Before the ink was even dry on the adopted Local Plan which had only been agreed days earlier in July the Council had already decided to pursue a line of enquiry, which includes the expansion of the Kent Science Park, Southern Relief Road and new motorway junction 5a that could have fundamentally implications for what has been agreed.
All this in spite of the fact that the government inspector had determined that it was inappropriate to include any of these elements within the plan and was blatantly aware of the shortcomings of the plan in terms of its ability to deliver the level of housing imposed on us with the infrastructure available. The Inspector was not convinced by any arguments put forward by the Council or Kent Science Park that the Southern Relief Road was the answer to our problems.
By September the Council via Kent County Council applied to central government for £3 million to fund technical work looking at the possibilities around the northern and southern relief roads, neither of which has any funding at present.
The bid suggests that a new route to the M2 east of Sittingbourne, which includes the completion of the Northern Relief Road and a new Southern Relief Road to a new Junction 5a with the M2, would open up major opportunities for significant new development and also support the expansion of Kent Science Park.
This inherently limits the scope of any potential future consultations on route options as there are not many possibilities that would allow a connection with both the Northern Relief Road and Kent Science Park.
By November it emerges that Council leader Andrew Bowles, along with fellow KCC/Swale Councillors John Wright and Mike Whiting had discussed plans for a new garden city development to finance the delivery of the strategic transport infrastructure supported by the Borough Council, namely the Southern Relief Road.
It is suggested that such an option would potentially meet significant identified housing and economic growth needs, but these are not needs identified within the plan, these are in addition to anything currently approved or consulted on.
It seems somewhat inconsistent to go on public record denouncing the government's attempts to further increase housing targets, having already bid for funding to enable a scheme that would deliver even more than what is being proposed by central government.
Deputy Council leader, Gerry Lewin slammed the proposals saying “The housing market is broken, we argued from the start, developers are failing to bring forward and build out the much-needed new homes quickly enough, so the current targets aren’t being met”
MP Gordon Henderson, somewhat controversially, appears to support the government stating “I accept that more homes are needed in Swale, particularly affordable homes and social housing, but have consistently argued that any new developments should be located at the Faversham end of the borough.”
Personally, I find it unpalatable that having already increased out housing targets, which has left our plan in a perilous state and unable to proceed beyond 2022 without a clear answers to our infrastructure problems, the council is now potentially considering a scheme which may involve building thousands more houses in order to deliver the housing targets we already have.
It is surely no coincidence that the Councils option for a new garden city development in South Sittingbourne appeared just weeks prior to a submission from Quinn Estates / Kent Science Park for an Environmental Impact Assessment for a remarkably similar scheme.