Stones Farm, Bapchild
The council’s unofficial frontrunner for a new garden town, which has not yet even gained consent in principal has just grown even larger. The Quinn Estates, Highsted Park scheme has now been extended to cover the whole of Bapchild, massive tranches of Tonge and surprisingly even parts of East Hall Farm.
People will be shocked to find that environmentally sensitive areas of land around Tonge Mill, St. Thomas Becket's Spring that feeds it and the entirety of the new country park for the Stones Farm development in Bapchild are also included.
I would imagine that developers Hyde New Homes and Westerhill Homes as well as future residents are going to be extremely concerned that what is deemed the essentially mitigation for developing the Stones Farm site in the first place has already been severely compromised, casting doubt about whether any of it will now be delivered.
Proposed countrside park at Stones Farm, Bapchild
The impacts of this are significant as this land deals with the water run off from the development as well as providing separation between urban Sittingbourne and Bapchild. Ironically the separation of developments using green space is a significant part of the Garden Town philosophy, so for a Garden Town to destroy another development’s green space is unfathomable.
So why would Quinn Estates bother, surely, it’s not relevant to their scheme?
Quite simply, this is to facility the only route for the completion of the Northern Relief Road that the Council is interested in. Only one potential point to cross the railway line has been included and that is slap bang right through the middle of the new country park. The new home owners and the residents of East Hall Farm can look forward to a towering flyover, and the best bit is that none of us will ever be consulted as the scheme becomes its own planning authority.
Whether Quinn Estates can successfully argue that the Highsted Park scheme is dependent on the delivery of the Northern Relief Road remains to be seen, but clearly this is more about fulfilling the ambitions of the Councils Local Plan than delivering infrastructure that is strictly necessary for this development.
So, what are Garden Towns?
Garden towns are classed as developments of more than 10,000 homes which are supposed to be discrete new settlements, and not an extension of an existing town or village. They are meant to be self-sustaining with their own town centre and public realm including retail opportunities, recreational and community facilities. They should support the necessary infrastructure to allow the community to function self-sufficiently on a day to day basis including access to road, rail and utilities.
Well that’s the sales pitch, the reality however frequently falls woefully short of expectations and often fails to meet many of the key garden town principals drawn up by government and yet the government persists in allowing these projects to proceed.
Any developer can, apparently, classify their development a garden village.
Shows land around Bapchild taken up by garden town
The affordable housing farce
One of the primary goals of the whole Garden Town philosophy is to obtain land below its commercial value creating an uplift to pay for community infrastructure and affordable housing.
In this case the community infrastructure is almost exclusively transport orientated, providing a new motorway junction and Southern Relief Road.
However, when it comes to affordable housing it spectacularly falls short of delivering the 40% affordable housing required in the current Local Plan, unless this entire enterprise were classified as an urban extension which would then only require 10%. Quinn Estates as you have probably guessed by now are only proposing 10% affordable housing so therefore clearing acknowledging that this scheme is an urban extension of Sittingbourne not a garden town.
Due to its unimaginably large size it will also significantly impact the borough’s affordable housing delivery to a point where the Council ends up developing far fewer affordable properties than we are currently building even though we face more than doubling the housing provision in the local plan.
Presumably in a bid to keep developers happy the Council has significantly lowered the bar for affordable housing requirements in the two areas of the borough where the majority of the housing is planned. Ranging from nothing on the Isle of Sheppey to a meagre 10% in Iwade and in urban Sittingbourne. Previously we had 30% target across the board, but at least now developers will have less to do as we slowly drift towards zero affordable housing provision.
Shows all land taken up by garden town
There is nothing green or garden like about this urban sprawl
Clearly it is blatantly obviously to anyone casting a casual eye over a map that this is a huge scale urban expansion of Sittingbourne and certainly not a new garden town, garden village, garden community or anything else prefixed with the word garden.
So just like many of the garden towns which have preceded it, there will be a significant reliance on the town it is attached to. Residents are almost certain to travel into Sittingbourne to make use of facilities that either don’t exist or are yet to materialise from the new development.
The dependency on Sittingbourne for rail alone should not be underestimated especially with the majority of new housing serving the needs of people from outside the borough, especially London where existing employment commitments will necessitate a continued use of the railways. Like it or not we are a commuter town and simply ignoring that fact isn’t going to change anything.
There will no doubt be some notion or other that a massively expanded Kent Science Park will provide ample local employment opportunities, but this is a huge leap of faith and one not based on past performance. Whilst the Kent Science Park have enjoyed some success over the last 14 years, and I certainly don’t wish to diminish the gains in employment made, the average of 57 jobs per year created based on their published figures is simply not a game changer from a borough wide perspective.
The emphasis on road infrastructure is also self-defeating as it will only serve to encourage the continued use of the car. For those that can’t wait for a new motorway connection, just remember that there will be a 50% increase in Sittingbourne’s population as a result of this scheme alone.
So, we are doing this to meet housing targets?
No, well certainly not at the moment anyway.
The garden town concept is being heavily promoted by Swale Borough Council who shortly after Quinn Estates submitted their scheme in the summer of 2016, immediately wrote to the Department for Communities and Local Government in support of it. The governments announcements on the possibility of increased housing numbers, which still have not happened, was not until a full year later. The Council have been planning for this for at least 2 years that we know of.
I will leave you with this damning verdict of garden towns
“the most environmentally destructive way of providing housing”