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Open letter to Helen Whately

Open Letter

Helen Whately MP

House of Commons

London SW1A 0AA

6th December 2021

Dear Helen,  

As you know there is mounting concern among your constituents about the number of houses in Faversham that your government requires Swale Borough Council to give planning permission for. This concern has been growing for some time.

We were pleased to read in this week’s Faversham News your clear statement that the level of housebuilding planned for Faversham is "unforgivable" and a cause of "extreme concern." This was despite our disappointment that you did not add your signature to the September 2020  letter from Gordon Henderson MP and nine of your House colleagues objecting to the "inherently unreasonable" housing number demands on our area. You also referred in the News to the enormous encroachment into the surrounding countryside and high-quality agricultural land. The Faversham Society shares your concerns, and would like to ask what more can be done to protect Faversham and Swale from the serious harm that will be inflicted as a result of national government policy in this area? We understand that you have raised the matter with colleagues in Government, but we are very concerned that there does not appear to be any subsequent prospect of change.

Faversham does need some additional housing, to enable local young people to move on in their lives, leave home and start families, in the form of more one- and two-bedroom properties, starter homes and provision for older people to downsize.  However, the Government's National Planning Policy Framework makes it difficult for planners to secure this type of housing, since the volume housebuilders prefer to maximise profits by building larger three-, four- and five-bedroom houses that are far beyond the means of the hidden homeless and other Faversham residents most in need. If traditional terraced streets were to be built, along the lines of the award-winning Goldsmith Street development in Norwich, far less land would be required.

The reality is that there is very little land other than agricultural land available for building in Swale. The Duchy development has become the focus of local anger, but all the developments proposed in south-east Faversham (involving a further 800 houses) are on quality agricultural land. This land is part of the Fruit Belt and essential to our children's future as population growth and climate change reduce food yields around the world. We would be interested in whether you have undertaken any work to identify other areas in Swale, less damaging to important agricultural land, that the 1048 new houses per year that central Government demands could be built?

We are however acutely aware of the dangers associated with any delays in the approval of Swale’s Local Plan. An Inspectorate-approved local plan is our only defence against unwanted speculative development and inspector-led planning. We have been there before with the Perry Court development. If you do know of any cases where local authorities have been successful in achieving a reduction in target, we would be grateful for this information and learn from it.

The Housing Minister, in the House of Commons on 23rd November explained the consequences of not delivering the required housing land supply:

"… in the land of no plan, the local housing need number is king. If there is no set number in an up-to-date local plan, it is quite possible for developers to submit speculative development applications to local authorities. The local authorities may choose to turn them down, but if they have no number in their plan, the local housing need number is the default that the Planning Inspectorate will look at. It is entirely possible that the Planning Inspectorate will overturn refusals sent down by local authorities that do not have up-to-date plans or targets, and will instead look at the local housing need target. It is incumbent on local authorities that wish to protect their communities and avoid speculative development to get up-to-date plans in place."

Faversham is a good example of where this risk is both imminent and high. There is currently a planning application in for 180 new houses on Abbey Fields. The Faversham Society has strongly argued that this development would do substantial harm to the rural setting of Faversham on the marshes and place housing over an area of land important to many Faversham residents for recreation. If the precedent is established, it is likely that the land as far as Thorn Creek would be developed over the next twenty or so years.  Even an additional 180 houses would seriously increase traffic on Abbey Fields and the pinch point where it joins Whitstable Road. Central to arguments to reject this planning application is the case that this land is not needed for housing because of current allocations in the emerging Local Plan

We know that many, if not most, of your constituents in the town and surrounding area share our grave concerns about the number of new houses allocated to Faversham. Now is the time for all local interests to pull together and give strong leadership on this issue. Given the demands of the Government for housing numbers, and the very real perils of delay, we respectfully suggest that it is important you make clear your own responses to the options questions in the Swale REG18 consultation and identify where you believe the more appropriate locations in Swale are for building that will meet the Government’s targets.

We would of course be more than happy to meet with you to discuss these complex and pressing issues in more detail.

Yours sincerely,

Harold Goodwin
Chair, for and on behalf of the Faversham Society

December 6, 2021

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