Planning and the countryside: FAQs

Featured

Tackling the planning system can sometimes appear a nightmarish proposition for even the best-informed. So our planning experts at CPRE Kent have got together to produce an FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) guide to planning and wider countryside issues. You can read it here

Laying the building myth to rest

And the build goes on… but it’s not of much use to local people wanting a home

In this concerning piece, Richard Thompson, CPRE Kent planner, spears the ridiculous notion that simply building more houses will make them more affordable. He highlights that this concept underpins the standard methodology for calculating housing, which, if left unchallenged, will lead to yet more sacrifice of greenfield land to unaffordable market housing without the needed delivery of truly affordable housing.

An article published in the county’s media as winter drew to its close highlighted the absurdity of government thinking that private-sector housebuilding alone would solve the housing affordability crisis.

The fact is, while ever-more houses are being built, the gap between house prices and earnings is still increasing, while much-needed affordable housing is simply not being built.

A stark example of this national policy failure at the local level can be found by looking in detail at the provision of affordable housing in the Canterbury district over the last 10 years.

Within Canterbury district, the average cost of a new-build dwelling has increased from £160,476 in September 2011 to £317,381 in September 2021. That’s almost a doubling of prices in 10 years.

Unsurprisingly, this market price is not affordable for most Canterbury residents. In fact, Canterbury City Council itself considers an income of more than £75,000 would be required to buy a house at this price without assistance.

It believes this equates to only 2 per cent of the population of Canterbury. Or, put another way, 98 per cent of Canterbury residents cannot afford a new-build home on the open market in the district on their incomes alone. Assistance therefore comes via affordable home-ownership ‘products’ such as Help to Buy and shared-ownership schemes. These all fall within the formal planning definition of affordable housing as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). However, many of these affordable home-ownership products are still not actually affordable to most Canterbury residents.

The table below assesses each of the different affordable home-ownership products against the income required to afford them and then considers what percentage of the district would not be able to afford these products.

Affordable Home Ownership Options SchemeIncome RequiredHouseholds Unable to Afford (all households)Households Unable to Afford (private renters)
Help to Buy: Equity Loan (20%)£67,01895%98%
Help to Buy: Shared Ownership (50%)£60,41993%97%
First Homes (30% discount)£52,56790%94%
Help to Buy: Shared Ownership (25%)£50,79090%93%
Rent to Buy (80% of median rent)£23,32332%46%

Yes, you have read correctly – it is the council’s own assessment that 98 per cent of Canterbury residents who currently rent are considered unable to afford the government’s flagship Help to Buy: Equity Loan scheme. Across all the schemes, at best, only 54 per cent of current renters would be able to afford the ‘cheapest’ rent-to-buy route to home ownership.

For those left, the only option is to rent. However, paying open-market rents is deemed unaffordable for 45 per cent of households in Canterbury.  

For this group, there are two types of rental products that fall within the formal planning definition of ‘affordable housing’. The first is affordable rent, which in Canterbury is some 86-97 per cent of the cheapest market rents, ie not necessarily that affordable and subject to usual market price rises. The second is the social rent, which is set according to a complex formula but is typically between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of market rent. This is the cheapest route to accommodation and in Canterbury is about £435 a month.

It is unsurprising then that the council considers the most pressing affordable housing need for Canterbury is for the genuinely affordable social rent homes. It considers 231 social rent homes are now required a year. There is then a lesser need for affordable home-ownership products (156 required a year) and then affordable rent homes (77 required a year). In total that’s 464 affordable homes required a year in Canterbury.

However, Canterbury City Council, like most Kent councils, does not generally build houses. Rather, the current model is that a developer is expected to use a small proportion of the financial gain it gets from a grant of planning permission to provide a certain number of affordable houses alongside the market houses it sells. In Canterbury, the target is that 30 per cent of all homes built should meet the NPPF planning definition of affordable (though until 2017 was set at 35 per cent for the Canterbury Urban Area).    

So how many affordable homes have been provided in Canterbury under this model over the last 10 years? The next table sets out how many of each type of affordable house has been built over this period and quite clearly shows it to be nowhere near enough.

YearAffordable rentAffordable home ownershipSocial rentTotal
2011/12183393144
2012/13105358121
2013/1410105070
2014/15400040
2015/162030050
2016/173810048
2017/18936045
2018/191937056
2019/20405544139
2020/213522057
Total239286245770

That’s barely a current year’s requirement of social rent homes built in total over the last 10 years. Amazingly, in six out of 10 years not a single social rent home was built. With an overall total of 6,097 new homes having been built within the Canterbury district across this period, that equates to 12.6 per cent affordable homes built across all types against the target of 30-35 per cent.     

