Debating our approach to development

In November’s magazine month Paul Tolhurst, Chair of the Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) Steering Committee outlined our current thinking and asked for alternative suggestions and constructive solutions. In the November edition Kent Barker (who has a site under consideration by the NDP) asked him to comment on a couple.

KB Paul, I know you’ve worked incredibly hard on the Plan, but I was rather alarmed to hear you say “we are considering a few medium sized sites containing 20-50 dwellings.” I don’t believe this is what the village said it wanted in the Parish Plan nor what people told me they want in the five years I was on the Parish Council.  If we are likely to have to accept more than 100 homes as decreed by TWBC, I believe there remains a clear wish for them to be scattered around the 30 or so ‘dens’ of Benenden on small sites, each with probably no more than half a dozen units.  I realise this could look like special pleading from someone who could possibly gain financially from the adoption of small sites – but please believe me my motivation is only for the future of the village.

PT I fully understand your point of view.  When I became involved in the NDP a spread of small developments around the Parish seemed the best approach to me.  However, the latest National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) tries to ensure deliverability.  This means allocated sites must be available, commercially viable and sustainable – where sustainable means close to existing settlements.  I should also point out small groups of five to six houses will not provide affordable housing, just executive homes.  Our Parish Plan 2015 actually says “Further development in the countryside away from the main settlements should be avoided …”  It also says “The LBD should be maintained but should include some key sites within the village envelope”. (LBD: Limit of Built Development)

KB Yes, a few sites within the village envelope with a couple of houses on each would be fine.  But don’t forget that with East End and Iden Green we actually have three ‘envelopes’.  Plus there are already substantial developments at Dingleden and Goddards Green. And there are places like Eaglesden where I’ve offered some land for three or four affordable live-work homes.  My point is that we don’t need, or in my view want, estates of ticky-tacky box houses built by developers.  It was clearly commercially viable for English Rural Housing to build the six affordable homes at Vyvyan Cottages in Iden Green a couple of years back.  If offered sites, how many other Housing Associations might step up to the plate?

PT I wouldn’t describe Goddards Green or Dingleden as substantial developments.  NDPs are obliged to create a plan that will deliver sustainable housing of all types to meet a range of needs.  That means our plan must be commercially viable.  The exception site at Vyvyan Cottages was made possible because the land was offered at a massively discounted price.  In the view of the NDP Steering Group, the way to deliver a range of housing types including affordable units is not to hope that landowners will donate land for almost nothing, but to offer mixed developments of 12 or more where 30- 35% of homes will be affordable and where the developer is obliged to provide financial support for infrastructure.

KB With respect I don’t think the Vyvyan Cottages site was ‘massively’ discounted by the Harmsworth Memorial Trust – and similar land might anyway be available elsewhere for Housing Associations like English Rural.  Have we approached any to ask? But the point really is that people I have spoken to feel that the NDP is in danger of putting the cart before the horse.  I thought the Plan was all about localism ie US saying what WE wanted as a village and then the planners had to take cognisance of it.  There seems a danger that you are doing the planners job for them and offering specific sites and saying we accept TWBC guidelines and we’ll agree to large developer-led estates.  I think we should stand up and say NO – we don’t want that type of development for Benenden.  There are other ways of fulfilling our responsibilities and we MUST fight for them.  Otherwise I fear there’s a real danger of having the Neighbourhood Development Plan that you worked so hard on – rejected by the village.  And that would leave us truly exposed.

PT The Localism Act gives NDPs and Parish Councils significant influence, but it does not give power to make demands which run counter to National or Borough Policy.  You advocate that we fight the planners, I believe it’s better to influence them, gaining their support for our Plan.  We are also working on site-specific policies covering the types of housing, the design, and how best to ensure they fit within our rural environment.

The Parish Magazine invited feedback; and as ever we want to here more from you as our plan evolves.  You can email us with your thought on this, or any other aspect of the plan, at  or drop a letter (marked FAO Neighbourhood Plan) into the Community Office at the Village Hall.  Once we have concluded drafting the Plan, and it’s been shared with the Parish Council (February) we expect to hold a full Village Meeting.  That will be followed by three phases of formal consultation – an overview of the process can be found here.