By Brian Pain
It is commonly believed that the UK is suffering from a housing crisis and that is the reason Kent, along with most other counties, is being covered with new housing estates built largely by private house builders. It is important to distinguish between the actual scale of the housing shortage and the officially quoted “Housing Need”.
How future housing need is determined
The Government uses a method of assessing the number of new houses each area needs called the Standard Housing Method. This method of determining housing need is widely criticised as being not fit for purpose by many professionals including the consultants who are contracted to produce the figures. Further the method was revised in 2020 and now produces even higher estimates for much of the south of the UK.
A curious aspect of the calculation is that having estimated the projected average annual household growth over a ten-year period or, if it is bigger, O.5% of current housing stock, then an upwards only adjustment is made to take into account affordability. The less affordable houses are in a particular area, the greater the numbers of new houses demanded.
Essentially, this means that in Swale the housing need figure is increased by over 30% above the anticipated level of demand and in some places in Kent by as much as 80%.
If the aim of this adjustment is to improve affordability, relying on a naïve belief that an increase in supply will reduce house prices, then it seems that the government fails to understand how volume housebuilders control their market.
The only certain result is that more houses are built in the already overcrowded South East and fewer in the North where house prices are lower.
So much for Boris Johnson’s national levelling up policy.
How this housing need is currently met
Having been presented with the number of new houses an authority must plan for, developers are invited to put forward sites on which they would be prepared to build them.
Inevitably they prefer green field sites in areas where the most profit can be made. Essentially the Local Authority must then select sufficient of these sites to meet their imposed new housing quotas and incorporate them into a development plan.
This is how the controversial Swale Local Plan evolved.
House builders, in order to maximise profits, tend to build houses that are wasteful of land and ideally on greenfield sites (where VAT is not applicable). The housing is also far from inexpensive the cheapest represent really bad value at around £420 per square foot compared to around £300 for existing housing stock. In addition, it is disgraceful that little attempt is made to meet more than the minimum environmental standards and that the installation of gas central heating is still the norm, despite the fact that it is meant to be completely phased out in the next eight years.
The insanity of this approach in attempting to solve the perceived the housing crisis is clearly apparent to all. The government is determined to build 300,000 new homes each year (itself an arbitrary round number so beloved by politicians) irrespective of actual need and other constraints.
These are largely to be provided by a small group of volume housebuilders whose prime concern is to maximise profits and so prefer sites that achieve this aim irrespective of where the genuine housing need is.
Environmental considerations, existing social networks and local infrastructure are inevitably compromised by this crude method of housing delivery and very stupidly, the type of houses built very often do not meet what is locally needed.
Perry Court lying to the south of the A2 is a typical example of one of the new housing estates springing up around Faversham.
Designed in the knowledge that the residents are likely be heavily dependent on car use, the estate is laid out in the usual dreary manner consisting largely of three, four or five bedrooms with Barretts or their sister company David Wilson Homes being the principal developers.
A cheapest three-bedroom house on the estate is £360,000 and has just under 800sq ft of floor space, the smallest bedroom is less than 50sq ft. A first-time buyer lucky enough to qualify for one, would need an annual income of around £65,000 with a £40,000 deposit. Hardly the profile of the average young family in Faversham wanting to buy their first house.
The help to buy schemes enable a first-time buyer to borrow 20% of the cost of the new built house from the government on top of their mortgage and thus increasing the “affordability” of the house.
It is important to point out that this is a gross distortion of the market, as essentially the state is paying 20% of the purchase price and enabling the developer to maintain his level of profitability, rather than the developer reducing his prices to meet the price level the market will bear. Help to Buy drives up prices at our expense and contributes massively to house builder’s profits.
It is also the case that the current “stamp duty holiday” has the same adverse effect. In 2017, a report by Morgan Stanley damned the help-to-buy scheme as being economic madness, saying that “……help to buy (and broader house inflation, among other things) have helped housebuilder earning triple since its launch.”
The builders will say that the scheme has, indeed, provoked some supply, but evidence is thin. Morgan Stanley says: “though it has helped drive supply, figures provide ammunition for critics who suggest it has pushed up prices rather than made them more affordable.”
“Help-to-buy” should really be called “help-to-sell”.
Apart from the distortions and inaccuracies already built into the determination of future housing of the current methodology employed, large external events can make these long-term predictions even more unreliable.
Currently there are several significant factors that must hugely impact on the quantity of new homes the UK actually needs.
Since Spring 2020 the combined effects of the UK leaving the EU and the changes in immigration rules plus the effects of Covid have meant that there has been a significant negative net migration figure to the UK. There is no reason why this will not become the norm in at least the short to medium term.
The fertility rate of most European countries including the UK has fallen to a point it is below the replacement rate, so positive net migration is necessary to at least maintain current levels of population.
It would be reasonable to assume that this should be taken into consideration when forecasting the need for new housing units for a period of the next ten years or more.
The Coronavirus pandemic has also certainly permanently changed the working patterns of the UK workforce with many authoritative predictions saying that there is likely to be a net fall in demand for office space of 40% or more.
