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Objection: Land At Abbey Fields Faversham Kent ME13 8HS

OBJECTION SUBMITTED BY THE FAVERSHAM SOCIETY

Land At Abbey Fields Faversham Kent ME13 8HS

Outline application for the development of up to 180 dwellings with associated infrastructure including internal access roads, footpaths, cycleways, parking, open space and landscaping, drainage, utilities and service infrastructure works (All matters reserved except Access)

Planning Ref:20/500015/OUT

It is noted that this application has been updated and includes new documents. Further to the comments submitted by the Faversham Town Council in January 2020 for the original scheme we wish to raise again and add the additional points summarised below.

There has been considerable discussion and acrimony over many years regarding the development of this site and the land beyond it to the east. It formed part of a scheme evolving over 10 years up to the early 2000s. The scheme was eventually dismissed at appeal after a call-in and two major public inquiries. The site was omitted from the Swale Local Plan 2008 and was not allocated for development in the ‘Bearing Fruits’ Local Plan adopted in 2017. Therefore, it was with some surprise or shock that the application for 180 homes at Abbeyfields appeared in January 2020.`

National Planning Policy Framework:

  • Chapter 4: Decision making:

“Pre-application engagement and front-loading. 39. Early engagement has significant potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning application system for all parties. Good quality preapplication discussion enables better coordination between public and private resources and improved outcomes for the community.”

The developer has not engaged with the community or the Town Council despite there being opportunity through the call for sites process in the formation of the emerging Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plan.

  • Chapter 5. Delivering a sufficient supply of Homes

Identifying land for homes

 67. Strategic policy-making authorities should have a clear understanding of the land available in their area through the preparation of a strategic housing land availability assessment. From this, planning policies should identify a sufficient supply and mix of sites, taking into account their availability, suitability and likely economic viability. Planning policies should identify a supply of:

 a) specific, deliverable sites for years one to five of the plan period; and

b) specific, developable sites or broad locations for growth, for years 6-10 and, where possible, for years 11-15 of the plan.

This site was part of the adopted “Bearing Fruits” Local Plan and was brought forward in the SHLAA process for the emerging Local Plan. It was rejected as a site to bring forward in the emerging Local Plan and is also not included in the emerging Neighbourhood Plan. There is provision for 3,500 houses at Faversham in the draft Local Plan.

The site was not allocated as part of ‘Bearing Fruits’ having been considered that sites at Love Lane, Perry Court and Preston Fields were more sustainable. Two of these sites are already being built out. Despite the current application for this site having already been submitted, the site and a wider site were assessed for suitability for development in the SHLAA process in preparation for ‘Looking Ahead’. On comparison with other sites east and south east of the town including Land East of Love Lane, Land North of Graveney Road and the Duchy of Cornwall Land, it was concluded that the site was less suitable because it is not accessible to the main road network.

  • Chapter 15:

Conserving and enhancing the natural environment:

170 b) recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside, and the wider benefits from natural capital and ecosystem services – including the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land, and of trees and woodland; Where significant development of agricultural land is demonstrated to be necessary, areas of poorer quality land should be preferred to those of a higher quality.

We note that the rural Planning report submitted states that :

“The site has been identifies as including 11.9ha of affected agricultural land, in the “best and most versatile” (BMV) category, comprising a rectangular arable field of which some 3.7ha is Grade 2 (Very good quality) and 8.2HA is Grade 3a (good quality)

The development of this land, despite some of it being left undeveloped would lead to the permanent loss of agricultural land.

The site lies north of the existing built-up area of the town and as a field with casual path across it, public footpath along it, hedges and pond forms part of the ‘accessible countryside’ for this part of Faversham. It is used as a habitat by a variety of wildlife including bats and warblers because of the hedges and pond. As well as this, it is actively used for agriculture and is within the scale of Best and Most Versatile Land with part grade 2 and part grade 3a. The development of this land would result in the permanent loss of agricultural land as well an area of accessible countryside valued by local people.

Adopted Local Plan:

Section 5 Policy ST3

The site is located outside the built-up area boundaries of Faversham. This proposal is therefore covered by section 5 of Policy ST3 of the adopted Local Plan:

“At locations in the open countryside, outside the built-up area boundaries development will not be permitted, unless supported by National planning policy and able to demonstrate that it would contribute to protecting and , where appropriate, enhancing the intrinsic value, tranquillity and beauty of the countryside, its buildings and vitality of rural communities.”

An extra 180 houses in this location does not “enhance the intrinsic value, tranquillity and beauty of the countryside” around Faversham. Both CPRE and the Faversham Society believe the area to have high landscape sensitivity in contradiction to the assessment of the site having “moderate-high sensitivity to future change from residential and employment development,” believing it to be important to Faversham’s identity as an historic market town at the heart of a high-value agricultural area.

Policy DM21

Policy DM21 point 2 states that Swale Borough Council should “Avoid inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding and where development would increase flood risk elsewhere.”

