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Note of Faversham Society Zoom call with Helen Whately, MP

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.

January 29, 2022

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3 comments on “Note of Faversham Society Zoom call with Helen Whately, MP”

  1. JP said that development here currently “responds better to those centrally-defined needs than other parts of the Borough.
    What centrally defined needs?
    Build on land that is a lower value than ‘best and most versatile’ grade 1-3a farmland: enough of this has already been sacrificed to executive homes at Perry Court and will continue to be sacrificed at Love Lane’s Kingsmead and Fernham Homes and Preston Fields developments. Save our farmland for future food security for the generations to come.
    Build on brownfield, which is going to waste right now at Kiln and Osbourne Courts. Or convert a building or two there into a much needed GP surgery, or a rehabilitation facility for the elderly or disabled who need a place between hospital and home on their journey to recovery.
    Sort out the sewerage system, combat air pollution, provide alternative routes for active travel routes, increase healthcare provision first, before the ordinary people suffer more privations due to an imposed increasing population.
    Provide jobs by including commercial development on Love Lane and housing for local people on local wages and social housing.

  2. Fascinating that the Board thinks DoC will integrate better because of sustainable travel and is better than other developers. So one must assume that the population of the 2500 houses will all walk and cycle into town and there has been an assesment of "other developers"?
    However the largest brownfield site in Swale is the Sheerness Dockyard, but the Society has never discussed the viability of this, given the historic element are less than 5% of the available land.

  3. The draft local plan should take account of the exceptional circumstances which apply in Swale - here are a couple which have been mentioned 1) the lack of suitable sites for development due to the fact that high level constraints apply to such a large portion of the borough and 2) the fact that houses built in the borough are a magnet to incomers from London (ie they satisfy economic demand) and do very little, if anything, to deal with those on the housing needs register (ie they fail to satisfy real need).

    The government states that "levelling up" is required to make society fairer - surely this means there should be development in areas which need it. The reaction to the reluctance of the government to spend money on achieving the "Northern Powerhouse" suggests that there are areas of the country which would welcome development and regeneration - it is not simply a case of considering the reaction of MPs if the houses were to be built in other constituencies in the already over-crowded South East.

    Yes, Swale should issue a draft local plan for a Regulation 19 consultation. The draft local plan should, however, deal with local housing needs and recognise the constraints the borough faces. The housing requirement generated using the standard method is based largely on historical data - these demonstrate that when houses are built in the borough, people buy them and the population increases. The standard method predicts that even more houses will be sold if they are built. The draft local plan should propose to deal with the actual need and should be based on housing far fewer people than the figure produced using the standard method.

    It is interesting that the elected representatives with whom I have corresponded on housing development issues have not mentioned the health and well-being of the existing population. Surely, this should be their over-riding concern - over-development will have a detrimental impact on all of us due to pollution, the inability of existing infrastructure to cope with current needs and the loss of amenity.

    Existing policies give an advantage to house builders - basically, house builders control the rate at which houses are built. If the house builders reduce the rate of building to a level that means Swale will not achieve the local plan, the house builders can apply for planning permission for land which is not identified in the local plan. Almost by definition, this land will be unsuitable for development - if it were suitable, it would have been included in the local plan. The house builders have expensive lawyers, the loser usually pays the winner's costs, borough councils have few resources and tax-payers will not be happy to see it used to pay the legal fees of house builders. The result is predictable and wrong. This system needs to be changed.

    Finally and very importantly, prime agricultural land should not be used for housing developments. Climate change and food security are hugely important issues. Agricultural land is a carbon sink - concerting over this land is inexcusable. Every effort should be made to ensure that the country is able to feed itself - it is reckless to build houses on the best and most versatile land.

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