In London, in particular, this would mean huge amounts of redundant office space. The obvious solution would be to convert the buildings into residential units. This would have the double benefit of reducing the number of workers forced to leave the capital because of the lack of affordable accommodation and revitalising many of the currently moribund areas of the city.
The permanent changes in shopping patterns should also lead to greater residential use of high streets and town centres.
The housing crisis is an affordability crisis. The current crude method of assessing housing future housing need and attempting to meet this need by allowing private sector volume house builders to build the type of houses in the places they prefer to maximise their profits, will mean that the crisis of the genuine shortage of good quality affordable housing will never be solved.
Merely allowing developers to build more and more mediocre housing estates on what is left of the green spaces around our towns will lead to a permanent degradation of everyone’s quality of life whilst leaving more and more people trapped in expensive substandard rented accommodation.
Greater understanding of the amount and type of housing needed and funding put in place to provide this rather than subsidising the profits of the private sector might even lead to an end to the “crisis” within a reasonable time scale.
We hope that the current glut of new inappropriate housing is the last Faversham has to bear.
Map showing existing and proposed housing developments in and around Faversham
(Number of house in brackets)
Housing Developments in progress (blue):
1 Oare Gravel Works (330)
2 Ham Road (35)
3 Western Link (250)
4 Perry Court (310+45)
5 Brogdale Road (66)
6 Graveney Road (100)
7 Love Lane (260)
8 Ashford Rd/Orchard Cottage (9)
Areas agreed in Principle for development (orange):
18/178 Preston Fields (217+70)
18/226 South East Faversham Duchy Village (2,500)
18/221 Land at Lady Dane Farm?
18/091 Land to the east of Faversham (600)
18/135 Land at Graveney Road, east of Faversham (240)
OUR MAYOR SPEAKS OUT
By Alison Reynolds
I have lived in Faversham all my life, I have seen it grow considerably since the Bysing Wood estates arrived. During my lifetime Faversham has become a better place to live in, growth has brought better health, education and leisure facilities.
Central government has decided that Swale must have more houses, Swale has to build them somewhere. We saw what happened when Swale didn't have a five-year housing land supply: Perry Court. And we lost control.
This time we are determined through Swale's Local Plan and Faversham's Neighbourhood Plan to exercise more control, already we have ensured that all the new housing is to the east and will not need to come through the town to get to the M2, Canterbury or Thanet.
The plans include two new primary schools and a secondary school. We have two new dentists practices one opening in Preston Street and the other with planning permission for 6 surgeries in the old Iceland. Both the Health centres have plans to expand.
The Town Council's Neighbourhood Plan Group is working hard to make Faversham a better place to live in and bring up our children. They are also supporting the Community Land Trust's efforts to build more really affordable housing for Faversham people.
. Many Faversham residents are moving out to occupy some of the new houses we need to ensure that all the new residents feel part of our town.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Is anyone else confused about what is going on with the proposals for Faversham’s future? The Faversham Eye asked some quickfire questions to the people in the know (Harold Goodwin, Matthew Hatchwell and Faversham Town Cllr John Irwin) on some of the key issues. Here are their responses:
1. How is the housing need for Swale determined? How confident that can one be that it will not be revised upwards over the next 15 years.
The housing quota for Swale has been set by the current government, not by KCC or Swale Borough Council. There is no guarantee that the existing target will not be increased again in the coming years, as happened already in 2018. The government can’t, however, change the target for an adopted local plan.Changes to Local Plan targets can only be made when there is a review which is every 5 years. This is why new government targets are being applied now, as the Swale Local Plan is up for its 5-year review.
2. What is the difference between the Neighbourhood Plan (NP) and the Local Plan (LP)?
The Local Plan is for the whole of Swale. The Neighbourhood Plan, which is currently in development, is for Faversham alone. Both documents, if adopted, will have the weight of law. The Neighbourhood Plan will enable the community to indicate where future development can, and critically cannot, take place in Faversham. The Neighbourhood Plan will also set a development framework that developers must follow, subject to limits set by national government policy in the National Planning Policy Framework.
3. How many new houses have been built in the last few years and how many more are planned for Faversham?
Current building in Faversham and across Swale is guided by the adopted Local Plan, “Bearing Fruits” which came into force in 2014. Under Bearing Fruits, Faversham was allocated 2224 houses to be built between 2014 and 2038, around 16% of the 14,124 houses allocated in ‘Bearing Fruits’. Under the new plan Swale has been instructed by central government to allocate land for an additional 10,000 houses (additional to the 14,124 houses allocated in the Local Plan ‘Bearing Fruits’). It is proposed that Faversham takes 3500 new houses (in addition to those identified in Bearing Fruits), 35% of the additional housing target for Swale. This brings Faversham’s total housing allocation to 5729 new houses, to be built by 2038. The Neighbourhood Planning Group does not have a say in the housing numbers allocated to Faversham but has successfully fought for all the new houses to be located to the east so that that traffic does not flow through Faversham to get to the A2/M2 and Thanet Way.
4. In the new developments, how many of the homes will be ‘affordable’? What is meant by ‘affordable’? How many are destined for joint ownership?
