Rising sea levels might not become a major threat to low-lying areas between now and 2035 but they will by 2050. The chances of disastrous coastal flooding are constantly increasing and that must feature in the Borough Council's planning across the board. Raising sea defences, for example, might not be the Council's direct responsibility, but it should be engaging with DEFRA and the Environment Agency to decide what can be done to defend the coastal communities which, sooner or later over the next 70-80 years, will be vulnerable to severe damage as the result of rising sea levels. Action to address these risks is required in order to adapt to known climate change.
- Movement: A successful Local Plan in transport terms will require substantial 'mitigation' of traffic flows, a term which requires a significant culture change, including restraint in the use of private vehicles. There is no mention of how this might be done in the document and how difficult it is to achieve in practice. Among other things, (a) public transport (including buses) and (b) active travel should be given a much stronger focus.
Shorter commutes to work to facilitate active travel should be prioritised, and co-location of housing with employment should be favoured.
'The two railway lines, together with the M2 and Watling Street, divide the town into separate districts. This means long detours for pedestrians together with hotspots of activity at several places including the 'long bridge' over the railway line, at Forbes Road, at the pedestrian footbridge over Watling Street at Abbey School, and at the railway bridge between Whitstable Road and Graveney Road.’ The A2 needs to be turned into a street within the town and managed appropriately for active travel.
- Grey water systems should become mandatory in all new-build houses as soon as national regulations permit – which, given the sense of urgency post COP26, will surely be before 2030.
- Natural ventilation and shading should become mandatory in all new-build houses as soon as national regulations permit, which surely too will be before 2030.
Q2: Do you have any comments on the interim Sustainability Appraisal? Please explain the reasons for your comments. Do you think any changes to the interim Sustainability Appraisal are necessary? If so, please set out these changes and the reasons why you think they are needed.
- Climate change possibly has a greater impact on the water cycle via the weather than any other aspect of our daily lives. Hotter, drier summers and warmer winters but with more extreme events conspire against sustainable management. Drought restrictions, storm flooding, tidal surges and storm overflows will all occur more often.
- Potable Water is fundamental to life, and it should be accorded greater priority in the Local Plan.
- The chalk aquifer is already over-abstracted to the detriment of protected chalk streams such as the Westbrook in Faversham. Further housing will make this worse.
- The per capita water consumption target figures for new properties are unambitious. The absolute highest standard of water efficiency is required.
- In Cambridge, a recent Integrated Water Management Study (2021) showed that current levels of water abstraction from the chalk aquifer should be considered unsustainable, with potential to cause environmental damage, unless abstraction rates are reduced significantly to safeguard natural river flow. We know, from the reduced water levels observed in chalk streams in Swale, that the situation here is the same. Whilst water company plans have taken account of planned growth in existing local plans, there is no environmental capacity for additional development in the new Local Plan to be supplied by water by increased abstraction from the chalk aquifer. Future water demand and supply will need to be balanced in other ways, such as through reduced usage, reduced leakage, import of water /licence trading between water companies and the development of new reservoirs at the regional scale.
- The town already suffers from sewerage flooding. Further development coupled with climate change will make this worse unless Southern Water and developers are forced to fund new trunk sewers to alleviate the present problems.
- Faversham wastewater treatment works is already operating at its capacity and is located 500m from the town centre. Further development will require extensions to the works.
- The combined storm overflows in the town feed directly into Faversham Creek. Further development coupled with climate change will result in more frequent discharges of untreated wastewater from the CSOs.
- Further development will increase flows to the wastewater treatment works (WTW) and automatically cause greater flows of poor quality, partially treated wastewater back into the town centre on incoming tides.
- There is surely an opportunity for Swale to engage with the Environment Agency to upgrade the consent for Faversham WTW to one more suitable for an effluent that discharges into a tidal, non-base flow, recreational watercourse.
- This is a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to improve the quality of the Creek by relocating the outfall of the WTW or by radically changing the treatment and operating system at the works to enable the Creek to become usable for recreation once again.
- Properly designed sustainable drainage systems must be obligatory.
- Discharges of wastewater from storm tanks and combined storm overflows into chalk streams such as Thorn Creek and Cooksditch in Faversham must stop.
