The debate about how many houses we ought to be building to meet social or economic needs will no doubt continue unabated indefinitely. But have you considered what happens after the numbers have been set?
Importantly here, it should be emphasized that whilst government does like to interfere with overall borough wide housing targets, it is the borough council who decides where the housing will go.
We have taken a detailed look into the Council’s planned distribution of housing sites within Swale and discovered shocking disparities between the numbers allocated to Sittingbourne, Sheppey and Faversham.
Using documentation provided by Swale Borough Council for the examination in public which took place during November we found the locations of over 300 identified housing sites. Whilst the vast majority of these are part of the existing strategic plan, some further sites have been earmarked to fulfil higher housing targets, should they be imposed on us by central government.
The current thinking is that regardless of our opinion, garnered over five years and countless consultations, localism has no part to play in the decision on housing targets. It would seem that we are more than likely to face an increase in numbers than not, although to precisely what target remains unknown.
It might be a timely reminder to note that back in 2011, Council Leader Andrew Bowles supported and promoted housing numbers in excess of even the highest proposals currently under consideration.
However, before we get started and to provide come context, let’s take a moment to examine the distribution of the population over Sittingbourne, Sheppey and Faversham which might assist in providing some perspective with what follows.
With regard to house building targets there are three potential scenarios currently under consideration, which are to develop 540, 776 or 861 houses per year, every year until 2031.
Let’s start with the baseline figure of 540 houses per annum, which for context is the average build rate achieved over the last 34 years. The makeup of these numbers is based on identified sites only, and does not include any of the windfall allowance because there is no certainty on where these sites might be located. Nor have we included any of the additional sites promoted by developers such as Swanstree Avenue which are not part of any of the housing targets discussed here.
Taking the councils Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment together with existing unbuilt planning permissions we are able to account for a total of 10,871 houses and the Council’s own number is 10,711 so for all intents and purposes we are in the same ball park.
You may observe that Faversham takes a disproportionally low share of the housing, in fact so low that there is even a single site allocation in Sittingbourne that comes close to delivering the same number of houses as the entirety of the Faversham area.
Right so what happens if the numbers are increased to 776 per annum
Here Faversham does see a small increase in its share, but again not proportionate to either its geographic size nor relatively to its existing population.
And finally what happens if the numbers are increased to 861 per annum.
Amazingly here the Council actually reduces the overall burden on Faversham and here words fail me because staggeringly Iwade a village which has already grown significantly will double in size again and get a higher housing allocation than Faversham which is clearly unjust and very probably unsustainable.
This is an attempt to build the same quantity of housing which previously took 28 years to achieve in just 16 years.
The Council argues that Faversham is special, historically on par with major cathedral cities and with countryside too sensitive to even consider building on, but why then has the Council allowed building on equally and even more sensitive parts of Sittingbourne’s countryside. They also hide behind the long-time defunct Labour funding vehicle that was the Thames Gateway which even developers are starting to argue has no planning status and therefore no place in today’s decision making process.
Whether you or I consider this fair, reasonable or borderline insane, we at least should consider the consequences of this approach, and not just for ourselves but also for the residents of Faversham too. After all, do Faversham residents not have the same needs that we do, will the lack of new housing not exacerbate the present difficulties, making housing even less affordable in Faversham.
The present location of key services, namely doctors, dentists and schools will be at odds with the proposed locations of housing sites and eventually this could lead to the closure of services in Faversham as an aging population has very different requirements. Conversely residents in Sittingbourne may be forced to travel to Faversham to find these services creating a huge uplift in additional traffic volumes.
You can already see the signs as KCC Councillors ward boundaries are set to change based on what has already taken place with areas of Sittingbourne being controlled by Faversham councillors due to lack of population growth in Faversham.
It is simply unsustainable to dump Faversham’s share of the housing allocation on Sittingbourne. Whether Faversham should or should not be protected, it is deeply unfair to sacrifice Sittingbourne in order to do so.