It was great to see so many people at the village update at the Iden Green Pavilion on 29 September. For all the groups involved in the Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) it was encouraging that so many people attended and wanted to know about the work that had been done since the last consultation in April. For the Housing Supply Group this was an opportunity to show the parish not only the research, negotiation with TWBC on numbers – now reduced from 218 to 101 – and documentation required in the NDP but also the sifting process they have been undertaking, objectively assessing all the sites and coming up with a longlist and, more recently, a shortlist.
The process is not over yet; half a dozen late sites have been submitted in the last few weeks, and more may come in before the process comes to a close. The Housing Supply Group has to assess these and add them to the information sheets, known as SHELAAs, on the original 17 submissions. In assessing the sites the Housing Supply Group has, among other things, had to consider the government’s new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which emphasizes that new housing must be sustainable and economically viable. In addition the protection afforded to the AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and conservation areas (Benenden and Iden Green) has to be taken into account. In the last few weeks we have been incorporating important environmental information and impact assessments into our SHELAAs. Given that almost the whole parish is in the AONB, with a number of important Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) scattered across it, it is perhaps a question of choosing the least worst option. Maintaining the rural nature of the parish and its preservation was the strongest feeling that people expressed to us, making it our number one objective.
So how do you square that with a developer building a substantial group of houses somewhere in the parish? If we limit the number of sites, that will lessen the impact on the AONB by restricting development to those sites but the number of houses on each will be greater. The Housing Supply Group has been looking at a number of alternative dispersed or semi-dispersed options, weighing up which would make the least impact on the AONB while at the same time being economically viable and producing the types of housing that the parish has said it wants: affordable housing, retirement homes, family houses and somewhere you can work and live.
The NDP also allows us to write site-specific policies which can strongly influence how buildings are arranged and what they are builtin, at what density, how they might be screened and how to minimise their impact. The design and aesthetic characteristics of housing in each part of the parish has been mapped by the Housing Design Group with the intention that this data can be used to help shape development. Site-specific policies are what we are working on drafting now.
Some people wanted to know why we had to have any development at all and why we were kowtowing to TWBC. We’re not! But we do realise that the Government is pressuring the Borough to build a large number of houses, and if they don’t have threatened to take over and force development themselves, giving us no say at all in where or what we get. Other people were keen to know why it was not possible to have the scattered development that most of us were keen on at the start of this process and a number of reasons are set out in Paul Tolhurst’s article.
TWBC has indicated a preference for sites which are close to amenities, such as the primary school, the pub and the village shop, or previously developed land, as this accords with the Government’s NPPF. There are good reasons to endorse TWBCs suggestions, firstly because these are likely to be sites that scored highly on our own independent scoring system but, perhaps more importantly, because if our NDP is in agreement with TWBC’s Local Plan then we have some protection against random speculative development. In fact, they have undertaken to protect us against speculative applications up to and including appeal.
We got the impression at the village update that the parish would support Site 277 (Feoffee), despite the fact that it is in the AONB and adjacent to the conservation area, specifically because it is a scheme which delivers the types of housing that the parish has stated that it wants. It is affordable housing, is locally led and cannot be sold off. Two thirds of the dwellings will be affordable housing, run and managed by the Almshouse Trust; it will be available to all age groups and can never be sold. The remaining one third will be ordinary market housing sold to enable the Trust to fund the remainder. Other smaller sites which provide a specific type of housing such as work/live units or retirement houses should perhaps also be considered for inclusion in order to provide the parish with the range of housing types it needs.
So the NDP is still very much a work in progress with much still to be looked at before the draft plan goes to the Parish Council for their consideration in December. New sites may still come on board and other sites amended or the boundaries changed. All of these will be subject to the same scrutiny as the existing submitted sites until the NDP is published next year. There will be two periods of examination of the draft plan during which anyone can make representations and the plan itself will be looked at by an independent examiner. Now is your chance to contribute constructively to the formulation of the NDP. If you would like to let us have your suggestions or opinions please email:
Housing Supply Working Group