So why are the required affordable houses not being built by the development industry? For many, the main reason is that current government policies allow levels of affordable housing to be reduced if a development is not deemed ‘viable’.

In the simplest terms, a development is not deemed viable if it can be demonstrated a developer would make a profit of less than 15-20 per cent once all set costs are accounted for. Significantly, one such set cost is an agreed premium to buy the land by the developer that is usually 20 times the existing value of the land though can be as much as 40 times! Added to this, the greater the perceived need for housing, the lower the ability of the council to negotiate, particularly if the council is subject to the ‘tilted balance’ presumption in favour of granting planning permission.

While the intricacies of viability appraisals are a topic of concern in themselves, the fact is housebuilder profits are soaring all the while the current system is not delivering affordable homes on the ground.

In 2021, when not a single social rent home was built in Canterbury, the four biggest UK housebuilders – Persimmon, Berkeley, Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Homes – reported pre-tax profits of £784 million, £504 million, £492 million and £264 million respectively.

If we delve into this a little deeper, we can see it is developer profit margins alone that have soared over the last 10 years, with the costs of buying development land and cost associated with physically building houses broadly staying the same. This can clearly be seen in the below chart taken from housebuilder Persimmon’s 2021 financial results presentation dated March 2, 2022. The chart gives a total cost breakdown of an average Persimmon new-build home showing that the gross profit element has gone from accounting for £20,763 of the cost of a new-build house in 2010 to £74,481 per house in 2021. That’s more than a tripling of profit margins.            

Despite this, the development industry maintains the problem is simply that not enough homes are being given planning permission. The argument goes that if they were given more permissions to build more houses, then of course more affordable houses would be delivered and market housing would become more affordable.

While the above record in Canterbury suggests otherwise, this argument is flawed for other reasons.

For starters, it can be argued that there is already sufficient planning permission or land available to build on. In Canterbury, there is either an existing planning permission or an identified Local Plan land allocation for 12,334 new homes. Specifically with respect to affordable housing, as of March 2021, there were 1,757 social/affordable rental units with permission in the pipeline. This is more than double the number of affordable homes built in Canterbury over the last 10 years. Despite this, Canterbury has just failed the government’s Housing Delivery Test for not building enough houses, meaning the district is now subject to the presumption that planning permission will be given even if in conflict with the adopted Local Plan. As has been pointed out by CPRE Kent, this is absurd.

There is also the small matter that housebuilders are quite simply not going to build at a level that over-supplies a local housing market, forcing them to reduce prices and lower profits.

The absorption concept was most recently highlighted by Sir Oliver Letwin in his government-commissioned independent review of buildouts. Here he found the “fundamental driver of buildout rates once detailed planning permission is granted for large sites appears to be the ‘absorption rate’ – the rate at which newly-constructed homes can be sold into (or are believed by the housebuilder to be able to be sold successfully into) the local market without materially disturbing the market price”. Alongside this, there are practical constraints such as the current labour and materials shortages.

However, and perhaps most significantly, it is housing market demandrather than need that drives affordability. Currently this demand is being fed as much by monetary policy and financial markets as by physical shortages. Low interest rates and readily available mortgage credit, coupled with state assistance policies such as Help to Buy equity loans, are arguably allowing those already in the position to buy a house to offer ever more. They are often bidding against others in a similar position, pushing the market prices up in the process. Meanwhile, those not already in a position to buy get left even further behind.

So why does this matter?

At the superficial level, CPRE Kent and other similar organisations are often accused of denying local communities much-needed housing when we object to yet more greenfield land being lost to market housing. Taking the Canterbury example, however, the council itself is accepting the new-build market housing dominating the supply is simply not affordable to most existing residents in the district. For those existing residents, they are losing greenfield land important to them to satisfy a wider market demand rather than for their direct benefit.

At the far more important level, though, this matters because the government’s current standard method for calculating how many houses a district needs is linked directly to housing affordability within that district. That is, the bigger the gap between new-build house prices and median earnings in a district, the higher the housing number for that district is. And the government rationale for this is that by building more houses, the cost of housing will come down…

This problem is increasingly urgent. The government affordability data are released on an annual basis, with the 2022 data due on March 23, just before we went to print. On release of these data, housing targets for each council can change overnight. With it reasonable to assume that the gap between house prices and earnings is likely to have widened over the last year for much of Kent, the consequences for the county could be dire.   