- The emerging Neighbourhood Plan seeks to facilitate the regeneration of the upper Creek for tourism, leisure and recreational use. Sewage pollution makes dangerous and therefore currently curtails activity in and on the upper Creek.
- There is very, very little brownfield land available in Swale. Further development around Faversham is constrained by the AONB, marshes vulnerable to flooding and land protected for its ecological value. Climate change and food security issues increase the value of this land. The housing targets set by central government are not designed to meet local demand. Faversham’s real needs are for higher density housing to meet local demand at locally affordable prices and rents. Higher density housing would deliver housing units using less agricultural land.
- The AECOM Sustainability Assessment makes no reference to the excellent Swale Landscape Sensitivity Assessment of 2019, or to its specific recommendations in terms of areas of low, medium and high sensitivity to residential and commercial development. What is the point of commissioning such studies if their recommendations are not heeded or at least referenced in important policy processes like this Local Plan consultation?
- The scoring system used by AECOM to compile the non-technical summary table in their interim Sustainability Appraisal of October 2021 is insufficiently granular to be used in decision-making about particular sites. In order to be credible, a table of this nature must be underpinned by other tables that apply the same analysis at a higher resolution. For Faversham, for example, we strongly disagree with the contention that Option 5 is the best in terms of Community, Heritage, Land or Landscape.
- There should be some reference in the Sustainability Assessment to the importance of a future Nature Recovery Network, for example the 'strategic green corridor' between Faversham and Blean Woods. We should not be taking decisions now that preclude opportunities to address biodiversity loss and the consequences of climate change from 2030 (and earlier).
- We welcome the strategic vision for a master plan for the several developments in SE Faversham, but are deeply concerned that all of these developments are on quality agricultural land. We recognise that the imperative to develop on agricultural land is a consequence of the housing targets imposed by central government.
- The importance of protecting our natural heritage should be paramount. Growth won't be sustainable UNLESS natural heritage assets are properly managed. Biodiversity conservation in the Borough and protecting the natural environment have benefits across multiple sectors, for example through increased tourism, improved mental and physical health, and providing a range of ecosystem services including coastal protection.
Q3: Do you agree with the key issues and challenges that we have identified?
- We support these key challenges. We hope Reg 19 documentation, for example, will detail how the SBC will deliver a carbon zero borough by 2030 and provide "the right types of homes to ensure housing choice to meet the needs of the community, including the delivery of affordable housing". We support these ambitions but are most concerned about how they will be delivered.
Q4: Do you agree this is the right Vision for the borough?
- We fully support the Draft Vision and recognise that this is a very marked change of direction for the Borough: "new development will have come forward to meet local needs and contributed to supporting low/zero carbon and renewable energy initiatives, enhanced the natural environment through biodiversity net gain, ensured quality design and place making which has capitalised on the borough's extensive natural heritage assets in a way that supports the health and wellbeing of our communities."
- We agree that, to date, Faversham is “a thriving market town and heritage destination that has successfully managed 21st century demands." However, there is no evidence to support the assertion that "It has been achieved by enabling sympathetic and symbiotic growth whilst reducing congestion and air quality issues along the A2 over the period to 2038 and beyond." This is wishful thinking.
- Faversham residents have serious concerns about traffic and air quality, particularly at Ospringe. The emerging Neighbourhood Plan has identified many critical junctions where traffic congestion is acute and air pollution exceeds WHO limits.
- We are disappointed that the only reference to the implications of the proposed new Lower Thames Crossing is in the SWOT analysis. The Lower Thames Crossing will have a major negative impact on Faversham.
- Initial and lifelong education are key challenges to 2038, and beyond. We assume the Reg 19 will confirm the location of the new secondary school and that there will be no plans for Faversham children to be bussed to Canterbury.
Question 5: Do the draft Objectives support the Vision and set appropriate goals for the Local Plan?
- We agree and support the draft objectives but these have not been delivered under Bearing Fruits; we expect to see some detail on how these objectives will be achieved at Reg 19.
- There's currently no mention in the objectives of maintaining the natural environment or natural heritage. Unless it's specifically included, it will always take second place to other objectives and we'll end up in 2035 with an even more fragmented natural environment than we have already. We propose an additional objective: "Enhance the natural environment by developing and implementing a Swale Nature Recovery Strategy to reduce habitat fragmentation and increase ecological connectivity."
