Swale – why the rush?

Tonight (Wednesday, February 3), Swale councillors will be voting on where 22,814 houses are going to built in the borough. They also need to find 56 hectares of employment space, which includes 15 hectares of office space, and the infrastructure to support this. As part of the package, a new relief road for the section of the A2 through Teynham is in the frame.
With such a monumental decision to be made, you would rightly expect this to be the cumulation of an iterative process informed by robust community engagement.
Well, the only meaningful community engagement occurred back in the spring of 2018 and simply involved a high-level discussion on the issues and options facing Swale.
In any event, it appears these comments were ignored, with the chairman of the Local Plan Panel informing the panel on January 19, 2021:
“I think it is fair to say that when the new administration took over in 2019 the Local Plan team had to work to a radically different strategy. Meaning that much of the work they had done for the previous year didn’t really contribute much to this, to the direction that the new administration went.”
More significantly, a promised further consultation to include the council’s preferred sites to inform the final version of the Plan to be submitted has conveniently been sidestepped. Instead, Swale residents are to be presented with this final version as a fait accompli. It is being left to the Planning Inspectorate to make any changes.
As it is, Swale councillors have been given less than a week to familiarise themselves with this Plan, along with 12 separate reports totalling some 1,193 pages. No mean feat, though arguably impossible when you realise much of the evidence to back up the “radically different strategy” (as the Local Plan Panel’s chairman called it) is incomplete or still a work in progress.
This incomplete work includes concept diagrams yet to be provided and, crucially, vital transport modelling that is not anticipated until “Spring 2021”.
This urgency was blamed on a proposed increase in the numbers of houses the government might require Swale to build. This increase is now not happening. There are, however, likely to be changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, currently out to consultation, that this Plan is likely to need to take account of.
Swale councillors are reminded that the Local Plan must be prepared in accordance with the council’s latest Local Development Scheme and that consultation must be carried out in accordance with the council’s Statement of Community Involvement.
It is CPRE Kent’s view that the 2018 versions of these documents created a legitimate expectation that there would be a Regulation 18 Draft Preferred Option Public consultation stage on which to comment – not least as this is what the council said would happen.
To be voting to approve a Plan without this additional consultation is at best foolhardy.
To be voting on a Plan without this additional consultation and that is not yet finished is positively irrational.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

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