The need to revisit the standard methodology for calculating housing is urgent. The need to rethink how we deliver truly affordable housing in a way that doesn’t sacrifice greenfield land to bolster developer profits is arguably even more urgent.  

‘Affordable housing’ schemes

The formal planning definition of affordable housing is set out in Annex 2 of National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and, at almost 500 words long, is rather complicated and hard to understand.

The below non-exhaustive list, however, sets out the most popular schemes that currently fall within this formal planning definition of affordable housing:

Type or tenureDescription
Social rent  These properties are provided by local authorities and some registered providers. The rent for these properties will be set at a level dictated by the national rent regime. Social rented properties are the most affordable and what people usually understand as being meant by ‘council housing’.  
Affordable rent  These properties are provided by local authorities and registered providers and are subject to a control that in theory requires the level to be no more than 80% of local market rent. In practice and, as demonstrated in Canterbury, this is not always the case.  
Shared ownership  Previously known as ‘part buy, part rent’, households buy a share of the property and the remaining share is rented. In time, future shares can be purchased and the property could be bought outright/subsequently sold at market rates (though some restrictions might apply in very limited circumstances).  
Shared equity  The applicant purchases a share in the property and no rent is paid on the remaining share, but the purchaser is able to buy further shares in the property until it is owned outright. The house can subsequently be sold at market rates.  
Help to Buy equity loan  The government provides households with an interest-free loan of 10% or 20% of the cost of a new home for a period of five years; purchasers require a mortgage and at least a 5% deposit. The house can subsequently be sold at market rates  
First HomesFirst Homes is a new scheme designed to help local first-time buyers and key workers on to the property ladder by offering homes at a discount of 30% compared with the market price. It is intended that the discounts will apply to the homes forever.  
Build to Rent and Rent to Buy  These properties are usually built as blocks of flats. The property is rented for a set period during which time the tenant saves enough for a deposit to purchase the property at the end of the rental term.  

References

[1] www.kentonline.co.uk/kent/news/32-per-inch-who-are-pricey-kent-new-builds-for-261858/

[2] UK House Price Index – HM Land Registry Open Data

[3] Canterbury City Council Housing Needs Assessment 2021 –https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1BCdWC6ME7X_b6szgA1E5knDlsta1ooTY

[4] again taken from the September 2021 Canterbury Housing Needs Assessment

[5] See – https://lichfields.uk/media/6509/fine-margins_viability-assessments-in-planning-and-plan-making.pdf

[6] Canterbury Authority Monitoring Report 2020-2021

[7] Sir Oliver Letwin’s final report – www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-review-of-build-out-final-report

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Petition: change the housing methodology that’s costing us greenfield land

The government is using out-of-date growth projections as it pushes through its assessment of housing need

There can’t be many of us who are unaware of the government’s ‘standard methodology’ that is artificially inflating the numbers of houses to be built on greenfield sites.
Many local authorities are being forced to remove protection from large areas of countryside when in truth there is no need.
In response, a petition has been set up calling for the methodology to be changed. Entitled ‘Change the Standard Method for calculating local housing need’, campaigners state:
“We call on the Government to change the standard method for calculating local housing need. The current method uses growth projections from 2014, which we believe is out of date and more recent data should be used to calculate the baseline amount of housing needed.”

  • If you would like to sign the petition, click here   

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Is Maidstone’s Local Plan really ready for submission?

Will an emphasis on haste ultimately prove to be counterproductive for the borough’s countryside?

On Monday night (March 21), Maidstone councillors will be asked to agree to proceed with a Plan for another 17,746 houses in the borough, 82 per cent of which are to be on greenfield sites.

Except they won’t be asked. They are being told they have no option but to.

CPRE Kent considers this to wrong. This is not just because we think the Plan is fundamentally flawed (which we do) but because councillors also clearly have the option to halt or pause the process if basic legal requirements are not being met – and it seems that the speed at which the Maidstone Local Plan is being put together is leading to such flaws.

For example, we have had to point out to Maidstone Borough Council this week that it forgot to include or analyse certain representations we made on the previous formal consultation. This is a basic requirement of the Local Plan regulations. Maidstone council has now acknowledged the error and confirmed that it is to send an urgent update to the committee members ahead of Monday’s meeting.

The point is, if it missed our representations, what other representations have been missed?  

In a similar vein, we and others have been raising significant concerns that the council is not meeting the legal Duty to Cooperate requirements. It is failure to meet this requirement that has seen the demise of both the Tonbridge and Malling and Sevenoaks Local Plans in recent years.

