TWBC Full Cabinet met on 23rd February, to review the referendum results for Benenden’s Neighbourhood plan. Their job was to formally ‘make’ the plan. This means putting your plan on the same legal footing as all the planning rules and guidelines that TWBC must comply with and respect. This is a simple task for any Local Planning Authority: they are legally required to ‘make’ the plan within 8 weeks of the referendum date if a simple majority vote yes.
We had a fantastic turn-out, with 56% of those eligible to vote. The average turn-out for a Neighbourhood Plan is around 32%. We were delighted with the result, with over 80% voting YES. We more than achieved the simple majority required.
This Plan has taken over four years. It covers a wide range of issues; not just new housing. There are 36 policies giving protection to our dark skies, local green spaces, and wonderful views. They provide protection for Local Wildlife Sites, ancient woodland, historic sites, and require any development to look and feel in keeping with our parish. Local landowners put forward 23 sites for development, each of which we had to carefully assess. We chose four sites. Just one is a greenfield site inside the AONB, next to Benenden village. This will provide Almshouses: affordable rental homes for local people. One brownfield site is also next to Benenden village. Benenden village takes around half the new homes from our total of around 100. The other two brownfield sites are outside the AONB, securing the redevelopment of redundant Hospital buildings. These take the rest of the new homes.
Your interest, enthusiasm and energy have really helped. Many of you will have participated in the workshops, drop-in sessions, exhibitions, or come along to the full parish meeting when we launched our rough draft. You may have responded to the three consultations. The plan has been extensively scrutinised by TWBC planning and gone through the rigours of an Independent Examination. The Examiner found “the basis for the decisions taken to have been robust and based on sound planning principles, particularly concentrating development on brownfield sites”. And only then, you got to vote in the referendum. The process was time-consuming, rigorous, and very thorough.
The NDP team have always known that any proposal to build generates considerable emotion. It’s a natural reaction to any change. Those who live near to the four allocated sites may understandably feel concerned. Open communication and discussion will be the key, along with the reassurance that we have secured mitigation against the impact of development on all four sites, delivering cohesive, appropriate and attractive new homes in the parish. Now we need to work together to ensure the plan is deployed, and that those mitigations and protections work as effectively as possible to preserve the community and place we all love.
This is your Neighbourhood Plan. It is finally now legally ‘made’.