In the next few years, Faversham will experience an explosion in growth caused largely by new housing developments. This new building, possibly exacerbated by the gigantic Cleve Hill 'Solar Park', will destroy the countryside surrounding our town.
We have illustrated (overleaf) the location of developments both underway and proposed.
Faversham has taken hundreds of years to reach its current size. But as our map clearly shows, the town's developed area could double in the next five years.
The main driver of this unprecedented growth is a declared need for 13,192 new dwellings in Swale by 2031.
This “need” (now widely accepted as a factual necessity) is based on a consultative document published by Swale Borough Council in 2015 grandly called the Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) Local Plan Housing Target.
The report, produced under central government guidelines contains an impressive number of graphs, tables and recommendations, as does the 2019 Swale document Statement of Housing Land Supply 2017/8.
But after bravely wading through the report's total of over 200 pages, The Faversham Eye has made a startling discovery: The whole thing is nothing more than one huge extrapolated guess based upon 2004-2014 statistics.
Even the authors themselves acknowledge the inherent potential weaknesses in using these figures to predict what will actually be necessary in twenty years time. The report was written by the independent consultants Peter Brett Associates.
“Everyone knows that the current method for assessing housing need is hopeless – complicated, confused, ambiguous and costs the earth,” wrote company partner Cristina Howick recently.
Hardly a ringing endorsement of their own methodology.
However, there are more aspects concerning their independent advice.
Peter Brett Associates advocate ‘Garden Villages’ in Swale as a solution to the ‘housing crisis’. They suggest new settlements of between 2500 and 10,000 houses should be built to the east, south and southeast of Faversham. Why here? Because, the report explains, “these would be the most attractive plots to developers.”
On one of these sites, at North Street (see map), development specialists Gladman Developments have helpfully proposed a new garden village development of up to 10,000 houses. Gladmans boast of a 90% success rate in securing planning permissions.
Coincidently, in 2017 Chris Ball joined Gladman Developments from Peter Brett Associates as a planning director and Bal Tiwana now a Principal Planner, joined PBA in 2015 from Gladman.
'Planning Gain Expert' Carole Clarke previously worked for both companies. Now working independently, she boasts: “My target is to add value to your development by identifying creative ways of overcoming the planning system.”
Will there be 20,000 new homeless people in Swale unless the number of houses in Faversham doubles over the next 12 years? It seems highly unlikely.
In reality, demand for new houses is far more complex.
Fuelled by a massive recent increase in second home ownership and the huge increase in central London house prices earlier this decade, it varies significantly from year to year depending on many other factors; some of which are short lived.
This developer-led demand for homebuilding does little to address actual housing need, exacerbated by the Tory introduction of right-to-buy of council houses.
It's important to remember the majority of these new dwellings are not affordable by the average person living in the borough.
Developers make profits by building expensive houses in desirable areas such as green field sites around towns and, in Faversham, creekside areas. Where house prices are lower, such as on Sheppey, house builders are more reluctant to provide dwellings.
In short, the “housing need” figures are probably wrong. And given that our countryside, towns and infrastructure will be irreparably damaged by swathes of new housing estates, even if they are called 'garden villages', we would expect a responsible planning authority to regularly reappraise the need for so many houses rather than scrabbling to help developers build wherever they can make the most money.
We have a new and, we hope, much less complacent set of councillors, who have promised to take their responsibility to safeguard our town and villages much more seriously (See our following story on Swale Borough Council's promise of a 'radical' new approach to planning and housebuilding).
We urge them to carefully question what the true need for new development is, especially in the light of our impending environmental crisis.
And as a community, it is up to us to take a much keener interest in planning matters especially Swale Planning Policies, emerging Local and Neighbourhood Plans as well as contentious planning applications. Once permissions have been granted and Plans adopted, there is little that can be done.
The Faversham Eye will do its bit to keep people informed.