Only yesterday (March 17) the Tunbridge Wells Local Plan examination was paused owing to Duty to Cooperate concerns, which include the engagement between Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Maidstone council [1]. In pausing the examination, the Tunbridge Wells Inspector has remined the council that Duty to Cooperate issues must be resolved before a Local Plan is submitted as he does not have the power to rectify after it has been submitted.  

Given outstanding Duty to Cooperate issues facing Maidstone, particularly with respect to Medway Council’s objection to the Lidsing Garden Settlement, it is difficult to see how councillors can come to the view the Local Plan is ready to be submitted.

For these reasons, we would call for Maidstone councillors to think hard as to whether to agree with the plan.

No doubt they will be warned that if they don’t just nod the preferred option through, they will be punished with having to meet even higher housing numbers. This simplistic argument fails to mention the likely refinement of the numbers throughout the Local Plan process, regardless of what week it is submitted.

It fails to recognise the clear indication from government that the standard method for calculating housing need is shortly to be revised to factor in local constraints and alignment with the levelling-up agenda[2]. It does not mention the growing number of councils, particularly in the South East, that are choosing to pause their Local Plans in anticipation of these changes[3]. 

We tried to warn Swale Borough Council of similar concerns with its Regulation 19 version of the Local Plan April last year. It chose to ignore us, only to backtrack when challenged by a third party in court, putting the Local Plan process back by at least a year in doing so.   


[1] https://tunbridgewells.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/413090/ID-06-Request-for-Further-Hearing-170322-v2.pdf

[2] www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1750034/expect-levelling-bill-policy-changes-spring

[3] www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1748725/councils-abandoned-paused-delayed-local-plans-last-six-months

So Gladman wins again… Shottendane decision shows how government policy backs developer profits and betrays the people waiting for affordable housing

CPRE Kent was disappointed, though not surprised, to see Gladman Developments given permission by appeal for 450 houses at Shottendane Road, near Margate. This was despite the scheme only offering half the required affordable housing.
For us, it is yet another sorry example of greenfield land being sacrificed to deliver developer profits rather than much-needed affordable housing. As we highlighted only this month, this thinking needs to change urgently.
Thanet, like Canterbury, has a significant need to provide affordable housing. In fact, the local authority has recently identified there needs to be 548 affordable homes built a year to rent [1].
However, last year, just 69 affordable houses were built in Thanet [2]. Amazingly, this seemingly low number was in fact the highest amount by some margin achieved over the last five years – though still some way from the 548 needed. 
Again like Canterbury, part of the reason so many affordable houses are needed is because market house prices have increased so significantly in recent years. For Thanet, it is by some 174 per cent since 2002. This is now at a point where only 27 per cent of current renters in Thanet have sufficient income to buy the cheapest quarter of open-market houses [3].
So why, with such a pressing affordable housing need, did the planning inspector agree with Gladman that only half the council’s requirement of 30 per cent affordable houses should be built?
Because if the inspector agreed any more than this, the development would not be deemed ‘viable’.
The viability appraisals submitted with the appeal supported this position and have now been subjected to robust scrutiny. They have been found to be technically correct and fully in line with Government policy.

Which makes it even more depressing when we consider they show [4]:

•          Gladman expects to sell 382 open-market homes for an average of £305,824.17.  The median salary in Thanet is £24,444 per annum. That means each of these 382 homes will be 12.5 times the average Thanet salary.

•          It has allowed just over £4.7 million to buy the land. This assumes that, while the existing farmland is worth £25,000 per hectare, it would need to offer at least 10 times this amount to entice the landowner to sell.

•          The inspector agreed that the developer’s profit should be ringfenced at 17.5 per cent. This was appraised to equate to just over £21 million profit.

… which is probably why Barratt Developments (with pre-tax profits of £432.6m for the six months to December 31, 2021) has just brought Gladman Developments for £250 million.

Not bad work if you can get it.
Just don’t tell that to the people waiting for affordable housing.