The Environment Agency’s latest data (for nearby Southend-on-Sea) predict a sea level rise of 1.15m by 2100.  According to the EA’s flood risk maps, the site sits in between two areas of flood risk as illustrated in the following map.  

The Faversham Society members have recalled that in 1953 the site was flooded.

Policy ST1

This section of the Local Plan states that Swale should be:

“using areas of lower quality agricultural land for significant levels of development (singly or cumulatively) where compatible with other criteria;

g. using areas of lower quality agricultural land for significant levels of development (singly or cumulatively) where compatible with other criteria; and

h. applying national planning policy in respect of pollution, despoiled, degraded, derelict contaminated, unstable and previously developed land; and

12. Conserve and enhance the historic environment by applying national and local planning policy through the identification, assessment and integration of development with the importance, form and character of heritage assets (inc. historic landscapes).”

The proposed development is on a prominent site north of the town visible from long distances. Although set above a steep bank, it forms part of a continuous open area to the north of the town from Abbey Farm westwards. The raised terrain enables long views from the edge of the town to extensive wider countryside including to the Blean Ridge. The site as an open area also provides part of a wider landscape setting to the listed building complex at Abbey Farm which includes the former site of Faversham Abbey and its pond and a rare concentration of listed buildings at grade I, grade II* and grade II. The site also provides an open setting to the edge of the Faversham Conservation Area which abuts it immediately to the west. Views into the conservation area can be obtained from many parts of the site including to Faversham Parish Church with its crown spire. The views across and through the site would be reduced and constrained by the proposed housing.

Policy DM31

DM31 is specifically related to agricultural land and states that :

“Policy DM 31

Development on agricultural land will only be permitted when there is an overriding need that cannot be met on land within the built-up area boundaries. Development on best and most versatile agricultural land (specifically Grades 1, 2 and 3a) will not be permitted unless:

1. The site is allocated for development by the Local Plan; or

2. There is no alternative site on land of a lower grade than 3a or that use of land of a lower grade would significantly and demonstrably work against the achievement of sustainable development; and

3. The development will not result in the remainder of the agricultural holding becoming not viable or lead to likely accumulated and significant losses of high-quality agricultural land.”

As has already be stated when discussing the NPPF guidance. The site has been rejected as a site for development in the SHLAA process.  It is therefore not in either the adopted or emerging Local Plan.

The site has been rejected as a site for development in the SHLAA process. This is partly because of its poor access which remains a major issue because the road is narrow, poorly maintained and a privately owned. The applicant also owns land close by, also agricultural land of similar agricultural land classification and with only the same access. The development of the present area of land could set a precedent for development of other nearby land which would be of at least as great harm to the setting of the Faversham conservation area.

Emerging Local Plan

Chapter 2: Our Vision, challenges and strategic objectives:

In this chapter, the emerging Local Plan outlines the Borough Council’s “vision for Swale.”  For Faversham, the proposed vision is for:

“a thriving market town and heritage designation that has successfully managed 21st century demands. It has been achieved by enabling sympathetic and symbiotic growth whilst reducing congestion and air quality issues along the A2.”

The emerging Local Plan sets out significant development within Faversham Parish including large scale development on the eastern side of town. This has been allocated according to criteria within the plan and after consultation and call for sites. There is no need for an additional 180 houses to be built outside of the Local Plan.

In 2.0.23 it states that the strategic objectives shaped by local evidence, government policy and Council priorities are to:

  1. provide for homes and jobs that are best suited to meet identified local needs
  2. support and sustain communities across the borough, big and small, by planning to meet identified needs, including needs for community facilities and infrastructure;
  3. protect and manage our resources to address climate change through delivering sustainable growth that supports urban and rural economies and makes the best use of infrastructure
  4. locate development in the least constrained parts of the borough in reasonable proximity to transport hubs
  5. provide a mixed portfolio and locations of sites, big and small to meet a range of needs throughout the duration of the plan period up to 2038
  6. deliver a level of investment and growth at key locations to facilitate significant improvements to support infrastructure e.g. schools, healthcare and highways and active travel options for the benefit of local communities
  7. focus development on the contribution that larger sites can deliver in a proportionate way to meet wider plan objectives and ensure delivery in the plan period.

Identified needs have already been evidenced at site selection and allocation stages of the emerging Local Plan. These 180 houses would be above and beyond that and thus unnecessary. The site does not come with community facilities and does not support the concept of sustainable growth.

Policy ST2

6. At locations in the open countryside, outside the built-up area boundaries shown on the Proposals Map, development will not be permitted unless supported by national planning policy and able to demonstrate that it would contribute to protecting and, where appropriate, enhancing the intrinsic value, landscape setting, tranquillity and beauty of the countryside, its buildings and the vitality of rural communities.

As with the previous Local Plan, the proposed development at Abbey Fields does not meet this policy.