Under the revised Swale Local Plan, 30% of new developments on greenfield will be affordable, 20% on brownfield. That equates to approximately 1,050 of the 3,500 allocated to Faversham. The current tenure split for the new dwellings in the Borough is for 72.8% market housing; 18.0% affordable rent; 4.3% shared ownership and 4.9% help to buy/starter homes.
The “affordable” houses for sale on the new Faversham housing estates, require the hopeful purchasers to have a 5% deposit and borrow a further 20% from the Government (interest free for 5 years) and then get a mortgage for the remaining 75%. This is in reality hardly affordable and in any case is open to any buyer and not restricted to local families.
National government defines affordable as 80% of market rent or market price We know that many local people cannot afford to rent or buy at 80% of the market price. The Faversham Community Land Trust will build genuinely affordable houses where it can secure land and finance to do so. They hope to have some of the 200 units allocated through the Neighbourhood Plan.
5. How many houses are allocated to local families?
Affordable rented housing is allocated according to Swale’s Allocations policy, that takes into account any restrictions the provider may have. Only the Community Land Trust can allocate to local families which it hopes to do via brownfield sites identified within the Neighbourhood Plan.
6. The traffic in Faversham seems to have got much worse in the last few years. How are our roads going to cope with so many additional houses?
Through the section 106 agreements, developers are required to fund infrastructure improvements to mitigate the impact of their development infrastructure. In theory, these improvements are put in place as needed. In reality, SBC are legally obliged to give consideration to developer cash flow. For example, the new crossing on Graveney Road had to be provided prior to site completion whereas the highways improvements on Love Lane (which include crossings and a traffic light control of Love Lane/A2 junction) is required prior to the 100th occupation on the Kingsmead site.
The Neighbourhood Planning Group remains deeply concerned about the cumulative impact of housing on the road network. One of the reasons why the proposed expansion of Faversham is almost entirely to the east of the town is because SBC accepted our argument that roads to the west, in particular the A2 through Ospringe, are already overcrowded and air quality is correspondingly poor as a result. Unfortunately, new housing being built in Teynham will make the current situation even worse.
7. How can so many houses be built without the appropriate infrastructure, i.e. schools, doctors, care homes, etc., in place to support them?
The Neighbourhood Plan Group has been lobbying for vital infrastructure and will continue to do so. The outline plans for new housing development to the east of Faversham now include two new primary schools and a new secondary school. Both of our Health Centres have made funding applications to the NHS to expand. Through Section 106’s developers can be required to provide financial support.
8. Why have the planning department given permission to the current developments without requiring renewable energy technologies such as heat pumps, photovoltaics? I thought gas boilers were being phased out by 2025. How can we ensure this happens with all new housing? I thought we were in a climate emergency!
Like so many areas covered by the Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plan, energy efficiency requirements for new houses are set by the government in Westminster. In 2015, the Conservative government dropped a long-standing goal for all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016. The revised goal, announced in January this year, is for higher standards to be introduced in 2025.
Both the Swale Local Plan and Faversham Neighbourhood Plan will strongly encourage developers to adopt zero carbon designs immediately, but they are not permitted by law to make it a requirement.
9. Can our existing sewerage works cope with all the new houses?
No. The capacity of the existing sewerage works will have to be increased to cope with the additional demand. Upgrades to the sewage network and to the Wastewater Treatment works are included in the Infrastructure Development Plan that forms part of the evidence for the local plan.
10. Has the fact that sea levels are predicted to increase in the next century been taken into consideration in the NP/LP?
Yes. Rising sea levels are taken into consideration throughout the LP and the NP. Responsibility for sea walls and flood defences lies with the Environment Agency, however, not with the Town, Borough or County Council, so neither plan will include provisions for raising or otherwise improving defences against coastal flooding.
11. What’s happening with the plan for the Garden Village? Is the North Street (towards Sheldwich) development still going ahead?
No. The draft Swale Local Plan does not include plans for the North Street Garden Village to proceed. That may not stop the developers from appealing the decision in court, however, and we would be vulnerable if there is not a five-year land supply for housing.
12. If we don’t accept the proposed developments to the east of the town, what is the alternative?
Refusing the proposed developments to the east of Faversham will not change the housing target set by central government or the decision by Swale Borough Council that Faversham must accept what they claim is a fair share of new housing. The Perry Court development was imposed on the town because it tried to resist new housing. Refusal of the proposed site to the East is likely to result in the allocation of other, less suitable sites to the North and West of Faversham.
13. How do I make my opinion on the draft local Plan heard? Is there a deadline for comments?
The Local Plan is out for consultation until 30th April 2021. Faversham Town Council is hosting an online public meeting on 23rd March during which members of the Public will be able to ask questions of the Chief Executive of Swale, Swale Planning Officers and Borough Councillors.
14. What about the Neighbourhood Plan?
The Neighbourhood Plan is still at the drafting stage. Once the draft is complete, it will be the subject of public consultation, hopefully in September/October this year. The final document will be presented to residents for approval by referendum in 2022.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
By Cllr John Irwin, Chair, Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group
The Swale Local Plan is out for consultation until the end of April 2021. Despite having much to offer in terms of progressive policies addressing issues such as affordable housing, environmental mitigations, biodiversity gains and infrastructure improvements, the public debate has been dominated by one topic alone. That of housing numbers.
