Neighbourhood Plan Meeting 21 November 2015

Lenham Neighbourhood Plan (LNHP): Village Hall, 10-12noon, Saturday 21 November 2015

 Below is just a quick rundown of my personal take on the meeting which I attended. I am not presenting this in any official capacity, and any opinions below are my own, nothing to do with the Parish Council or anyone else. It’s not ‘minutes’ in any sense, and isn’t always in strict order of when comments were made. Please also bear in mind I may have misunderstood things, misheard or even ‘got the wrong end of the stick’. My personal ‘’take’’ is always in italics.

Lesley and Simon  22.11.15

It seemed to me that the point of the meeting (organised by the LNHP Team and with a Presentation by Designscape) was to encourage people to object formally to any planning applications that were not ‘’in line with’’ the current version of the Lenham NHP, and to encourage ‘people’ not to object to any planning applications that were ‘’in line with’’ the current NHP (though the point was clearly made that it is anyone’s right to object to anything).

 

I thought it was an interesting and informative meeting (I learned a lot about previous planning/housing in Lenham – see below). The SaveLenham website/campaign had previously sent out at least one notification of a local planning application to interested people who had given in their email addresses (saying they wanted to object to planning applications where appropriate), but seemed not to have been able to carry this out further. Margo (McFarlane, Parish Clerk) seemed to accept this, and that the PC might have to take on this task.

Sandy MacKenzie introduced himself as the Chair of the LNHP team (since Oct he said). He mentioned the importance of the powerfulness of individual objections, or support. Jenny Whittle (the Maidstone Borough Councillor) and Tom & Jannetta Sams also attended. The meeting was about half full at the 10.15 start, by the finish around 12 noon it was full [ie all the chairs were occupied – something around 40-50 people, though I didn’t do a proper headcount]. There was mention that Lenham had around 3,000 people, and 300 had attended the 17 October 15 consultation in the primary school. The formal adoption of the NHP needed 50% – but this was of the turnout, not of the whole 3,000 people. It was just like in a General Election, if only 100 people turned out, and 51 voted for – then it was formally agreed. Kingsley and David attended from Designscape. They did a presentation, mentioning that the LNHP had to be in line with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the Local Authority Plan – Maidstone didn’t have one yet, and was woefully behind in actually achieving one. Lenham’s was not as far forward as Broomfield & Kingswood’s, which was 90% done. They said that, among other statements from Maidstone Borough Council (MBC), one was that “Lenham must be seen to do its bit for the Borough’’ (presumably re Planning/House building).

Things Lenham needs to understand:

  • Lenham can’t place too much reliance on the AONB and proximity to the AONB
  • People need to lobby the AONB Joint Advisory Committee
  • Tourism is important, as is culture, and the economy
  • The principle of anti-coalescence is important – and MBC seems interested in maintaining the separation to the West with Harrietsham, but seems less interested in what goes on to the East (direction Ashford [presumably because (a.) there’s space in that direction and (b.) they’re not interested in Ashford who can look after itself (!)].

It is sensible to lobby the Kent Downs AONB Partnership (AONB=area of outstanding natural beauty) – they are a small outfit based in Ashford whose job is to advise councils throughout Kent on AONB matters. They have a Joint Advisory Committee – to whom letters can be addressed. It was these people who advised MBC on the Tanyard Farm development that a band of trees between the houses and the road would mitigate the detrimental effect of ‘development’ there on the environment [personally, I don’t agree, but that was their stated opinion apparently]. They are at kentdowns.org.uk and the LNHP team and Designscape recommended the audience write to them with their views on development in Lenham. Given they also appear to be saying development East of Lenham is not a real problem, writing to them to give ‘’your’’ opinions why it would be a bad thing might be a good idea.

They have a Kent Downs Management Plan which is online, and they place a lot of importance on precedent, and are keen not to have poor precedents. They appear keen to protect the Arc of the Chalk Hills, and it would be good to remind them of that. Apparently this Arc continues from Lenham towards the coast via Canterbury and Dover and then on the continent through France – where it is a National Park [I think it’s a prehistoric track, from when England was joined to France]. Apparently the UK only has National Parks in areas where there are hills – where the terrain is flatter [like here] we have things like the KD AONB Partnership. Concerns about development etc in their area should be addressed to the Joint Advisory Committee – it is small but is powerful. There was a thought that letters should go through the Parish Council [nobody said this was so]. Threats to the beauty of the setting of the North Downs could be mentioned. Local nature reserves act as buffers. The NHP noted high levels of environmental stewardship locally [there is apparently a map, accessed through the NHP on the Lenham pc website]. The Environmental Stewardship schemes were set up by Natural England who actively want more landowners to enrol in the scheme as places open up (there is a cost, and the places available depend on funding).

