January 21, 2022
Helen Whately, MP, Michelle Lowe, from HW’s office
Jill Peet, Swale Borough Council
From the Faversham Society: Harold Goodwin, David Melville, Jonathan Carey, Matthew Hatchwell, Jan West, Chris Wright.
This Zoom meeting with Helen Whately MP was set up to discuss the issues raised in the open letter sent by the Faversham Society on December 6th.
After welcoming comments by Harold Goodwin (HG) on behalf of the Faversham Society, HG and Jill Peet (JP) of Swale Borough Council summarized the current situation regarding housing development around Faversham, the context of the emerging Local Plan that was the subject of a recent Reg 18 consultation, the fact that there is very little unconstrained land in the Borough (e.g. brownfield sites) where housing growth would be relatively uncontentious, the consequent need to build on greenfield sites in order to satisfy the housing quotas set by central government, and the bleak prospect of “difficult decisions to be made.” Furthermore, because of the high demand for housing specifically in and around Faversham, JP said that development here currently “responds better to those centrally-defined needs than other parts of the Borough.”
Helen Whately (HW) observed that stopping all new housing development in and around Faversham is not desirable since the current supply is not addressing local needs. HG responded that the two are different, since those local needs are primarily for locally affordable, one- and two-bedroom units, while the sorts of houses that developers want to build are the more profitable three-, four- and five-bedroom ones that are of interest primarily for people moving out of London. Local needs are not being met under the current system. HW also commented that road infrastructure is an important factor in order to handle larger volumes of traffic, citing the example of Brenley Corner, whose upgrade she has been pushing for with National Highways (formerly Highways England).
In response to a question from HW about the Faversham Society’s position on the proposed development by the Duchy of Cornwall, HG, David Melville, Chris Wright and Matthew Hatchwell replied that the Society is opposed to all large-scale developments close to Faversham. Although the Duchy plans prioritise sustainability, active travel and integration into the existing town infrastructure better than those of other developers, the site is nonetheless on prime agricultural land and its sheer scale (2500 houses) will inevitably have a greater impact than other, smaller developments.
Regarding her own position on housing development, HW said that she could hardly push for houses to be built in the constituencies of her colleagues instead of in her own since she and her constituents would not appreciate it if fellow MPs did the same. Nationally, she said that work is going on in the government to look at the phenomenon of increased building pressure on greenfield sites and that changes to national housing policy were possible later in 2022. HW has had meetings on the topic with Michael Gove and is currently seeking a meeting with her colleague Chris Pincher MP, Minister for Housing. She noted as a caveat that Swale should move ahead with completing the Local Plan already in the works because, even if changes do end up being made to national planning policy, local authorities will still be obliged to demonstrate that they can fulfil the five-year housing land supply required by law.
HG thanked HW and JP for a useful meeting and everyone agreed to stay in touch about future developments.