The Housing Tsunami Explained

Words by Councillor John Irwin


1. How many new houses for Faversham?


The housing target for Swale Borough Council is set by the Government, calculated in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework. It is important to remember that Swale Borough council do not build houses. To meet the targets set by central government they make land available to developers. It has recently been revealed that in the five years from 1st April 2014 to 31st March 2019 planning permission was granted for around 2,610 additional houses which have yet to be started. Not all of these are permissions granted to large developers, but this number serves to illustrate that it is ultimately developer who choose whether or not to build housing.


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 2,224 houses to be built between 2014 and 2038, around 16% of all new housing in Swale. Under the new plan Swale has been asked 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’). Swale Borough Council decides how to allocate this target across Swale. It has been confirmed that Faversham take 3,500 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 5,729 new houses, to be built by 2038.


Unfortunately, this is not where this story ends. The elephant in the room is the future location of the 3,000 houses unallocated in the emerging local plan, the euphemistically called ‘windfall’ sites. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a windfall as “an unexpected, unearned, or sudden gain or advantage.” Unfortunately, this windfall will be anything but for Faversham. It is recognised by SBC that building housing in Faversham and the east of Swale is more financially lucrative (viable in developer speak) than building to the West in Sittingbourne and Sheppey. Where are developers likely to want to build these windfalls? Answers on a postcard. So how many new homes for Faversham? Somewhere between 5,500 and 8,000!


To be clear, Faversham Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group are opposed to this huge and frankly unrealistic allocation and we have made this known to our Swale representatives.


Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA)


The map below shows the all the sites put forward, largely by developers for new housing, those outlined in red or blue have yet to be granted planning permission. They are unlikely all to be agreed for development and the purpose of this local consultation is to help ensure that only the least impactful sites only are granted planning permission.


The Faversham Society has worked with a group of members to collate what we know about each of the sites to inform debate, take a look on: www.favershamsociety.org. Let us know if we have missed anything.

Reprinted by kind permission of Faversham Town Council (Contains OS data © Crown copyright [and database right] 2020)


2. Where will all this housing go?


Swale conducted a ‘call for sites’ and, as a result of this call, numerous landowners put forward their land as potential development sites. These sites are what can be seen on the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) map. Swale has conducted a technical examination to determine the extent to which sites are suitable, available and deliverable. From this site ‘long list’, Swale Borough Council will allocate the sites to be made available to developers (which obviously won’t address the issue of ‘windfall’). At the time of writing Swale Officers have recommended that 3,300 of these houses are delivered by four sites, land north of Graveney Road 18/135 (240 houses), land east of Faversham 18/091 (600 houses), land at south east Faversham, the Duchy of Cornwall site 18/226 (2,500 houses) and land at Preston Fields 18/178 (70 houses). The remaining 200 housing sites will be allocated within the Faversham Neighbourhood Plan.


If you think the SHLAA map is misleading as not all site have been identified by Swale for development remember this. Each and every site has been nominated by the landowner and/or a developer as a site they wish to see developed. They may not be allocated in the current revision of the Local Plan but who is to say what could happen in the future? If you are comfortable with the assumption that they won’t be developed, I would encourage you to read the current governments proposal for reform of the Planning System, “Planning for the Future.”


These proposals are so contentious they are opposed by Boris Johnson’s predecessor Teressa May and 10 Kent MPs including Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) and Helen Grant (Maidstone & The Weald) who signed an open letter to the Secretary of State expressing their concern about the proposals.


3. Why do we need a Neighbourhood Plan for Faversham?


From the figures presented it is clear that over the next 20 years Faversham will undergo an explosion of growth. One not seen since the Victorian era, marked by the arrival of the railway in the 1850’s. The way in which Faversham is being and will be developed is of significant interest and concern for our residents and businesses. It is therefore critical that the Faversham community are full participants in deciding how and where this development takes place. Our best hope of doing this is by developing a neighbourhood plan. It is important to recognise, of course, that Faversham already has a Neighbourhood Plan covering the area of the Creek. The Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan has been in force since it was adopted following a positive referendum in 2017. Given the development pressure the town is under, it is now appropriate to extend the area we can influence to the whole of Faversham Port and Town. Once approved the Faversham Neighbourhood Plan will be in place until 2040.


4. What is a Neighbourhood Plan?


A neighbourhood plan is a way in which we, as a community, can influence the future development of the town in which we live and work. A plan will enable us to develop a shared vision for future development and influence the design and types of new houses being built. Our neighbourhood plan won’t just be about housing. It will enable us to understand and better communicate our critical need for improved work places, community infrastructure, schools, transport, shops, sport, leisure and hospitality facilities. Importantly it will help us identify and protect important local green spaces and our natural and built heritage assets for the future. Once approved, the Faversham NHP will become a statutory document that must be considered when Swale Borough Council decide whether or not to approve planning applications.


“There is an urgent need for a new neighbourhood Plan if we are to influence the kind of housing that we required by central government to accept and if we are to keep what is special about our town”, Harold Goodwin, Chair of the Faversham Society and a member NHP Steering Group.


5. Can the Neighbourhood Plan be used to block development in Faversham?


No, it cannot. Housing allocations are made by Swale Borough Council in line with house building targets issued by Central Government. The Neighbourhood Planning Group do not have it within their power to reject the target set by Swale. In addition, many sites in Faversham have already been either approved for housing development or have been identified in the existing Swale Local Plan as potential development sites by the previous council administrations. Although the plan cannot stop development, it can empower us as a community to shape the housing development to make sure it better meets our needs.


