By Harold Goodwin, writing in a personal capacity
In the past few weeks our chaotic Government has said that it intends to scrap the centrally determined housing requirements in a shake up of the planning system.
Swale has therefore paused the next stage of the Local Plan Review Consultation.
They have said “With mounting uncertainty around the government’s direction of travel for the planning system, any consultation now will likely have to be repeated in the future to take into account the Council’s response to those changes.”
Could it be that the damage that is being inflicted on Faversham by the imposition of huge estates of expensive, poorly designed houses could cease to be a statutory requirement and allow for future house-building to reflect local needs?
I’m sure that no changes are being made merely to save Conservative seats in the next General Election.
THE SWALE PLAN
When Margaret Thatcher abandoned regional policy 40 years ago the UK’s centre of gravity shifted towards the southeast. For example, the Office for National Statistics projects a reduction in the formation of new households by 24.7% in Barrow-in-Furness. According to the 2021 census the population of Swale has increased by 11.7% since 2011. By contrast, the population of Gateshead has declined by 2%. Over time the “levelling-up” agenda may counter the shift of population from north to south but for now, Swale is under pressure from central government to increase the supply of houses.
Despite successive governments talking about the importance of local people having a say over development, in reality we effectively have very little. Most recently proposals for “street votes” to give a vote to neighbours on whether planning permission is granted for developments on their street. It is not clear how this could apply to one of the new greenfield developments which pose such a threat to the character of Faversham.
Housing targets are set by Westminster and do not reflect local needs, particularly for locally affordable housing for families. Swale has to apply the government’s ‘standard method’ for calculating the number of houses it must provide planning permission for. The Faversham Society wrote back in January to Michael Gove asking if any local authority had provided planning permission for fewer houses without penalty. The Society has not received a reply, we know of none. If Swale fails to demonstrate to the central government that it has a five-year land supply for sufficient housing to meet the target set through the government’s over
simplistic formula developers can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate and permission will often be granted. Abbey Fields is presently very vulnerable to housing under this scenario. The Society has for the first time employed a barrister to make the case for refusing development, the argument is presented in great detail on the Society’s website.
Applying the government’s standard method results in Swale having to grant planning permission for 1,048 houses per year. There is now a tiny amount of brownfield land left in Swale and with an AONB and large amounts of designated protected land and flood-prone marsh, development land is a rare commodity. Sea level rise caused by climate change poses
a major threat to Swale and Faversham, published scientific analysis identifies Swale as the local authority facing the third highest risk in the UK.
Understandably, many in Faversham want just to scream No, and refuse. But we’ve been there before. At Brogdale Road, where Shepherd Neame was offered planning permission for 63 homes after it went to an appeal, costing the council thousands of pounds when the Planning Inspectorate determined that there was insufficient land supply and found that
south of the A2 should not be protected. Perry Court was developed, despite massive
local opposition, for similar reasons. The Planning Inspectorate’s role is to enforce Central Government’s planning policy.
Swale is struggling to deliver the number of houses that central government is demanding, so making Faversham vulnerable again to unwanted development at, for example, Abbey Fields. Swale managed to get 2,110 houses built by developers in the three years to March 2021 just doing enough to avoid sanctions which were applied by central government to five other councils in Kent including Medway and Canterbury
The Swale Local Plan is now not expected to come out for public consultation until around November this year. At this point we, the public, will be able to give our views as to what green field site we would least hate to be covered with more inappropriate and expensive badly built houses before the plan is submitted to the Secretary of State.
THE FAVERSHAM NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN
Faversham Town Council is developing a Neighbourhood Plan for the whole of the town, defined by the parish boundary, in order to ensure that further development within the boundary meets a variety of local needs and enhances what is special about our town.
Our Faversham Plan has to fit within the strategy adopted by Swale and central government’s National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF). The NPPF quite closely limits what we and Swale can plan to do. There has been much talk of localism since the 2011 Localism Act and local authorities are required to consult and co-operate with other bodies in the planning process. Section 110(7) requires that local and neighbourhood planners must “have regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State.” Our Faversham Plan is constrained by the requirement to comply with the Swale Plan and central government’s National Policy Planning
We anticipate that the Faversham Plan will be ready for a public consultation process in the first week of Jan and for the referendum in May. Before the Faversham Neighbourhood Plan can be published Swale has to check that our plan complies with the existing Swale Plan and the Planning Inspectorate will ensure that it complies with the NPPF and hear objections from developers and others. To come into force the Faversham Plan needs to be supported by a majority of Faversham residents at the referendum. If passed in May, it is likely that the Faversham Plan will be in force before the new Swale Plan.
It was unfortunate that the town turned its back on the creek in the 1970s. If supported by residents in the referendum the new Faversham Plan will replace the Creek Neighbourhood
Plan linking the regeneration of the creek to the wider town. The aims of the Faversham Neighbourhood Plan have emerged from consultations with residents, youth and businesses. There are seven aims:
To promote the vitality and viability of Faversham Town Centre, as a resource for local people and visitors.
To support sustainable housing growth to meet the diverse needs of the local community.