References

[1] Local Housing Needs Assessment August 2021 – Thanet Council (GL Hearn) – https://thanetcouncilplan.inconsult.uk/gf2.ti/-/1334370/119547045.1/PDF/-/Housing%20Needs%20Update%20Report.pdf

[2] Thanet Authority Monitoring Report – https://www.thanet.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/AMR-2021-Final-2.pdf

[3] again from Local Housing Needs Assessment August 2021

[4] all figures taken from Expert Report In respect of Financial Viability and Affordable Housing by Edmund Couldrey BA (Hons) MSc MRICS submitting in support of Gladmans Appeal

  • You can read the appeal decision here
  • For more on the saga of Shottendane, click here

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

And now for the good news: two appeal decisions confirm status of protected countryside

The ‘presumption’ penalty does not apply in the Kent Downs AONB (pic Dimitry, flickr)

While the recent Housing Delivery Test results might have brought despair to CPRE Kent, this week brings far better news for those who care about the county’s countryside, with two extremely significant appeal decisions being handed down.
On Monday (January 31) the Planning Inspectorate dismissed an appeal for 800 homes in the Green Belt at Broke Hill, north of Sevenoaks. Then on Wednesday we had an appeal for 374 homes, a care home and relief road dismissed for a site within the AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) at Hawkhurst Golf Club.
Common to both appeals was confirmation that, where planning policies protect areas of particular importance and provide a clear reason for refusing the development, the so-called ‘tilted balance’ presumption in favour of granting planning permission does not apply.
For Broke Hill, the policies of particular importance related to protection of the Green Belt. For Hawkhurst, it was protection of the High Weald AONB that was important. For both relevant councils – Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells  – the presumption in favour of granting planning permission is otherwise engaged (as reported last week).
This is to be welcomed as there has been erosion of this protection over recent years, with inspectors increasingly finding the need for housing more important than Green Belt or AONB protection.  
These appeals, however, reaffirm that within Kent’s Green Belt and AONBs the ‘presumption’ penalty does not apply while also providing precedent that the need to provide housing does not automatically override this protection.
This is good news.  
There is always a flip side, though. And that is the continued pursuit of housing numbers over all else only increases pressure on those areas of countryside without Green Belt and AONB protection. Here it can be expected that the ‘presumption’ penalty will be imposed with even more vigour.
That is why CPRE Kent will continue to support calls for the presumption penalty to be scraped and a refocus on housing quality over quantity.
Nigel Britten, CPRE Kent’s Sevenoaks chair, made representations and spoke at the Broke Hill appeal, while the Tunbridge Wells committee made written representations to the Hawkhurst appeal.

  • The Broke Hill appeal decision can be viewed here 
  • The Hawkhurst Golf Club appeal decision can be viewed here

Friday, February 4, 2022

Enough is enough! Scrap the Housing Delivery Test and stop rewarding developers’ failure to build homes already approved

There are already enough houses with planning permission or allocated within an adopted Local Plan for “another Maidstone” to be built in Kent in the next five years

Richard Thompson, CPRE Kent planner, lays out how disastrous governmental planning policy is desperate news for Kent

The publication of the 2021 Housing Delivery Test results, combined with existing lack of five-year housing supplies, now puts Kent in the frankly ridiculous position where 11 out of its 13 councils are being punished for developers’ failure to build homes already approved.
The Housing Delivery Test is a backwards-looking assessment that compares how many houses having been built in a council’s area over the last three years against the government-set housing number for that area. The result is given as a percentage of homes built against this target, with increasingly severe punishments the lower this percentage is.
The National Planning Policy Framework five-year supply test is a forward-looking assessment of whether enough houses have been granted planning permission, or are allocated within a Local Plan, to ensure this same government-set housing requirement is likely to be built.
The point is, both tests see the imposition of a housing target on a council and then punishes it for not meeting this target. However, the reasons the targets are missed are largely factors completely outside of their control. That is, it can grant as many planning permissions and allocate as much land as it can, but unless it starts physically building the houses itself, it is at the mercy of market forces.
Private housebuilders will, however, only ever build at a rate that the local housing market can absorb. They are not going to build at a level that over-supplies a local housing market as this would force them to reduce prices and lower profits. They are also currently subject to practical constraints such as labour and material shortages.
As of March 31, 2020, (from when the most up-to-date Kent-wide numbers available) some 64,611 new houses either had planning permission or were allocated within an adopted Local Plan and were expected to be built within the next five years. For context, that’s already enough houses for another Maidstone planned for Kent over the next five years.
Yet this is not deemed enough.  
Because of either the Housing Delivery Test or the five-year supply test, nine of Kent’s councils are subject to the most severe of punishments: an automatic presumption that speculative planning applications will be granted, even if they are contrary to democratically adopted Local Plans. 
Of the remaining four councils, two must produce action plans setting out how they are to increase housebuilding in their areas. The full 2021 Housing Delivery Test results, along with the last published five-year supply figures, are shown below:

