By Brian Pain
At long last most people in Faversham are aware of and concerned by the deluge of new housing planned on the farmland surrounding our unique town. Unfortunately, many new estates are already underway or have received planning permission and therefore can’t be legally challenged.
It is fair to point out that Faversham is far from unique in facing the existential threat of being smothered with unsustainable numbers of new houses inappropriate to local needs. The article in the Observer on 16/1/22, titled ‘Kent Housing/Uproar in the garden of England’, which is available online, reported on the problems facing many Kent towns and villages. It is beyond doubt that there is a very serious shortage of affordable housing in Kent, as well as all the Home Counties and elsewhere, either for rent or sale. This lack of accessible accommodation can fairly be described as a ‘housing crisis’. However, the Government’s preferred approach to give volume housebuilders virtually free rein to build uninspiring expensive three four and five bedroomed houses on green field sites on the periphery of existing settlements, does nothing to address this genuine housing need but certainly provides a lucrative money spinner for the developers.
As we explained in previous issues the Government uses a crude algorithm called the Standard Housing Method to determine how many new housing units they demand each authority must provide for in each planning time period but do not specify what kind of house. Inevitably, therefore, developers choose to favour the cheapest and most profitable sites (green field in the most desirable areas) and the larger type of houses to maximise profits.
Unless they refuse to comply with the Government demands, authorities are reduced to only having the freedom of where to put the new development within their boundaries. But even this choice is compromised by developer’s reluctance to build in any but the most financially viable places. Only joint action by a broad coalition of local authorities to challenge central government demands for more and more development in the South East countryside could possibly force them to change their policy.
Recently, ten Kent Conservative MPs wrote to ask the Government to rethink their housing allocation demands, but to no effect.
Our MP didn’t sign the letter but did gain a lot of publicity by claiming that it was unacceptable that Faversham should shoulder so much of Swales requirement to allocate new sites in the Borough. Significantly, she was not objecting to the overall numbers of news houses Swale was compelled to accommodate., she just preferred to not have it on her own doorstep. This was probably to conserve her own electoral popularity and because she felt that it would be bad for her future career prospects within the current administration. As things stand, Swale has determined that, in the next ten years, Faversham must accept thousands more houses. If the Borough doesn’t fulfil their imposed housing quota, then the planners will not be able to resist planning applications from developers who would be free to build wherever they can make the most money however detrimental to the Town.
The sprawling Perry Court development is an example of what happened when Swale failed to meet their previous allocation. Rapacious developers such as Gladman would seize any future failure of the Council to hit its target and probably succeed in an application to cover the countryside with new houses from the M2 on either side of the Ashford Road as far out as Sheldwich.
Despite the airy assurances from Boris Johnson that our countryside is safe from being concreted over, there seems to be no real prospect of a change in current housing policy, therefore we are left in Faversham with the depressing conclusion that the least worst option is to accept a relatively well designed and environmentally sensitive proposal from the Duchy of Cornwall which on its own fulfils our imposed quota of new houses in one well defined area between the A2 and M2 and then vigorously oppose all other applications from speculative developers which would lead to urban sprawl, very little affordable housing and a much increased strain on our already over stretched infrastructure.
To this end, the Faversham Eye will attempt to bring attention to all new such speculative planning applications when they are made and work with all other groups committed to trying to save Faversham as a unique well-defined town surrounded by accessible countryside. Currently there are two such pending planning applications which raise such concerns:
1. Abbeyfields SW/20/500015/OUT An application for 180 houses alongside the sewage works with a difficult access onto the Whitstable Road which threatens one of the last open vistas onto the town and St Mary’s Church from the east. It is worth looking at the Faversham Society’s detailed object to this development.
2. Love Lane SW/506465/HYBRID A green fields application for 84 houses to the East of Love Lane which could possibly to lead to further applications beyond the site. This has the potential to leading to even more traffic congestion on an already traffic saturated joining to the A2.