To make it clear, I and countless others actively opposed and indeed resent the imposition of 3,500 new houses for Faversham. It is however looking increasing like a reality. Like all those who suffer injustice, we rightly experience anger and resentment. It is what we do next though, that will ultimately define us as the community we are and want to be. We have a choice to remain in a state of powerless and victimhood, expending our energy railing about the system, councils, landowners and developers … or we grasp the opportunity for empowerment and exert as much influence as our currently deficient planning system allows. This is not to accept the status quo but to make the best of a system that in many ways is stacked against us; whilst continuing to demand the land and planning reform we deserve. Let us never forget that it is the government not Swale Borough Council that set the ludicrous housing targets, the rules and the regulations that form our planning system. Just ask Thanet, Ashford, Canterbury ….
The development of Faversham Neighbourhood Plan continues against this febrile backdrop. The drafting of the Policies has begun following input from the Town Hall exhibitions conducted late last year and the household, business and youth surveys conduct this year. In addition, we are relying heavily on the findings of the housing needs assessment, conducted by the Community Land Trust, to inform the housing we need. As highlighted in this issue, Faversham like every other town and village in England is not, as the government tells us, suffering from a housing shortage. It’s suffering an affordable housing crisis!
The Plan itself will consist of Town wide Policies, a housing design code and site-specific guidance for smaller developments within the Town’s current built boundary. So what issues is the Neighbourhood Plan hoping to address? First and foremost, we should remind ourselves that the Neighbourhood Plan is a planning tool. Sadly, neither the Borough nor Town council currently have the resources to build the houses and infrastructure we need. Hopefully one day, we will have a government imaginative enough to restore council funds and powers to build. In the meantime we can use the plan to encourage and in some cases demand the support of developers and landowners in meeting the Town’s needs. Our policy focus is therefore on;
The provision of affordable housing and a housing mix appropriate to resident needs i.e. the inclusion of more smaller starter homes, apartments and housing suitable for older residents.
The protection and provision on new and improved community facilities and supporting infrastructure like schools and healthcare facilities.
The creation of well-paid jobs through the protection and enhancement of employment land.
The protection and enhancement of local green spaces and water ways for the enjoyment of residents and visitors.
The sustainable regeneration of the Creek to make it an accessible destination for recreation, employment, leisure and tourism.
Encouraging safer and healthier streets through a reduction in traffic speed and improved walking and cycling routes around the Towns and into the surrounding countryside.
In addition to the Town-wide Policies, our design code will provide detailed design guidance to developers with the aim of delivering better quality areas for people to live and work. Our design code sets out standards for housing types, build quality, landscape and planting, street patterns, parking, architectural standards and building performance including energy efficiency. It is not a housing pattern book and will enable developers to develop their own detailed designs, prepared based on an understanding of the particular characteristics of their site and the adjacent built heritage. To this end we will expect all planning proposals to be based upon a thorough site analysis with the developers clearly outlining how their proposals respond to their site’s natural features, topography, landscape and views, and the surrounding built environment. We will expect all developments to be connect to existing routes (streets, footpaths, cycle paths) and new and existing facilities (shops, schools, employment, public transport).
The draft policies and design code will be available for comment on the NHP section of the Faversham Town Council website by early Spring.
Opportunities for regeneration through heritage
By Harold Goodwin, Chair, The Faversham Society
A couple of decades ago “The Town and Port of Faversham”, turned its back on our creek. It is time to change that. Arthur Percival wrote to the Town Clerk in 2013, objecting to the proposals being developed for the Creek Neighbourhood Plan, pointing out the Steering Group had “chosen to regard the Creek as a street, like one in suburban London”. As Arthur reminded the Steering Group eight years ago, “the Creek is not a street. It is a highway to the sea, and to the world beyond our island. It has served as such for centuries, since Roman and probably also pre-Roman times.”
The new Swale Heritage Strategy adopted and published in March 2020 identified two areas of Faversham where action needs to be taken to look after our heritage: Town Quay and the Engine Sheds. The new Neighbourhood Plan creates an opportunity to enhance these heritage assets, conserve and repurpose them.
Map of Faversham creek and its crane around 1520
The creek explains our location, much of our heritage, and prosperity until the coming of the railway in mid-Victorian times. Long neglected, the creek should be seen as a significant asset for the town, providing an opportunity for marine regeneration, leisure, recreation and tourism. If we can take back Town Quay into some form of local ownership, we could turn it into a new heritage quarter, an additional attraction for the town.
T S Hazard and the Old Pump House on Town Quay provide inadequate accommodation for the Sea Cadets and the Creekside Boxing Club. We need through the Neighbourhood Plan to find new premises for both. The Sea Cadets are willing to share their space with a youth club and the community. We could develop a maritime museum in the Town Warehouse and a natural heritage interpretation centre if we can find suitable alternative accommodation for them.