Area NameHousing Delivery Test: 2021 measurementCurrent five-year supply (years)Consequence
Ashford118%4.54Presumption
Canterbury65%5.13Presumption
Dartford105%5.63None
Dover88%5.56Action plan
Folkestone and Hythe85%5Action plan
Gravesham57%3.27Presumption
Maidstone170%5.6None
Medway67%1.78 – 3.03Presumption
Sevenoaks62%2.89Presumption
Swale78%4.6Presumption
Thanet78%4.23Presumption
Tonbridge and Malling63%2.89Presumption
Tunbridge Wells97%4.83Presumption

The real-world consequences for Kent of this absurd policy are stark. Councils across Kent are rushing through ever-increasingly unsustainable Local Plans in a fruitless endeavour to beat the presumption punishment. In Kent, this often entails allocating ever-increasing housing numbers on greenfield land, which is more profitable and hence more likely to developed quicker, making them more attractive to councils needing to boost housing delivery in the short term to meet the five-year supply test.
In the meantime, speculative applications are being allowed either by councils or at appeal (because of the current presumption punishment), causing anger and disenfranchisement among local communities.
And it is not just us saying this. In calling for the Housing Delivery Test to be suspended, Canterbury City Council chief executive Colin Carmichael has stated “it cannot be right to punish councils that are working hard to do what the government asks even when most of the levers councils need to pull are out of their control”.
We agree. Only it’s not just the councils that are being punished, it’s the people of Kent who have lost a democratic voice to oppose speculative development. It is Kent’s special countryside that is being sacrificed to this developer’s charter. 
And the government wonders why the people of Kent are so angry with the current planning system.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Maidstone Local Plan consultation: last chance to make your thoughts known

Maidstone Borough Council aims to build more than 80 per cent of its housing allocation on greenfield sites

Residents have until midnight Sunday (December 12) to comment on Maidstone’s plan for 17,746 houses in the borough, 82 per cent of which are to be on greenfield sites.
CPRE Kent is dismayed Maidstone Borough Council is persisting with a spatial strategy prioritising allocation of greenfield sites ahead of brownfield sites.
This includes 5,000 houses in Lenham Heath and 2,000 houses at Lidsing on greenfield sites under the guise of ‘garden settlements’.
The council openly accepts the strategy is based on a clear political desire for garden settlements, which seems to be being put above all other considerations.
This is despite its own consultants telling it that this is the least sustainable option and will have a significant negative effect with respect to climate change.
We think this is wrong and have made this known in our response.
The consultation ends on Sunday, December 12, at 23.59 and we would strongly urge residents to make their opinions known if they have not already done so.

•          CPRE Kent’s detailed comments on the Local Plan can be found here

•          The council’s consultation document can be found here

Friday, December 10, 2021

The absurdity of Lenham Heath ‘garden town’

Among the many protesters were the Chapman family from Egerton, who made their views very clear

Henny Shotter, chairman of Maidstone CPRE, reports on a protest against deeply unpopular plans for so-called garden town

People flocked in their droves to Lenham Community Centre to object against plans for a ‘garden town’ of at least 4,000 homes.
The garden town is essentially an urban extension to Lenham. The historic village, with its medieval market square, is two miles away and Lenham Heath, in Lenham parish, is designated to form part of this absurd idea.
‘Absurd?’ you might ask.
It is absurd that the place that scored worst in Maidstone Borough Council’s sustainability analysis has been chosen as a development hot-spot. It sits right on the border with Ashford district and will impact badly on the network of narrow lanes, services and infrastructure, not only in Lenham but also in villages like Egerton, Charing, Pluckley and the Kent Downs AONB.
A sustainability cop-out!

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Coming your way: more development but not more doctors or school and nursery places

‘The new developer asked MBC whether it would require a new planning application. Amazingly, it was told it did not.’