Question 6: Do you think that the council should attempt to justify not complying with the Government's Standard Method for calculating the borough's housing need figure (due to the constraints of Swale, such as the natural environment, flood risk, infrastructure), which means that the council would not fully meet the housing target?
If SBC decides to challenge the Government’s Standard Method, the risks must be mitigated. If Swale is without a Local Plan and "a five year supply of deliverable housing sites," or fails to meet central government's housing delivery targets, we are vulnerable to developer-led development overseen by the Planning Inspectorate. As it did at Perry Court, this results in less community say over roads, design, permeability, and infrastructure. Abbey Fields and Brogdale are currently in planning and there is a large number of SHLAA sites that may be brought forward if the Local Plan is delayed. If central government changes the Standard Method because of pressure from MPs and the public, SBC could use NPPF 36d) to justify reworking the Local Plan to meet the changed NPPF.
Question 10: Do you agree that the strategy for allocating future development needs in the borough should include small scale development at thriving villages?
Yes, maintaining infrastructure and services like primary schools, local shops, public transport links and other community facilities is particularly important in the context of decarbonisation.
Questions 11- 23: Do you agree that the broad allocations shown above will help to deliver this development option?
Option 1: Business as Usual
This is attractive to most Faversham residents as it would mean less housing here and could perhaps allow the community to prioritise its own housing needs. It was the Society’s preferred option in the previous consultation and remains our preferred option.
Option 2: More even distribution of the additional development requirements across the borough’s main urban centres and rural areas
- Option 2 places more pressure on the services and facilities in Faversham and settlements in the east of the borough. Given the more piecemeal approach to site selection implied by this option, it would not provide the focus for significant opportunities to deliver strategic based infrastructure and service improvements and would do nothing to address infrastructure gaps for existing communities. This would particularly impact on new school provision.
- There would be greater traffic pressure on Faversham, with significant further reductions in air quality. The Society analysed the SHLAA sites and preferred SE Faversham as the ‘least worst’ development because access to the Thanet Way, Canterbury, Dover and the M2 west would not require traffic to go through Faversham and Ospringe.
- Whilst the Faversham Society remains opposed to the proposed scale of development, any development around Faversham, under any of these options, should be focused to the southeast of the town so as to avoid damage to sensitive areas to the north, increased traffic along the A2 through Ospringe and associated air quality problems.
Option 3: More even distribution of the final requirements across the main urban centres of the borough (when combined with allocations in the current Local Plan, Bearing Fruit).
- This option is more likely to deliver affordable housing at scale around Faversham; we expect to see confirmation of this at the Reg 19 consultation stage.
- This option offers more assurance that the rolling five-year supply of housing sites can be delivered.
- Option 3 creates opportunities to divert traffic to the M2 allowing greater integration of sites south of the A2 with Faversham. The A2 needs to become a town street, otherwise it will divide Faversham.
- Development of primary and secondary school provision in line with local population growth would be possible under this option.
- We do not agree that it would be acceptable for new development to put further pressure on the A2 and the AQMA at Ospringe with remedial mitigation action taking place later. On the contrary, development at SE Faversham is regarded by the Society as the least damaging because it will cause less pressure on traffic and air pollution at Ospringe.
- We expect to see at Reg 19 commitment to a masterplan for all the SE Faversham sites.
Option 4: More of the overall development requirements at the eastern end of the borough
- Faversham town centre would likely be challenged by the development of a major new retail centre.
- Extra development could put further pressure on A2 and the AQMA at Ospringe.
- There would be significant impacts on the character and setting of the historic Faversham town and significant impacts on the character of the countryside to the east and south of the town, including the AONB.
- The Faversham Society believes that this option would have a strongly detrimental impact on the town and community.
Option 5: Focus our development requirements on Strategic Development Sites and/or urban extensions primarily located within existing rural areas
- This option would allow 5,000 homes at North St breaching the M2 boundary to Faversham, together with 2,500 homes at SE Faversham.