The Westbrook stream is one of only 230 chalk streams in the world. As Faversham is “rewilded”, we need an interpretation centre. Where else can you walk a whole watercourse from its origin to the sea in a day, or two. Turning the Town Warehouse to heritage use would provide a Gateway to Maritime Heritage in Swale, establish Faversham as the northern gateway to the Cinque Ports, and link with the National Maritime Museum, the Chatham Historic Dockyard and the ports round to Rye.
There are inadequate youth and community facilities to the east of Faversham. Suppose we are able to restore the Engine and Carriage Sheds between the two railway lines beneath the Longbridge. In that case, we shall be able to add to Faversham’s remarkable railway heritage, create some community and employment space and potentially open a pedestrian and cycling route for the east of Faversham to the railway station and the town centre. We want to bring our heritage back into use to benefit residents and visitors alike.
The Engine Sheds, just visible among the trees from the footbridge over the railway
ADAPTING TO SUCCEED
By Geoff Wade, Vice Chair, Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group
A Government Spirit of Determination
The recent survey of all households in Faversham provided reassurance to the town’s Neighbourhood Plan (NHP) Steering Group that it is on the right track. The measures the group is taking as it involves local people in shaping the town’s future are in line with public opinion. However, one point needs clarification; the belief that it is possible say no to new housing. Local experience with the Perry Court development where, after an active public campaign to prevent it the development went ahead anyway. The current mood of central government towards new development is one of determination.
Theresa May’s government revealed that councils that fail to build enough homes will lose their planning powers and the right to decide where new houses are placed. In 2018 Communities Secretary Sajid Javid told The Sunday Times. “We have a housing crisis in this country, we need a housing revolution”. “New rules will no longer allow NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) councils that don’t really want to build the homes that their local community needs to fudge the numbers” he said. “We are going to be breathing down your neck day and night to make sure you are actually delivering on those numbers”, he warned councils. In this climate where an overhaul of planning laws will see the creation of new rules to give councils targets for how many homes they should build each year suggests to resist will result in loss of influence and the imposition of new development.
In his ‘Build, Build Build’ speech of June 2020 the Prime Minister reinforced the message of his predecessors and set out ambitious plans committing his government to the addressing the unresolved challenges of the past three decades. This included building the homes the country needs, building better, greener and faster. His government recognises that infrastructure investment is needed and funds are to be made available for social and environmental improvement projects to support the building programme.
Government published its ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper in August 2020 accompanied by an announcement from the Housing Secretary that an overhaul of the country’s outdated planning system will be at the heart of the most significant reforms to housing policy in decades and deliver the high-quality, sustainable homes communities need.
It is believed that the landmark changes will transform a planning system that has long been criticised for being too sluggish in providing housing for families, key workers and young people and too ineffectual in obligating developers to properly fund the infrastructure, such as schools, roads and GP surgeries to support them.
With clarity of purpose could we attract any of this investment to Faversham, or at least do our best to ensure developers fund the infrastructure needed?
The Faversham Neighbourhood Plan consultation poster and exhibition
The Local Challenge
Against this background and in the wake of the feelings of powerlessness the local Perry Court experience provided the Faversham Future Forum (FFF), a group of local people who care about the town and want to influence future development was formed. It sought to be more proactive and work with the authorities to shape the future of the town, safeguarding its character and setting out the infrastructure needs. In May 2018 given new housing targets are to be imposed FFF discussion highlighted the need to adopt a BIMBY (Beauty in My Backyard) positive approach towards planned development. In May 2019 the FFF asked the Town Council to lead the creation of neighbourhood plan to map out where development can and cannot go in the town.
Since then the NHP Steering Group has worked to prepare a blueprint for the future development of Faversham. Volunteer professionals from the Faversham Society have undertaken site assessments and policy work to identify infrastructure requirements to support the proposed developments.
Despite the Covid outbreak more and more local people have been asked very early on for their opinions, what should be built and where and what it should look like. Together with the thoughts of young people and local businesses local views are being used to inform the preparation of the Neighbourhood Plan.
Local people are adapting, responding to the risks posed to the town by the government’s house building plans but also working to capitalise on new opportunities to build a Faversham that offers a future where our young people can afford to live and prosper without compromising the character of our town.
Our challenge is get all the levels of government working together. In particular building a strong spirit of collaboration between the town and Swale Borough Council to ensure the needs and policies set out in the Faversham Neighbourhood Plan are built into the new Swale Local Plan and work in the interests of future generations. Early signs are encouraging.
Photo by Nathalie Banaigs
Faversham does need more housing – but the right kind of housing
By Harold Goodwin and Claire Martin, Faversham Community Land Trust
Faversham has many examples of excellent housing built to accommodate local working families in the last century. It was built between the wars and post-WWII to house those unable to purchase in the housing market. In the 1980s, this stock of quality social housing was sold off through the national government’s right to buy. Unfortunately, the money raised was not invested in new social housing. The 1951 Tory manifesto was forceful: “Housing is the first of the social services. It is also one of the keys to increased productivity. Work, family life, health and education are all undermined by crowded houses.” Churchill asked Macmillan to “build the houses for the people.” Labour had built on average 200,000 houses a year between 1945 and 1951, Macmillan achieved 300,000. For about twenty years, there was a cross-party consensus that more housing was needed and that half of it should be built by local councils.
