Cllr Andrew Bowles
Fellow conservative Cllr James Hunt certainly believes so, stating in an open letter on his thoughts about the garden communities’ proposals that “I am not at this stage able to rule out specific sites and if the council did there could be legal challenges.”
So presumably when Andrew Bowles Leader of Swale Borough Council, who was at the time of the comment still suspended from the Conservative party, caught on record as publicly backing the proposed Quinn Estates garden village development known as Highsted Park and ruling out the three alternative options, did he not therefore expose the council to said legal challenge?
The meeting was only supposed to decide on whether to continue examining the option of Garden Villages, which in the end was agreed despite the admission that the results of the public consultation had been completely ignored.
The final decision on whether or not to adopt this hugely unpopular strategy has unsurprisingly been delayed until a few weeks after the election.
It’s not an understatement to say that residents are furious and given that support for the concept is practically non-existent with 95% of residents in Swale who responded to the consultation saying they did not want the development to be located in Sittingbourne, Cllr Bowles is clearly not acting with residents’ interests in mind.
As the leader of Swale Borough Council it was entirely inappropriate to support any of the schemes at the juncture, let alone rule out all but one of them.
This is one of the single most important decisions any councillor will ever make, and Cllr Bowles is subverting the democratic process to allow a single developer an unprecedented level of control over the council and ultimately the delivery of the next Local Plan.
Cllr Bowles outburst has already influenced other tory councillors and prospective candidates to speak out.
Ironically within hours, Cllr James Hunt had also nailed his colours to the mast, suggesting that from what he has seen so far, the Quinn Estates scheme offers the greatest benefits for the residents of the Meads on the basis that it removes some traffic from the town centre. However, he also notes that is creates problems on the M2 to the west of Junction 5 and on the A2 to the east of Bapchild.
Cllr James Hunt
Interestingly Cllr Hunt then goes on to say “Whilst road improvements would still be needed would it cost less to upgrade a small section of the A249 from the M2 to deliver these developments than upgrade the length of the M2 to Faversham?” and that “the traffic modelling shows the best option as having a NRR and Southern Link”
Honestly, we aren’t too sure whether those references above are factually correct as the council is refusing to share the information presented to councillors until after the elections, because rather worryingly the evidence has not been checked at this point.
However, from what we do know of the Quinn Estates scheme, the M2 would need to be upgraded between the junctions 5 and 5A as a consequence of the significant additional volume of traffic that the Southern Relief Road would create.
I think many of the residents of the Meads who along with 95% of respondents who didn’t support development in Sittingbourne might be quite bemused by Cllr Hunts comments, because the one thing that is clear is that all roads out of Sittingbourne will be worse off as a result of this multi-million pound upgrade of the road network.
Lets take a moment to examine the history of the councils deeply flawed transport policy. First, we had the Northern Distributer Road which was designed to open up land for development. Some bright spark renamed it a relief road and magically all the problems were vanquished. Well guess what they were not and the impact on the A2 with critical air quality zones either side of its potential connection are pretty appalling to say the least.
So the council decided that a Southern Relief Road could make the Northern Relief Road function properly, but surprise, surprise if you add in 11,500 houses and masses of employment it totally screws up the M2, A2 and potentially even the Junction 5 upgrade too, which obviously has consequences for the A249 too.
The latest plan is yet another multi-million pound investment to widen a huge stretch of the M2, let me know if you are starting to see a pattern here. Yes, we’re now at the point of effectively requiring an M2 Relief Road and maybe an upgrade of the J5 upgrade while we’re at it.
Let me be clear here there is no funding what-so-ever for widening the M2, nor any prospect of gaining any funding for some considerable time to come.
I think now would be a good time to refrain from calling these roads whose only purpose is to service more and more development relief roads. It’s fundamentally disingenuous to suggest that they offer any relief at all.
Meanwhile new kids on the block in the form of the prospective Conservative candidates for Woodstock, Kane Blackwell and Lee Burgess have also being voicing support for aspects of the Quinn’s scheme.
Kane Blackwell has been critical of those who have voiced concern saying “Where will my generation or other young people who want to live in the town they grew up in live ?”
Well the answer to that isn’t likely to be Highsted Park which doesn’t even meet the council’s own criteria for affordable housing. In fact, whilst more than four times the size of competing schemes, it barely provides any more affordable housing. It is also has an unusually high mix of 4 and 5 bedroom properties, so in my humble opinion it is one of the worse housing developments in Swale in terms of making housing affordable or providing the type of housing that young people would be interested in.
Fellow candidate Lee Burgess says, “as far as I’m aware there is only a loose requirement for “affordable” homes but it’s a subjective term.”
Whilst I understand that the term affordable may be subjective, it is certainly not a loose requirement and I would refer him to the respective policies in the Local Plan where it quite clearly says that the Quinns scheme should be delivering 40% affordable and not the 10% proposed.
Lee Burgess has also stated that “I can’t comment too much on the highsted park idea as there is no actual planning application but connection the SNRR with the M2 is a sensible idea and large scale developments do provide more S106 money so are more logical.”
I think that is a totally flawed argument and takes a rather simplistic view of the process, and I would add that none of the schemes have a planning application in progress, but the decisions are being made now on the basis of undeliverable benefits that will fall by the wayside as the process continues.
The council have absolutely no interest in improving traffic their only remit is to enable the required level of development, nothing else matters.