CPRE Kent is dismayed to learn of a decision by Maidstone Borough Council officers, outside the scrutiny of elected councillors, that results in a loss of £469,000 necessary infrastructure funding promised to a local community. 
The story began when MBC approved the building of 53 houses on the non-allocated greenfield site of Loder Close, Lenham, back in 2019. Concerns were raised at the time by the county council and residents that this development would place unfunded pressures on local infrastructure.
These concerns were dismissed, with elected councillors being promised within the cabinet report that the development “will provide reasonable and appropriate contribution to other infrastructure by CIL payments”.
Except it turns out this advice was wrong.
Fast-forward to March 2021 and, after a change of developer, the plan had now changed, with more affordable housing being provided. The new developer asked MBC whether it would require a new planning application. Amazingly, it was told it did not.
This is amazing is because it exempts the developer from making any infrastructure payments. This includes £159,00 the county council said was required for additional primary-school places and £197,000 it has identified as necessary for new secondary-school places, as well as contributions towards community learning, youth services, the library and social services. This included up to £50,000 that would have otherwise come to the local parish to spend on a much-needed and now-delayed pre-school.
While CPRE Kent clearly supports the need for genuine affordable housing, we ask ‘Won’t those future occupiers also require doctors, school places and other community facilities?’.
With the rights and the wrongs of this decision remaining open to debate, CPRE Kent is heartened to see Lenham Parish Council continuing to challenge MBC on this. There is, however, a much wider picture to be addressed.  
That is development being forced on communities without the necessary community infrastructure being secured or provided. That is plans being changed that clearly impact on communities, though without further democratic input being sought from that community. That is the fact that current rules allow for any type of residential development being approved without having to make a fair contribution towards already overstretched community facilities.
Overall, Loder Close represents a clear example of why communities do not trust developers or councils when they promise future infrastructure impacts will be “mitigated”.      

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Canterbury: the council cornering itself into a position where 20th-century solutions are being applied to 21st-century issues

Much of the still-beautiful environment of Canterbury and its countryside will be lost if the city council follows its ‘preferred option’

The deadline for comments on Canterbury City Council’s public consultation on its preferred option for its new Local Plan closes at 9am on Monday, August 9. The deadline has been extended by a week in response to glitches with the council’s online consultation portal.
CPRE Kent has submitted comments on behalf of its members objecting to the council’s preferred option of building 14,000-17,000 homes – which is 8,000 more than required under the government’s standard methodology for calculating housing numbers, for the period to 2040.
We have advised the council that a careful balance needs to be struck between taking economic advantage of Canterbury’s heritage and undermining it with too much and with inappropriately sited development.
Unfortunately, like many of the residents in the Canterbury area, we have had difficulty interpreting the full implications of the council’s development proposals.
The written summary details for the preferred option makes no reference to the provision of the proposed two new roads/bypasses – to the north-west and south-east of the city – referring obliquely to “upgrade of the A28 to allow traffic to bypass the city centre” instead.
CPRE Kent has questioned whether addressing congestion and pollution on the ring road by building a pair of bypasses will be effective – bearing in mind that it would appear that a high proportion of this traffic is generated by local people travelling into Canterbury for work, leisure, shopping and education.
Building up to 8,000 more dwellings than required to fund a roadbuilding programme to bypass the city centre will, CPRE Kent believes, place undue burden on local communities, the countryside setting of Canterbury, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and surrounding Areas of High Landscape Value.
We have pointed out to the council that development to this degree would have an adverse impact on dark skies, tranquillity and best and most versatile agricultural land – which has a vital role to play in absorbing carbon and preserving biodiversity, including the biodiversity in soils. Once it is built over, soil biodiversity is lost. 
Sadly, the council seems to have cornered itself into a position whereby 20th-century solutions are being applied to 21st-century issues.

  • To learn more and contribute to Canterbury City Council’s consultation on the Local Plan, click here
  • To read more about development pressure and planning in Canterbury, click here

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The revised NPPF is out! Not bedtime reading maybe, but it’s going to play a big part in planning policy

This year’s NPPF consultation focused largely on design codes and ‘building beautiful’

A revised version of the National Planning Policy Framework has been published this month (July) – see here.
The new incarnation follows this year’s consultation, which focused primarily on incorporating design codes and building-beautiful recommendations.
The full government consultation response can be found here, while the original comments made by CPRE to the consultation are here
The changes are largely incremental and as anticipated though are to be formally applied from the date of publication (Tuesday, July 20) for both Local Plans not yet at examination and planning decisions.
For immediate practical purposes, all paragraph numbers from paragraph 53 onwards have now changed – here is a tracked version illustrating the differences between the February 2019 version of the NPPF and this latest edition.

