WEALD OF KENT PROTECTION SOCIETY PUBLIC MEETING,
HEADCORN, THURSDAY, MARCH 19, 2015
WKPS held a Public Meeting at the Weald of Kent Golf Club in Headcorn, at which an audience of nearly 90 people was present. The meeting was entitled “Do we need large scale housing developments in the Weald of Kent” and was addressed by
- David Burton – Planning & Development Lead at Maidstone Borough Council
- Jenny Whittle – Kent County Council local Ward Member
- John Bennett – Chief Executive Kent Wildlife Trust
- Hilary Newport – Director for the Council for Protection of Rural England (Kent Branch)
- Paul Carter – Leader of Kent County Council
WKPS Chairman Mike Bax opened by re-emphasising the planning policy background provided by the National Planning Policy Framework. The NPPF states that if a planning authority does not have provision for adequate housing numbers in a five year plan, approved by a Government Planning Inspector, then there is a general presumption in favour of the grant of permission for development.
WKPS Chairman Mike Bax opens the meeting by outlining
some of the deleterious effects of the NPPF
He pointed out that a number of Kent local planning authorities had failed to deliver an approved Local Plan which had left the door ajar for speculative development, often in locations which would have failed the more rigorous testing that would have been applied prior to the enactment of the NPPF.
A summary of the presentations of the speakers is as follows.
The fundamental question is where should development be located? In the Maidstone Borough there had been a moratorium on Greenfield development for many years to the extent that the supply of housing land had dwindled to a trickle. The old South East Plan had been too prescriptive but now Government guidance was that everyone who needs a home should get a home. In Maidstone, the dispersal of housing in low numbers is preferred to urban extension but the Borough is now faced with providing 19,800 homes under Government guidance from a previous 15 year target of 10,800 homes. David Burton would prefer to be operating under the auspices of a structure plan. He considered that the affordability of infrastructure was largely ignored under current planning guidance. Whilst he did not favour the old top-down approach, he felt that it was very difficult for a local authority to set its own targets on a bottom-up agenda. Ideally a Local Plan is required to give the local planning authority control so that prescription is removed and housing numbers can be limited.
David Burton of Maidstone BC outlines the difficulties facing LPAs
since the Introduction of the NPPF
Firmly believed that local authorities must stand up to Central Government on the question of housing numbers. In her Ward, Harrietsham, Lenham and Headcorn were all designed as Local Service Centres with significant projected growth whilst she felt it would be far better to add small numbers to each village without adverse effect on character, but increasing the sustainability of village shops and pubs. Planning proposals in Headcorn are affected by the floodplain and difficulties in dealing with foul drainage. It should also be remembered that large developments in one parish affect many adjoining parishes due to increased road traffic and pressure on other services. Efforts should be focused towards achieving limited growth against a careful background of planning on facilities, education and infrastructure.
Explained that the Kent Wildlife Trust has a role in seeking to influence planning and securing wins for wildlife. The Trust has professional staff with in-depth knowledge of planning and allied regulatory issues. A Living Landscape project is promoted which seeks to provide a network of opportunity in biodiversity terms. Natural systems are crucial to the country’s economy, for instance the management of land drainage and ecosystem services. Kent Wildlife Trust is a statutory consultee and will respond and seek improvement to submitted schemes. Wildlife must be given proper weight and where consultation is time limited, informed decisions cannot be made. Ashford Borough Council has established a Local Plan and is in regular consultation with Kent Wildlife Trust who have achieved several positive outcomes in the district. KWT will always seek to ascertain what biodiversity is present, how it might be lost and how the problem might be mitigated. It will seek to ensure that designations are observed and works regularly with local authorities and developers for positive wildlife outcomes. Kent is recognised as the most biodiverse county in England with diverse geology and coastline along which massive Northern European migrations take place each year. This huge natural wealth is not valued sufficiently and the environment seems to fall well down the list in terms of many people’s priorities. Local politicians need clarity and Kent Wildlife Trust is well placed to make knowledge clearly and readily available.
Referred to the continual efforts of successive governments to stimulate house building. The planning system used to need to be persuaded by good cases for residential development. Now local planning authorities need to produce good reasons to refuse planning consent. 12 examples of major development are under way in Kent on land which has never been allocated in local plans and this trend for consenting off-plan developments arises from the National Planning Policy Framework. In Lenham, the Neighbourhood Planning Group had recognised the inevitability of development and was seeking to accommodate 250 units. The local planning authority is now intervening with a requirement for 1500 units. Such targets are beyond any sane rationality. CPRE recognises that more homes are needed but the NPPF is not protecting green spaces. The system must be plan led with investment and social housing and it should be noted that local authorities used to deliver approx. 100,000 units per annum in England up until the 1980s. We now need community build schemes and plans to provide housing close to where it is most needed. Not only should adequate Green Belts be observed, but also vital to safeguard agricultural land, water and the ability to dispose of waste. The formula had to be to provide the right housing in the right places.
Hilary Newport of CPRE Kent appeals for greater protection for
green spaces and for building to be limited to the right number of houses
in the right places
Highlighted Bearsted as an example of a parish where overdevelopment has taken place. We have to face the reality of population growth. It is a fact that there will be 15% more people in Kent in ten years time and they have to live somewhere. KCC has resisted inappropriate development proposals at Otham and on Boris Island but the problem is that planning officers are currently enabled to rule the roost and tell councillors what is good for them. Paul Carter considers the NPPF seriously flawed and steadily demolishing the achievements of the old Kent Structure Plan. The fact is that development seems to attract more development and vice versa. To counter this KCC have now introduced a Growth & Infrastructure Plan. A traffic survey of the Maidstone area indicates that 17,000 more houses will generate an increase in traffic of around 40%. Infrastructure studies will hopefully provide the evidence to resist development in inappropriate locations and most importantly on where development should take place. Paul Carter believes there is a place for new towns and garden cities as so many settlements have now reached a critical mass. Kings Hill is a good example of success with new freestanding development. Many settlements seek infrastructure as for instance Leeds village where a modest bypass is urgently required and the local community accept that there must be enabling development to pay for this infrastructure. Development in the Thames Gateway is moving too slowly and Brownfield opportunities must be maximised with the help of public subsidy. There is an appetite in East Kent for more housing which
would bring wealth out of London. It should be noted that the cost of the season ticket from Folkestone to London on High Speed 1 is £6K per annum out of taxed income. The confirmation of a local plan in Ashford means that the local planning authority can decide appropriate locations for development, rather than have to grapple with inappropriate options. Paul Carter hopes the electorate will use its influence accordingly in the forthcoming General Election.
Paul Carter, Leader of KCC, explains KCC’s Growth & Infrastructure Plan,
designed to counter some of the ill-effects of overdevelopment
Following the speakers’ presentations, there was a lively Q & A session, during which quite a number of issues were raised dealing with both local and more general planning issues. Chief among many of the points raised was the need for Maidstone to have a plan in place – it’s all taken too long. Ashford feel that they have already done their part for local housing. David Burton replied that Maidstone had built more homes than Swale, Ashford & Medway and that Marden is now at capacity. Burton blamed cabinet system for no plan being in place but UKIP counter claim failure of councillors/members. Only 40% of Local Authorities have plans but they can still be rejected by Central Government. View of public that there was a need to go back to strategic plan for all districts there was a need for the countryside to be protected and to go back to the system that came into being with the 1947 Town & Country Planning Act.
The questions to the panel come thick and fast and with passion