6. How will the plan be developed?


The development of a town wide neighbourhood plan already has significant community support, indeed the original call for a plan came for the community-based Faversham Future Forum and the evidence base to support the need for the plan has been worked on extensively by volunteers. Chair of Faversham Future Forum Geoff Wade explains, “Given the high target levels of new housing being imposed by government on the Borough, experience has shown that saying no to new development doesn’t work. The Neighbourhood Planning Process will give Faversham people the opportunity to influence and shape the town’s future.”


The first step to developing a neighbourhood plan, is designation of the area by the Borough Council. This step was achieved in August 2020. Now the development of the plan proper can begin. The first significant activity is development of the draft policies for the plan. These policies can cover subjects ranging from to housing ownership and affordability to water and green spaces. To help identify the right policies to go into the plan, the Steering Group have planned two exhibitions as well as resident and business surveys in autumn 2020. The second exhibition is currently running at the Town Hall, 12 Market Place until Saturday 31st October 2020. Once a draft plan is available hopefully by the end of the first quarter 2021, this will be available for public consultation. The process is summarised in the schematic below.

The process through which a Neighbourhood plan proceeds.


7. Who is developing the plan?


Faversham Town Council has appointed a Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group to manage and guide the development of the neighbourhood plan and to assist with community engagement. It consists of the Mayor, four councillors and two members of the Faversham Future Forum. The membership of the Steering Group is as follows: Cllr John Irwin (Chair). Geoff Wade (Vice Chair), The Mayor, Cllr Alison Reynolds, Harold Goodwin, Cllr Kris Barker, Cllr Hannah Perkin and Cllr Antony Hook. To date numerous community volunteers have given freely of their time and expertise to support the plan including the development of the evidence base which will underpin the plan and preparations for and running the community exhibitions in the Town Hall in the Autumn. We thank them for their efforts.


8. How can I get involved?


The neighbourhood plan will belong to the people of Faversham and it can only come into force following a positive referendum. We hope to be in a position to hold the referendum on the plan in 2021. We have planned a series of engagement and consultation activities that will be open to all residents and businesses. These will be promoted through print and social media. There is a dedicated section within the Faversham Town Council website that will host everything you need to know about the neighbourhood plan as it develops. This site will also host online versions of the surveys as well as details of how to get involved in other ways. Volunteers are always welcome and should contact the steering group via the Deputy Town Clerk, Adrienne Begent: adrienne.begent favershamtowncouncil.gov.uk


“The neighbourhood plan will belong to the people of Faversham and everyone can get involved and make their voice heard.”

The Legal Framework for Neighbourhood Plans


By Councillor Antony Hook


The concept of neighbourhood plans (or Neighbourhood Development Plans to give them their full name) came into existence through the Localism Act 2011 of the coalition government, in particular section 116-121 and schedule 9 of that Act.


The Planning Practice Guidance says these plans…


[give] communities power to develop shared vision for their neighbourhood and shape the development and growth of their local area. They are able to choose where they want new homes, shops and offices to be built, have their say on what those building should look like and what infrastructure should be provided… where the ambition of the neighbourhood is aligned with the strategic needs and priorities of the wider area.


The 2011 Act inserted new provisions into the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2003

which mean that the same regard must be had for a neighbourhood plan as for the Borough

Council’s Local Plan when planning decision are made. A process for a neighbourhood plan

to be made can be initiated by a Town or Parish Council or some other bodies in certain

situations. The planning authority (in our local case, Swale Borough Council) has to decide

what the areas of a neighbourhood is and in some cases disputes over this have ended up in

court. Swale Borough Council have to give assistance and advice to the body making the

neighbourhood plan.


The procedure for making a neighbourhood plan is not to be invented either by the Town or

the Borough but is set out in secondary legislation: The Neighbourhood Planning (General)

Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/637). Once a neighbourhood plan is drafted and subject to certain conditions on consultation and public availability of documents it proceeds to a

referendum which decides whether the plan is adopted or not. The planning authority is

responsible for organising the referendum and decides (which it must do rationally and

reasonably) whether the plan is ready to be put to that public vote.


The neighbourhood plan must specify the period for which it has effect. It must not relate to “excluded development”, which Town and County Planning Act 1990’s. 61K defines and includes nationally significant infrastructure, activities such as mining and quarrying of

minerals and other aspects of heavy industry that are subject to (for now) EU-wide environmental protection legislation. The plan must relate to only one neighbourhood area

so we cannot propose a plan that reaches into nearby villages unless a persuasive case was

made to the planning authority that the town and villages are one neighbourhood.


The law says the Neighbourhood Plan must be “in general conformity” with the “strategic

priorities” of the Local Plan. What this means has been argued in court several times. In a

dispute in the area covered by Leeds City Council, the Court of Appeal ruled there can be “a

degree of tension” between Neighbourhood and Local Plans and in a case in Lewes, East

Sussex, in 2017 the Court of Appeal rejected an argument that a new local plan had to be

completed before a neighbourhood plan and in the case of Gladman Developments v

Aylesbury Vale District Council in 2014, the High Court ruled that a neighbourhood plan can

make site allocations even where there were no present local strategic policies for housing.

The parties to most of the case law on neighbourhood plans are developers and planning

authorities, reflecting who has the resources to bring legal challenges in the world in which

we live of scandalously costly litigation that limits access to justice in many fields for most

people.


A referendum on a neighbourhood plan is decided by a simple majority of those choosing to

vote rather than a majority of those eligible to vote. There is no minimum level of turnout required to validate the result. If the majority of votes cast are to approve the plan then the

planning authority must adopt and publish it. It will then be relevant to decisions on future

planning applications in the neighbourhood.

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