Back then the Town & Country Planning Act enabled local authorities to make compulsory purchase of land for house building at current-use value. No longer. Prime Kent arable land is worth just under £25,000 per hectare. Prime Kent housing development land is worth just under £2,000,000 per hectare according to government figures from 2015.
Now central government determines how many houses should be built using a national algorithm. It is left to a small number of large housing developers to build them. Through its Planning Inspectorate, the government ensures that local councils have a five-year housing land supply and that the houses are being built. Perry Court had to be accepted in March 2016 despite a public outcry for fear of punitive costs when the developer took the council to appeal and won. National policy rode roughshod over local democracy in 2016.
There is no incentive for developers to build houses at a rate that might reduce sale prices. Planning authorities must apply the “viability test” in making local plans enforced by the Planning Inspectorate. “For the purpose of plan making an assumption of 15-20% of gross development value (GDV) may be considered a suitable return to developers in order to establish the viability of plan policies.” Clearly, developers will not volunteer for a lower margin. So that is the test: a 15 to 20% return on investment. Central government does provide a range of mortgage schemes and subsidies to ensure a market for the houses built by developers, but this does not meet local housing need in Faversham
National government currently defines affordability as 8o% of the market price or rent. The Faversham Community Land Trust commissioned a Housing Needs Surveys from specialist housing market analysis company, arc4. They found that households would need a minimum income of £30,590 per annum income to afford the lowest cost affordable homeownership option. An income of £56,186 per annum would be required to fund the entry-level market house price. Households seeking rented accommodation would need a combined income of £33,264 to afford rented accommodation.
Faversham is a very attractive place to live and bring up children and it is well connected by road and rail to London and Ashford. Developers want to build here because the houses sell. We have many deprived households as is clear from the Consumer Data Research Centre 2019 Index of Multiple Deprivation map.
Faversham has many deprived households as is clear from the Consumer Data Research Centre 2019 Index of Multiple Deprivation map
There is significant housing need in Faversham. The housing being imposed on Faversham by central government will not meet local needs. Swale is trying to rebalance housebuilding. In the draft Local Plan there are policies on affordable housing that require an increased percentage of new homes to be affordable and with set requirements for homes for life and wheelchair adapted property standards. Swale is also in the process of setting up it’s own housing company. But these measures alone won’t meet the increasing need for genuinely affordable housing in Swale or Faversham. National policy and increasing control from Westminster and Whitehall is a major constraint on what can be achieved locally.
Entry-level market housing in Faversham is not affordable to many households. arc4’s research commissioned by the CLT found that 1,881 units need to be built for purchase and rent over the next five years to house Faversham people. That is 376 per year. Faversham needs a mix of genuinely affordable housing. The research found 211 people ‘sofa surfing’ in Faversham. The survey found that we need:
Small family homes (2 or 3-bedrooms), small homes for singles and couples and small homes to enable older people to downsize;
Houses for first time buyers, social rented housing for low-income households and housing suited to frail elderly or disabled people.
You can find the research report on the FCLT website.
A small group of concerned residents set up the Faversham Community Land Trust as a Community Benefit Society in May 2019 to build genuinely affordable housing for local people, The houses we build for rent and sale will be locked-in to benefit local people in perpetuity, like the alms-houses. When they come up for resale or rent, they will need to be sold or rented to local people at the same discount they were sold or rented with initially.
We have had support from Locality, Swale and Faversham Town councils. It has taken time to establish the Trust, but we are now discussing a couple of projects with planners and landowners. We hope that the Neighbourhood Plan will assist us in finding and securing land. We shall do what we can through our voluntary effort, but sadly, we shall not be able to meet all of Faversham’s housing needs. If you support the need to build more accommodation for local people to keep families together, please consider joining as Faversham Community Land Trust members. If you have relevant skills and would like to help we’d love to hear from you!
Pages describing the results of the Neighbourhood plan consultation
Our Water Supply, Flooding and Sewage
By Graham Setterfield
Photos by: Pete Smith
Faversham should not become infamous for water shortages.
Water is at the heart of our town. Faversham is where it is because of our creek, oysters and sea trade. Chalk springs from the North Downs provide clean and plentiful freshwater for people, cress beds and brewing. The Westbrook stream is precious, one of only 230 chalk streams in the world. Our gunpowder industry relied on the chalk streams to power the mills and the creek to ship the powder away.
Water companies in the south-east face the challenge of extensive development with very low rainfall per head of population. Once planning permission is granted, the water companies are legally obliged to provide water to those homes. This water has to come from underground sources, river abstraction or reuse of water. Scientists agree that climate change will bring wetter winters and drier summers. By 2100 this could mean 40% wetter winters and 60% drier summers. Permission should be granted to construct Broad Oak reservoir near Canterbury to store winter rain from a wet winter such as this one and provide resilience in the event of drought and help reduce the abstraction from the chalk.
