By Brian Pain
Unfortunately, the main focus of this edition is again on the now seemingly inevitable glut of new housing estates to be built in and around our Town. Most local people are naturally confused by, and find it hard to differentiate between the emerging (Swale) Local Plan and the separate (Faversham) Neighbourhood Plan.
The Local Plan has been produced by Swale Borough Council and covers the whole of the Borough. Included in the proposals is provision for over 24,000 new houses to be built in the next 15 years. This massive number was imposed by central government. Within their plan, our elected Swale representatives have decided that over 5,700 of these should be built in Faversham.
We are highlighting in this issue the (Faversham) Neighbourhood Plan which is now being formulated and will allow the residents of the Town to determine where these new developments are sited and a framework for their development. It is not much of a say, admittedly, but it gives us the opportunity to minimise the damage to our historic Town of this exceptional and rapid building expansion.
On adoption this plan will be legally enforceable.
The tragedy for Faversham is that a town that has grown to its current population of around 21,000 over hundreds of years, could find itself with that population effectively doubled over the next 15 years with our surrounding green fields covered with dull and unimaginative housing estates, a massive increase in local road traffic (with the inevitable jams and congestion) and a huge and possibly intolerable strain put on the Town’s infrastructure.
We find it depressing that our Borough Council are prepared to do little more than grumble at the housing imposition. We are not alone in suffering this demand for vast new house building, many other authorities in England are being similarly stressed. When the underlying methodology determining this ‘housing need’ is at best crude, questionable and very likely fatally flawed, why couldn’t Swale join with others and refuse to implement these demands and insist on an empirical assessment of genuine new housing need.
It is not unknown for our present Westminster masters to reconsider their policies. If a mere footballer can cause a major government U-turn, then surely the combined clout of a coalition of boroughs and regional authorities refusing to implement these current new housebuilding quotas would force central Government into producing a more rational, effective and environmentally sustainable approach to the provision of the necessary new housing that is actually required. Why are our local government councillors incapable of more strident opposition to actions which will effectively destroy so many communities which they were elected to represent?
Also, we are appalled that our local MP, Helen Whatley, having failed to sign the open letter signed by many Kent MPs urging the Government to reconsider these new housing targets (including Gordon Henderson, MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey) now attempts to make political capital by very publicly expressing outrage at the proposals.
Elsewhere in the paper we have our regular features including a lively set of correspondence. We hope you enjoy the issue and share our wishes that, before very long, life returns to something more normal.