Below we reproduce the heartfelt letter from the new pressure group “Farms Fields and Fresh Air” with which we totally sympathise.
The important thing is to remember is that people need to object when the planning application goes to Swale, not years later. Once permission has been granted, it is too late to stop the development.
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR TOWN?
By Wendy Clarke
Housing developments are now growing up on every side, infrastructure compromised, traffic and pollution increasing and more worryingly our green fields and wildlife lost and gone forever – this is prime agricultural land, which should never have been touched and yet there is far more planned destruction for the near future - another 3,500 homes over the next few years in Faversham alone, if current government targets are to be met.
Imagine 5,000 – 7,000 more cars just in our small historic, rural town!
Housing on this scale, as forecast, is due to effectively double our population by 2038! It is just madness - unthinkable.
Residents and councillors alike are appalled by this terrifying vision and yet we are in the grip of a mad housing frenzy where developers are given carte blanche by the government, who has decreed we need housing and masses of it, everywhere.
What is this so called ‘need’ based on? Where are the realistic figures to back this up?
It seems we are subject to an outdated computer algorithm dictating a demand which bears no relation to the LOCAL housing problem at all. The result is vast swathes of countryside concreted over for unnecessary executive homes, the great majority far from affordable for those in real need.
And what happened to prioritising brownfield sites? What happened to regenerating urban areas? What happened to protecting the green belt and green fields?
Despite the recent pledge by Boris Johnson, to build homes ‘’not on green fields, not just jammed in the south east, but beautiful homes on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense.” , there is as yet no change in sight, and our land where future generations could grow their food and which act to capture carbon continue to be destroyed.
And yet this is the same government that has committed to a carbon zero mandate, who promised above all to protect the environment – it’s almost unbelievable, certainly totally unacceptable.
So, councillors involved in a local plan, as ours are currently, face a huge dilemma - they either accept the unrealistic housing targets and agree to an unwanted plan which inevitably continues to decimate our countryside, or they can say stop, enough, we need a new totally revised policy based on realistic local need with no building on greenfield sites.
But that, we are told, opens the door to the heavy-handed Government Planning inspector and a free for all of ruthless speculative development.
The answer quite simply is yes (to a plan of environmental destruction ) or no ( to fight to save the land) And we say - no.
In the light of all this a few of us got together to form a local Facebook protest group to raise awareness of this drastic situation and try to combat the outrageous government demands and the destruction to the environment: Farms, Fields and FreshAir: Faversham.
We believe that if we all join together along with our councils and MPs to push back and say no, we will create one strong voice, which can change the law.
This greed, nonsense and hypocrisy needs to be stopped and urgently.
Cop 26 and IPCC have given us code red for the environment, so it is more relevant now than ever before to call for positive action from our leaders -
No more batting the blame between Government and Councils. No more waffle and empty promises. No more ecocidal destruction.
We want to thank the town council who rejected all options in the reg 18 Local Plan consultation and our MP Helen Whately who has branded the level of the housing numbers ‘unforgivable’ and also avoided accepting an option.
Meanwhile we need more people to join the fight, we now need to come out in force in the coming weeks when Swale Borough Council decides which plan to adopt, if any. We hope they will communicate and unite with councils to make a stand against the government targets but it will not be possible without a strong public voice in support. Our campaign is growing in strength and numbers as we plan strategies and share information and links with many other groups on social media.
We had a successful, peaceful protest walk across the public rights of way on the Duchy land behind Macknade on Nov 28th, joining forces with 29 other campaign groups all over Kent. And recently we were interviewed for BBC Southeast, local papers and the Observer - momentum is growing.
Our next protest walk will take place this weekend on Jan 22nd, starting at the United church at the top of Preston Street at 11:30 then marching through the town centre.
We need as many people as possible to join us, to make our voices heard; also to write to the MP and the government, and to sign our national petition: Halt harmful housing
Remember this: All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. So, this is a plea to all you good people out there who care about your town and countryside - please act now to keep it safe before it’s too late.
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