Chapter 4: Strategic Policies

4.2.56

“The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is clear that local plans should make sufficient provision to meet housing needs and that the needs of groups with specific housing requirements are addressed. Councils are expected to deliver a wide choice of high-quality homes, widen opportunities for home ownership and create sustainable, inclusive and mixed communities.”

This development does not provide wide opportunities for home ownership or contribute to creating sustainable, inclusive and mixed communities.

Neighbourhood Plan:

The emerging Neighbourhood Plan for Faversham has an evidence base developed on the basis of significant engagement with the community and a call for sites. The Neighbourhood Plan is pro-growth but with defined policy directions. These include areas such as the protection of the natural environment and landscapes, sustainable design and character, heritage, health and recreation and Local Green Spaces.

Natural Environment:

The Neighbourhood Plan policies on the natural environment states that development should not encroach onto protected landscapes including having no adverse impacts on setting, amenity, safety or accessibility of protected landscapes. Clapgate Spring to the east of the proposed Abbey Fields development is currently earmarked for Local Green Space designation in the draft emerging Local Plan and is believed to be the home of protected species including water voles and Critically Endangered European eels.

The existing hedgerow between the proposed development and the footpath to the south, which heads eastwards out of Faversham towards Goodnestone, is well-established and provides good habitat for birds, small mammals and invertebrates and an important green corridor from the town out into surrounding countryside. The developers are promising to enhance the existing path but there is not a lot of detail on this within the plans.  The existing arable land is a feeding place for warblers and for barn owls hunting prey.  As noted within the application, a survey is required to assess the importance of the field, hedgerow and adjacent spring as feeding sites for bats.

The proposed development also sits in close proximity to designated SSSI and Ramsar sites, and to a locally designated biodiversity (or Local Wildlife) site.  Domestic cats associated with the new development (which on average kill 14 birds or small mammals every year) would inevitably have a negative impact on the wildlife of those adjacent protected areas.  Ramsar sites generally are recognised as being of international importance and are protected under the terms of an international convention, so the UK government is obliged by treaty to ensure its protection.

Preserving and Maintaining the Character of the Town

The residents survey of 2020 saw a significant number of respondents wishing to see the preservation of the town with as many as 65% of respondents wanting to preserve as much as possible. The industrial heritage of the town and its proximity to the marshes and the countryside were referred to as providing the character and “lungs” of the town, respectively. This development site is adjacent to the Conservation Area and listed buildings at the Abbey Barns and, if built out, would damage views of the town from an historical landscape perspective.

Transport and Accessibility

Public engagement on road use and improvement needs has regularly flagged concerns about the levels of traffic on Whitstable Road. The only access on to and off of the proposed development is via Abbey Fields Road, a poorly-maintained patchwork of public and private ownership that is not designed to accommodate high levels of use. Abbey Fields Road leads directly onto Whitstable Road, which runs into an AQMA at its western end where it reaches the junction with Crescent Road and Newton Road.  Adding 180 households of car movements to this already busy road would increase air pollution and congestion to the detriment of the amenity and health of residents.

The junction on the Whitstable Road is already dangerous and not suitable for additional car movements. We do not think that this application should be approved by SBC without a traffic impact analysis.

The access road leads out onto the Whitstable Road and from there into East Street, which already has high air pollution levels. It should be incumbent on the developer to demonstrate through a detailed junction capacity analysis that the access arrangement will work and that the junction is safe. There are models developed by the UK Transport Research Laboratory such as PICADY (sic) that one can use for situations like this.

We do not think it unreasonable to expect evidence of this kind to inform decision making by the Planning Committee.

LACK OF 5 YEAR LAND SUPPLY:

Recent reports accompanying decisions made by SBC indicate that the Borough cannot demonstrate a five-year land supply. This is significant as the NPPF states that:

“relevant policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up-to-date if the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable sites”

However, the appeal judgement (APP/V2255/W/15/3135521) which dealt with a development at Norton Ash prior to the adoption of the current plan, showed that the absence of the five-year supply of sites is not “over-riding”. Para 59 of the appeal decision states,

“in the context of the serious shortfall in housing land supply, the relevant policies for the supply of housing are not up-to-date. Nevertheless, progress being made towards improving the housing land supply position in the Borough as part of the emerging development plan, and the settlement strategy of this, warrant moderate weight being attached to the policies as an approach to the location of development in the Borough”

Conclusion

The facts that a) the proposed development at Abbey Fields is not necessary in order for Faversham (or Swale) to reach their respective housing quotas, b) would aggravate already serious traffic flow problems on the Whitstable Road, c) would infringe on a Local Wildlife Site which also has important amenity functions for local residents, d) has already been rejected for housing development in the emerging Local Plan, and e) would damage irreparably the characteristic view from the northeast of Faversham as a historic port town, mean that this application must be rejected.

April 13, 2021

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