The Environment Agency and Ofwat should ensure that the water companies reduce leakage and limit abstraction from the chalk. Future homes have to be made more water-efficient; the UK lags behind most of Europe in the efficiency of new homes. The Neighbourhood Plan is an opportunity to set demanding water efficiency standards that developers are obliged to follow. We are a water-stressed area. We should press for tougher Building Regulations, including greywater reuse; this should be a non-negotiable requirement for planning permission.
Faversham’s wastewater treatment works is situated on the creek, into which the works discharges its partially treated effluent. The works are virtually at full capacity, which means that Southern Water will be required to increase the works' treatment capacity to accommodate the increase in population planned for the town. In the centre of the town, combined sewer overflows (CSOs) currently discharge into the creek (see Sewage in Faversham Creek: Facts and Faeces article in Issue 5 of the Eye). These discharge too frequently due to inadequate sewers. Improvements to the CSOs are required.
Although the effluent discharged from the treatment works meets the modest treatment standards set for it by the Environment Agency, the creek has extremely poor water quality. This is because the discharged wastewater is pushed back towards the town on every incoming tide. If the creek is to become available for more leisure use, it has to be less polluted. Remember the annual raft race?
With new development at the treatment works there is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for the Environment Agency to set higher standards and for the discharge point to be further out in the estuary. Already The Swale fails to meet the appropriate water directive standards for a shell fishery.
A new main trunk sewer running from the proposed developments on the east side of Faversham directly to the wastewater treatment works would take pressure off the existing system that already overflows and causes localised flooding. It might also provide an opportunity for a tanker disposal point remote from the works, so that tanker movements in and around the works can be reduced. Future development should include state of the art sustainable drainage and separation of foul and stormwater flows.
Faversham is at risk of tidal flooding, especially under the combined event of North Sea surge, high tides and easterly winds. Climate change will also increase the areas prone to flooding with much of low-lying Faversham gradually becoming at significantly higher risk as sea levels rise and storms become more intense. Note that the Thames Estuary 2100: key findings from the monitoring review states that there is ‘likely to be 59% more winter rainfall…’. This risk will increase as south-east England gradually continues to sink relative to the rest of the UK. The standard of flood defences already require improvement with some areas regularly flooding at present.
Future development planned for Faversham is generally not in those areas prone to flooding. However, more development leads to more surface water drainage and this water has to be drained away. New development creates an opportunity to improve the dispersal of water from rainfall and to improve drainage around those areas at the highest risk of flooding, especially to the east side of the creek. Further development in those areas at greatest risk of flooding should be prohibited. This will protect future families from the trauma of flooding and will keep the present flood plain intact.
If you value nature…
By Matthew Hatchwell
Faversham residents interested in maintaining the balance between the built and natural environments should pay attention to three planning documents that will define the town’s future relationship with the surrounding landscape. Public consultation on the draft Local Plan for Swale is open until April 30th; the little-known Swale Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy is one of the key documents underlying the draft Local Plan; and the Faversham Neighbourhood Plan is at the drafting stage.
The Faversham Neighbourhood Plan will expand in greater detail on many elements of the Swale Green and Blue Infrastructure
Swale Local Plan
It is a happy surprise to find some very progressive policies reflected in the draft Local Plan, for example on mitigating and adapting to climate change through sustainable design and construction, promoting sustainable transport and active travel, and conserving and enhancing the natural environment. The plan reveals an appreciation of the Swale landscape suggesting that it was written at least in part by local experts rather than external consultants.
There’s a lot to like too about the proposed new Local Green Spaces, which include some of the freshwater springs that characterise this stretch of the north Kent coast and would safeguard one of the key natural corridors between the town and the coastal marshes. Three areas that are more disappointing are ones that lie beyond the mandate of the borough council and where policies are set and enforced by central government. Faversham residents might want to lobby Helen Whately MP on these!
HOUSING Let’s be clear: it is not Swale Borough Council that wants to build another 10,000 new houses in our area by 2038 on top of the 14,000 already envisioned in the previous Local Plan. That decision has been made in Westminster and is enforced with measures that punish any local authority or town that fails to comply with government targets.
AIR QUALITY National legislation governing air quality, and its enforcement, are the responsibility of the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. DEFRA has a very poor track record of enforcing its own regulations, to the detriment of communities like Ospringe that are blighted by some of the highest levels of air pollution in the southeast.
WATER The draft Local Plan notes the great value of chalk streams like the Westbrook – one of only 230 such watercourses in the world – but proposes no actions to preserve water flow or quality because that responsibility sits with DEFRA and the Environment Agency.
Even though SBC’s power is very limited in all three of these areas, the Local Plan should commit the council to work with other interested parties in support of progressive policies and actions similar to those it’s proposing in relation to active travel, climate change and biodiversity.