  • For more on the NPPF, see here

Thursday, July 29, 2021

‘We have a Planning Bill that looks set to take us back to a deregulated dark age of development’

Tom Fyans: ‘The government must urgently rethink the Planning Bill’

The Planning Bill highlighted in last week’s Queen’s Speech (Tuesday, May 11) has been blasted by CPRE, the countryside charity.
Tom Fyans, CPRE campaigns and policy director, said: “The Planning Bill looks set to prioritise developers’ needs over local communities, provide no new environmental safeguards and could slow the delivery of genuinely affordable homes in many areas. All in all, it risks creating a free-for-all for development.
“We know from painful experience that without the right checks and balances in the planning process, developments can lead to a huge and unnecessary loss of countryside while doing nothing to tackle the affordable housing crisis or level up.
“That’s why we urgently need more joined-up thinking from the government if we are to address the nature and climate emergencies. On the one hand, we’ve got the Environment Bill being touted as world-beating legislation to leave nature in a better state than we found it over the next 25 years. On the other hand, we have a Planning Bill that looks set to take us back to a deregulated dark age of development.
“The government must urgently rethink the Planning Bill. If not, we’re facing an open season for developers on large parts of the countryside, and a fatal weakening of local communities’ right to be heard on the future of their area.”

Monday, May 17, 2021

Council writes to Secretary of State asking for intervention in Local Plan dispute

The local authority fears a reassessment could mean substantially higher housing targets 

Tonbridge and Malling’s draft Local Plan is struggling after inspectors suspended public examination due to concerns the borough council had failed in its ‘duty to co-operate’ with neighbouring Sevenoaks District Council.
In response, Tonbridge and Malling has written to the Secretary of State asking him to intervene and instruct the inspectors to continue their examination.
Its draft Plan, which proposes at least new 6,834 homes until 2031, has fallen foul of planning inspectors who claim Tonbridge and Malling has failed to work sufficiently closely with Sevenoaks and consider whether it could have taken any of Sevenoaks’s ‘unmet’ housing demand. 
The Planning Inspectorate told Tonbridge and Malling to withdraw its Plan or it would recommend the Government reject it. The council fears a reassessment could mean substantially higher housing targets. 
The council asked the Planning Inspectorate to issue its final report on its examination of the Plan before asking Robert Jenrick to intervene to review the inspectors’ decision.

Monday, May 10, 2021

As Swale Local Plan is pushed forward with unseemly haste, it is critical you make your views known

When Swale Borough Council confirmed it was to skip consultation on its Local Plan and go straight to a final version, CPRE Kent raised serious doubts about the legality and soundness of the Plan.
As we near the end of the one and only opportunity to comment on the council’s final version of the Plan, it remains that:

  • A number of important documents, for example a rigorous transport plan and a finalised air-quality assessment have yet to emerge. The latter is critical given that allocations at Teynham will feed extra traffic into AQMAs.
  • There seems to be no coherent plan for infrastructure delivery – a key component of the plan given the allocations being proposed near the already crowded junction 7.
  • There seems to have been little or no cooperation with neighbouring boroughs or even parish councils within Swale itself.

The removal of a second consultation might have been understandable if this final version of the Plan were similar to that being talked about at the beginning of the consultation process. It is, however, radically in the following ways:

  • There has been a major shift in the balance of housing allocations, away from the west of the borough over to the east, especially around the historic town of Faversham. This is a move that raises many concerns.
  • A new large allocation, with accompanying A2 bypass, has appeared around Teynham and Lynsted, to which we are objecting
  • Housing allocations in the AONB around Neames Forstal that were judged “unsuitable” by the council’s own officers have now appeared as part of the housing numbers
  • Most of the housing allocations being proposed are on greenfield sites, many of them on Grade 1 agricultural land – a point to which we are strongly objecting

The haste with which the Plan is being prepared is especially worrying given the concentration of housing in Faversham. If the town is to take a large amount of new housing, it is imperative that the policies concerning the area are carefully worked out to preserve, as far as possible, the unique nature of the town. The rush to submit the Plan is likely to prove detrimental.
As Swale does not have a five-year land housing supply, it is open to speculative development proposals, many of which would run counter to the ideas contained in the current Plan. Some are already appearing. This is a common situation, and one that, doubtless, is a reason behind Swale’s haste.
Our overriding fear, however, is that this emphasis on haste is ultimately going to prove counterproductive. This is because it is our view that the Plan, in its current form, is unlikely to pass independent examination. We are urging Swale to listen to and act upon the comments being made about the plan and to return the plan to the council with appropriate modifications before submitting it to the Secretary of State.
Essentially, this means treating the current consultation not as the final one but as the ‘lost’ second consultation.
The consultation ends on Friday (April 30) and we would strongly urge residents to make their opinions known if they have not already done so. 

  • For more on the Swale Local Plan, see here
  • CPRE Kent’s detailed comments on the Plan can be found here
  • The council’s consultation document can be found here

Monday, April 26, 2021