The second week has moved on from long drawn out numerical debates, grandly known as strategic, to specific examinations of sites, both in the Plan and those that developers aspire to be included.
Every thing is two dimensional; considering partly the plan itself and partly what will happen when the Inspector increases the housing target numbers for Swale. Though this week’s discussions have given us all a chance to talk around specific sites, it is not clear that the Inspector will want to rule on site priorities. She will issue an Interim Report, probably indicating a figure of 776 new houses a year and then throw the ball back to the Council.
On Tuesday, I was included in the witnesses, if that is the right term. My written evidence was in support of residents in Lydbrook Close which in the plan ,as it stands, includes a minimum of 70 houses. There are local concerns there about access off the A2 London Road, Primary School and GP provision and the lack of adequate sewerage and drainage infrastructure. We think a possible 100 houses in this little cul de sac is not sound planning. I was also allowed to intervene to defend the case for continuing the search for a Northern Relief Road to Bapchild and on the need to phase a massive NW Sittingbourne development around improvements to Junction 5.
On Wednesday, the examination moved on to Omission sites, areas very properly excluded in the plan, but which might need to be reconsidered if the bar is raised to allowmore housing allocations. There are 2 plausible, if not desirable, sites, one towards the SW of the town between Cryalls Lane and Wises Lane and the other off Swanstree Avenue. The Council ,acknowledging the possible need to find new sites has assessed the strength of various places. Swanstree Avenue is not considered as an acceptable option, whatever the target, but, sadly Wises Lane, notwithstanding the continuing arguments against, does have guarded support from planners at Swale Council. Development at Wises Lane would threaten the countryside gap that we have always sought to maintain between Sittingbourne and Borden, it would turn good agricultural land into development land and it would create serious highway problems. The interested parties claim that it would be a viable site, which means it would be more profitable than others.
Which illustrates what I think is really going on and what the Government intends to happen. By insisting on high housing allocation numbers in local districts, the Government isn’t so much increasing housing supply but instead ensuring that developers get access to more profitable development sites, ones that would otherwise have been excluded. It means more upmarket development on the rural fringes of our towns. It will lead to more migration from other parts of the South East and London, and do little for local young people.
These events are of course dominated by the planners and developers but there are members of the community making their mark. Individuals from Sheppey have had their say and made the case for improvements to the Lower Road. Representatives from the Brents Association in Faversham had their say last week. Minster, Bapchild and Rodmersham Parish Councils have been involved.
This is a vital occasion for the future of Swale and some Councillors attend regularly. James Hunt(Tory) Gerry Lewin (Tory) Ghlin Whelan and I(Labour) have been loyal observers. As I said , I have taken part in the discussions as has Monique Bonney (Independent). Ken Ingleton(Tory) is there all the time on behalf of Minster Parish Council.
It is also good to see the time being put in by KM journalists. The proceedings are interesting but possibly a litle pedestrian. The most terrifying introduction is “I’ll be brief”!.
Councillor Roger Truelove