Swale Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy
Many of the environmental elements of the Local Plan are drawn from the GBIS adopted by Swale Borough Council in September 2020. It defines GBI as the network of multi-functional green and blue spaces that make up the essential ecosystems for people and nature and describes it as “critical infrastructure for the health of Swale’s residents and wildlife.” The purpose of the GBI Strategy is to create a roadmap for a greener, healthier, more biodiverse and prosperous borough for the next 20 years. It identifies “biodiversity opportunity areas” in Swale and describes how elements of the government’s 25-year environment plan, including Nature Recovery Networks, could be implemented in the borough. The strategy includes a detailed section on Faversham, highlighting its privileged position as a gateway to both the North Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to the south and the Swale Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) to the north, and proposes actions including town centre greening, enhancing the town’s “blue environment” notably Faversham Creek and the Westbrook, and improving footpaths and cycle paths as corridors for people and wildlife.
The condition of the Westbrook chalk stream has improved thanks to work by the Friends of the Westbrook and Stonebridge Pond
The Swale Local Plan and Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy provide an excellent framework for the elements of the Faversham Neighbourhood Plan focusing to the natural environment, specifically the chapters on footpaths, the natural environment, Local Green Spaces and renewable energy. Inevitably, the level of detail of the Swale-wide plans leaves gaps that we now have the opportunity to fill with the Neighbourhood Plan. For example, there may be additional Local Green Spaces such as Crab Island that we want to create beyond those proposed in the Local Plan. Given the corridors that are suggested in the Local Plan southwards from Faversham towards the North Downs AONB and eastwards to the Blean and Canterbury, we can also develop new foot and cycle paths that trace the course of the Westbrook up to its source at Painter’s Forstal and provide safe crossing points of the Thanet Way for pedestrians, cyclists and wildlife. We can also decide as a community to provide more information on Faversham’s rich natural heritage to residents and visitors alike, through updated and improved signage and by creating a centre for environmental education in a refurbished TS Hazard next to Town Quay. The Neighbourhood Plan is currently at the drafting stage and will be opened up for public consultation later this year.
Clapgate Spring and the meadow across Faversham Creek from Standard Quay are proposed as new Local Green Spaces in the draft Swale Local Plan
Kent Wildlfe Trust
Wilder Towns is a Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT) initiative focusing on how wildlife and people can thrive together in cities, towns and country villages. Part of this involves working with local communities through the planning system by supporting the creation of neighbourhood plans, campaigning against inappropriate development, and leveraging investment in local habitat creation through developer contributions.
Faversham is one of KWT’s priority communities for this initiative. While we accept that further development is inevitable, we want to see it happen in the right places and in ways that build networks of natural habitat into the heart of design. To achieve this, we are working closely with the Faversham Society and Town Council to make these ambitions central to the emerging Neighbourhood Plan. At the same time, we are working with Swale Borough Council to influence Local Plan biodiversity strategy and policies.
If the Local and Neighbourhood plans are adopted as hoped, Faversham will be governed by some of the most progressive planning policies for wildlife in Kent. There will be clear strategic direction to improve and connect natural habitats across the parish, robust protection for local green spaces, and an obligation on developers to deliver significant gains to biodiversity in excess of legal requirements.
By Dan Corcoran and Harold Goodwin
KCC closed Faversham’s town centre Youth Club in South Road in 2012. It sold at auction in 2014 and converted into a private house. Through the efforts of many local volunteers and paid staff, there are all sorts of quality services and activities for children and young people running all over Faversham. Many of these providers and the young people they serve would benefit hugely from a new central meeting place. The Neighbourhood Plan provides an opportunity to identify properties that might be repurposed to benefit young people if they become available. Centrally located possibilities include former pubs, existing underused community spaces and other premises that may become redundant in the future.
We were able to speak with many primary and secondary pupils and group members in February and March last year. This process of speaking with schools was cut short due to lockdown and the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group recently organised a youth survey.
It was pleasing to hear from pupils and group members about Faversham’s history, the Magna Carta, architecture and how “there are still parts that aren’t modern” although the old, uneven public surfaces were thought to be unsafe. They didn’t like graffiti, vandalism, litter and dog poo. They said that they felt unsafe - mentioning substance misuse, late-night anti-social noise, traffic and pollution, and the lack of cycle lanes. They wanted affordable and youth-friendly cafes, clothes shops, and transport. Not surprisingly, they wanted more school spaces, safe and secure activities and spaces for young people, and sports facilities.
There were over 100 responses to the Steering Group’s Youth Survey with 42% of responses coming from the under thirteens, and 31% from those between fourteen and sixteen. 60% thought that there were enough facilities for those under eight, 75% thought that there were not enough facilities for the nine to sixteen year olds. 60% said that they always walk or cycle to school and a further 15% said that they did some of the time. Only 16% said that they never walked or cycled to school.
The Maritime Heritage and Natural History Interpretation Centres we hope to see on Town Quay are intended to be attractive to young people. These Centres will not, however, be possible until new and significantly better accommodation can be found for the Boxing Club and the Sea Cadets, both of which are important to young people in Faversham. Talking with our skateboarders, we have heard concerns about safety on the Rec and we are exploring, with them, positive options to help them develop their sport without being pushed to the margins.
With a much larger number of people living to the east of Faversham, there is a real need for community facilities, including those for young people on this side of town. The new schools may provide an opportunity to create facilities for community use.
The Youth Club building in South Road sold by auction in 2014