- This option is unacceptable and would be the worst one for Faversham. The 2500-unit Duchy development on the edge of town in addition to new housing already approved east of Love Lane (1,000+ units) and the 5000-unit North Street development would have major negative consequences for Faversham and almost certainly result after a few years in one big continuous conurbation. Faversham infrastructure would have to be expanded for example to cope with increased number of rail commuters. The North Street development would have very adverse impacts on the nearby AONB, which strictly speaking that area should be part of. It is listed as High Sensitivity in the 2019 Swale Landscape Sensitivity Assessment. Water abstraction for North Street would almost inevitably result in reduced water level in the chalk aquifer and therefore reduced flow in chalk streams along the coast (Westbrook, Cooksditch, Clapgate, School Farm, Thorn Creek, etc.).
Question 24: Do you think the Preferred Development Option (option 3) for meeting our housing target is the most suitable and meets our vision, objectives and the principles of sustainable development?
- As stated previously, the Faversham Society’s preferred option is Option 1, which might enable us to focus on addressing local housing needs rather than fulfilling quotas dictated by central government.
- If central government housing targets currently being imposed are not changed, we reluctantly agree with SBC’s conclusion that Option 3 is the least damaging of the remaining options.
Question 26: Climate Change
- Post COP26 we are surprised to see climate change dealt with here rather than setting the context for the next Local Plan.
- Swale’s targets are seen by developers as too ambitious, inconsistent with national policy on sustainability standards and may lead to deliverability/viability issues only because of national government failures in this policy area. We regard Swale’s targets as essential to the welfare of this and future generations.
- Improving water quality, protecting water resources and preventing pollution generally are priorities and closely linked to the issues of climate change mitigation and adaptation and ecological recovery.
- SBC should be more ambitious and continue to aim to embed sustainable/active travel measures across all new developments. Nudging the public towards more active travel by providing the necessary infrastructure, improving footpaths, separating cyclists from other traffic, etc., is UK government policy.
Question 27: embed sustainable/active travel measures across new developments?
The Faversham Society strongly supports this policy.
Question 28: Design
Question 29: Trees
New streets should be tree-lined and opportunities taken to incorporate trees elsewhere in developments (such as parks and community orchards). Measures are also needed to ensure their long-term maintenance, that existing trees are retained wherever possible, and that native species are prioritised for new plantings.
Question 30: Key issues and challenges:
Do you agree with the key issues and challenges that we have identified? If not, what other issues do you think need to be considered further and addressed by the Local Plan Review?
We note that the NPPF includes the social objective: "to support strong, vibrant and healthy communities, by ensuring that a sufficient number and range of homes can be provided to meet the needs of present and future generations; and by fostering well-designed, beautiful and safe places, with accessible services and open spaces that reflect current and future needs and support communities' health, social and cultural well-being."
- 21st Century Almshouses
The NPPF (2021, para 62) refers explicitly to self and custom build and the 2015 Self and Custom Housebuilding Act includes Community Land Trusts. Faversham is rightly proud of its Almshouses. Our town has many families who have lived here for generations and those extended family networks provide mutual support. Faversham's extended families are being broken up by the inability of many young people to afford housing in the town. We have people couch-surfing, married couples living separately back with their respective parents while they save money for a deposit to start a family in their mid-forties, overcrowded families and people living in sheds.
We understand that SBC provided a grant earlier this year for the Faversham Community Land Trust to commission a report on Housing Needs from Arc4. The survey was, we understand, discussed with Swale officers but the results have not been taken into account in the Reg 18 consultation document.
The Arc4 survey report on Housing Needs identifies the shortfall in one and two-bedroom housing units for starter homes and smaller units for those wishing to downsize. Very few units of this sort have been built under Bearing Fruits; many more are needed under the new Local Plan.
Question 32: New homes/housing needs: What you've told us so far
Do you agree with the view that new dwellings should be built to the Nationally Described Space Standards? What evidence do you have to support your answer?
In an ideal world, yes, new dwellings should be built to the Nationally Described Space Standards. However, we assert a strong case for modern terraced housing of the sort that achieves a premium price in Faversham in Park Rd, St John's Road and St Mary's Road. This would enable more units to be built, using less greenfield land and providing more genuinely affordable starter homes and dwellings for those wanting to downsize later in life.
The requirement for this form of housing is evidenced in the Arc4 report which shows the demand pressure on two-bedroom properties.
 Analysis for KCC shows that essentially the growth in Kent arises from migration from London alone https://www.kent.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/13829/Migration-indicators-bulletin.pdf