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Over the next 30 months the Local Plan review will set the vision and framework for development needs for the whole of Swale Borough area from 2022-2038.

This year Local Plan Panels gather evidence on estimated housing need, the local economy, environmental considerations, community, transport and other physical infrastructure needs.

From January-March 2021 they publish a version of their Preferred Local Plan for public consultation.

Following that, over the next eighteen months, there are two Examinations in Public held by the appointed Inspector with the plan gradually being modified.

The Inspector’s Final Report (which is binding on the local planning authority) is published and adopted by Swale, early in 2023.

This will determine all development in the Borough for the subsequent 15 years, so it is absolutely vital that every one that cares about our town and the surrounding area make their opinions known during the periods of public consultation next year.

While our present “build, build, build” government will no doubt be wanting to impose many more new houses on Kent, the developers, in the interest of maximising their profits, will be targeting the green countryside around Faversham and ignoring areas such as Sheppey which has real need for affordable houses but where there is less profit for the builders.

The Faversham Eye will try, in forthcoming issues, to explain as simply as possible, the process of the formulation of a Local Plan keep its readers informed of when and where they will able to take part in the public consultations. We will also highlight important and controversial issues as they arise.

There is no point in complaining in future years about the adopted policies. It will be too late.

Harold Goodwin the chair of the Faversham Society explains how they intend to proceed.

Until I became chair of the Faversham Society, I knew little of how the planning system works. The learning curve has been steep. Central government in Whitehall sets the housing targets and requires that the local planning authority delivers them within the National Planning Policy Framework (the NPPF). The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government polices the targets through the Planning Inspectorate. It is essential to realise that Swale does not determine how many houses should be built.

Swale is currently developing a Local Plan within the constraints and demands of central government policy and Whitehall's idea of how many houses are needed. Swale has to demonstrate that it has both an adequate supply of land for housing development and that the houses, for which it has given planning consent, are being built.

Developers secure planning consent on sites, but they will only build when they can sell at prices which enable them to achieve the return they want – often 20%. So land which has been allocated for housing may be locked up by the developer for years with no houses being built – a practice called land banking. A start has to be made within five years, but this often amounts to little more than laying some kerbstones.

Many people have asked me why the new houses do not have solar panels. Central government had a sustainable housing policy, but this was abandoned when developers objected that it would make building houses more difficult and that fewer homes would be built.

It has to be remembered that in any event, actual supply of houses is very much in the hands of builders and developers: builders will not build so many houses that prices will fall; developers will not increase supply so that their profits fall.

Perry Court demonstrates how central government controls what happens locally. Under the previous administration, Swale was not meeting the targets being set for it by national government. When the developer put in an application, had Swale allowed the developer to take Swale to the Planning Inspectorate we would almost certainly have lost, and costs would have been awarded against the council, we would have had to pay through our council tax. If Swale is judged to be failing to meet either its land supply or completions targets, the developers can appeal and are in a strong position to win. The Planning Inspectors are not neutral arbiters; they are the enforcers of central government policy.

The Faversham Society is reviewing the 20+ sites which developers have suggested for development in Faversham to create an evidence base for deciding which are the least objectionable. One consideration in that is to identify sites which could deliver starter homes for local people or create opportunities for people to downsize late in life. We shall be sharing those assessments so that everyone can have an opportunity to improve them and engage through the Neighbourhood Plan in discussions about what should be built and where. Only by getting central government to reduce the targets it is imposing on us can we say “No” to more housing. We need to work together to make the best of it.

Harold Goodwin, writing in a personal capacity.


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