To create more sustainable live-work patterns, based on neighbourhoods with residential, employment and community facilities in easy walking distance.
To promote sustainable transport, cycling and walking.
To protect Faversham’s green spaces and natural environments and ensure environmental quality.
To promote sustainable design, to complement Faversham’s locally distinctiveness and sense of place.
To preserve or enhance Faversham’s heritage and promote heritage-led economic development.
The plan is required by Swale and the NPPF to allocate land for 219 new homes, all of which, within the parish boundary, are on brownfield land. The plan encourages the re-use of vacant buildings, through sensitive refurbishment or upper floors. There is strong support for Community-Led housing initiatives, self-build and affordable rental accommodation.
The Faversham Plan seeks to protect the green and blue infrastructure through Local Green Space designations and addresses air quality and flooding, so far as is possible within the constraints of the NPPF. The plan strongly supports the existing network of paths and greenways within the parish and the extension of footpaths, bridleways and cycleways. The aim has been to create sustainable mixed-use neighbourhoods, with local facilities and good connections, including for pedestrians and cyclists.
The Faversham Plan has specific policies on the issues which residents care about. All designed to make Faversham a better place to live and work in and to bring up children.
Working to develop the plan we have been very aware of the limits placed on neighbourhood plans by national, country and district governments and that we cannot address health service provision (NHS), schools and education (KCC) and roads policy. The Faversham Plan contains a comprehensive set of policies. In each policy area, we have pushed for as much as possible within the constraints imposed on neighbourhood planning. Being part of the Town Council’s Steering Group for the Faversham Plan has provided a crash course in England’s planning system, at times very frustrating.
When the plan has been screened by Swale and is finally published everyone will be able to see the final version which contains:
FAV1: Faversham Town Centre
FAV2: Housing Development
FAV3: Residential Mix and Standards
FAV4: Mobility and Sustainable Transport
FAV5: Critical Road Junctions
FAV6: Footpaths, Bridleways and Cycleways
FAV7: Natural Environment and Landscape
FAV8: Flooding and Surface Water
FAV9: Air Quality
FAV10: Sustainable Design and Character
FAV12: Health, Recreation and Community
FAV13: Local Green Space
FAV14: Local Renewable Energy Schemes
FAV15: Faversham Creek – Special Policy Area
FAV16: Maritime Gateway Heritage Regeneration Area
The town centre policy contains an explicit requirement to “assure access for those with disabilities” and Fav3 calls for “accommodation suitable for older people and those with limited mobility.” The emerging Faversham Plan calls for accommodation suitable for families, first-time buyers, renters and those wishing to downsize and for the affordable housing provision to be two-thirds rent and one-third ownership.
The plan supports heritage-led regeneration and the adaptation and reuse of historic buildings will be supported, providing such works preserve or enhance the character or appearance of conservation areas and preserve listed buildings and their setting. It requires that development takes account of views towards St Mary’s Church and Davington Priory
and must have no adverse impact on “the rural setting of Faversham Town Centre and Syndale, Ospringe, Preston next- Faversham, and Faversham Conservation Areas, including the open land between the Ham marshes and Bysingwood.
The new Faversham Plan strongly supports the regeneration of the creek through “uses that enhance the economic, leisure, maritime or recreational use of the Creek, including visitor facilities” and “development must have no adverse impact on public access to the waterfront and should take opportunities to improve access, link to existing footpaths and provide moorings.” Creekside residential development will be supported, only where it is part of a mixed-use scheme which includes predominantly the use, reuse and refurbishment of historic buildings and development to provide hospitality, leisure, assembly,
recreation, tourism and visitor and community-related uses, including those relating to maritime and brewing activities.
When the plan is finally published and out for consultation early in 2023, there will be a range of opportunities to comment on and debate the merits of the new Faversham Plan. Inevitably in developing a plan of this kind, no one gets everything they want. Compromise is inevitable. We hope that it will secure the support of the majority of those who vote in the referendum and believe that it should.
I thought it would last my time -
The sense that, beyond the town,
There would always be fields and farms,
Where the village louts could climb
Such trees as were not cut down;
I knew there'd be false alarms
In the papers about old streets
And split level shopping, but some
Have always been left so far;
And when the old part retreats
As the bleak high-risers come
We can always escape in the car.
Things are tougher than we are, just
As earth will always respond
However we mess it about;
Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:
The tides will be clean beyond.
- But what do I feel now? Doubt?
Or age, simply? The crowd
Is young in the M1 cafe;
Their kids are screaming for more -
More houses, more parking allowed,
More caravan sites, more pay.
On the Business Page, a score
Of spectacled grins approve
Some takeover bid that entails
Five per cent profit (and ten
Per cent more in the estuaries): move
Your works to the unspoilt dales
(Grey area grants)! And when
You try to get near the sea
In summer . . .
It seems, just now,
To be happening so very fast;
Despite all the land left free
For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn't going to last,
That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts -
First slum of Europe: a role
It won't be hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.
And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There'll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.
Most things are never meant.
This won't be, most likely; but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.
I just think it will happen, soon.
Philip Larkin (1922-1985)