There was a lot of talk about baseline studies relating to the number of springs which rise in the Lenham area. All this could be useful in letters to the ‘’authorities’’ about development in Lenham. The Len and the Stour both rise here – the Stour going off through Canterbury. Designscape mentioned that clean river headwaters particularly those with gravelly bottoms [would this be where Gravelly Bottom Road comes from?] tend to be where fish spawn. In this pre-Stour area, the new reed beds have been implemented to improve the water quality. The quality of the water is particularly good through Chilston Park – development would put this at risk, heavy development leads to nitrates contaminating the water. The reed beds were to remedy this [did I get this correct?]. The Len leads on into the Thames, the Stour to Canterbury – this makes Lenham absolutely unique in having 2 such important rivers rising here. Designscape said that the statutory ‘’buffer zone’’ between water and houses was a mere 5 meters, which is clearly silly but is nevertheless what the law says. Given the tourist draw that these are, the headwaters should have better protection.

Designscape proposed some points that could usefully be made were:

  1. The countryside should be protected
  2. Most of the houses that Lenham eventually gets should be brownfield – with particular reference to the 2 big potential sites that might/should come online in the next couple of decades (Lenham Storage and Marley) – although not imminent, they would be within the timescale of this current “Plan” (which is 2011-2031). [THERE IS NO, REPEAT NO, SUGGESTION THAT EITHER COMPANY, AT THE PRESENT TIME, HAS ANY THOUGHT OF MOVING]
  3. Lenham can develop a substantial number of houses while at the same time protecting its countryside – it would there be seen to be ‘’doing its bit’’
  4. Any development has to be of the right quality
  5. Other initiatives to improve the Parish as listed in the Policies [I noted this, but can’t remember actually what it meant! Sorry].

The Marley site might have 650 houses, and the Lenham Storage site around 250. Maidstone wants Lenham to provide 1700 – these sites would give something like half or even 2/3rds of what MBC wants, without any great problem.

Sandy said something like: MBC push the fact that they want 240 houses now and the rest (1,500) might never materialise given the 15-20 year timescale. However if that larger number is not objected to then Developers will pounce, seeing their opportunity. He carried on saying that on 17 Oct 15 at the primary school a lot of younger parish members had called in to say that they would like to live in Lenham either because it was their home, or they worked here. However the astronomical price of houses in the area made this an impossible dream. He had spoken to Lenham Storage, who had admitted that most of their workforce didn’t live in Lenham and, given they were paid near the Minimum Wage, couldn’t consider buying in Lenham to cut down their commute to work. He emphasised that currently Lenham Storage had absolutely no intention of moving – but that they were in a competitive industry, and they needed to be in the Maidstone/Ashford corridor area: if a better location came up they had to consider it. But there is nothing currently in the pipeline.

Designscape made these points on objections:

  • Its everyone’s right to object
  • Objecting to applications that are not in line with the NHP is sensible
  • Be wary of objection to applications that are in line with the NHP – that could play into the hands of ‘the other side’.

 

The audience had a number of comments:

Housing needs – local needs should have priority. Building small numbers of expensive ‘’luxury’’ houses did not address local needs. Any houses built should meet local needs. Jenny Whittle said that Denmark had a “5 year residency” requirement before a house could be purchased in an area, and this should be the sort of requirement here [I think the intention was for “affordable” houses to have this criteria]. There was then a lot of discussion as to how ‘’affordable’’ houses could be retained for ‘’locals’’ – with reference to landowners, if willing, being asked to put a “lean” on the land before selling (at the Land Registry) to say that houses built there should only be sold to ‘local’ people, and maybe something about the ultimate price, these legal mechanisms could in fact sideline the problems experienced with MBC who, apparently, when such housing for locals was built in Broomfield & Kingswood, instead of leaving it for real locals, opened it up to their own borough wide list of ‘’local housing needs’’ which has, anecdotally, resulted in a lot of people from places like Tovil getting houses in this village and being very unhappy there as they are essentially ‘urbanites’ and aren’t interested in living in a rural area.

Discussion about Local Needs Housing carried on. There was mention of clause 106 money [where the developer must pay towards the local infrastructure as the price of getting planning permission]. Mention was made of the Groom Way development [the old one, not the new Groom Square] where the Parish Council put pressure on the Borough Council and the result was a development that met local needs [unlike the new Groom Square development, which is a plot of ‘luxury houses’, I think that’s what was meant]. In that contract the developers were required to provide 2 more houses – but the developer preferred to pay money instead and a Lenham Housing Group bought land, and built 10 homes on them, rather than the 2 extra that is all the main development was to have had. Rented not purchased properties were what was needed, nor the half purchase/half rent schemes. A special survey was mooted – the last one went to 1,000 homes, they got 100 back – 20 families said yes, they needed affordable property in the next 5 years, ie this was proof they would be filled, that was needed to go ahead with the development. Apparently Loder Close [off Ham Lane – is this the old new development or the more recent one? Or the one in Planning currently? Don’t know] had 13 local needs houses, the landowner offered it at a cheaper price to the Housing Group, the Parish Council wasn’t involved, and this Housing Group got them done.

 

A ‘Lenham Housing Group’’ was again mooted which could repeat what had previously happened. The Parish Council didn’t have enough say in who gets these houses when built by developers. It was mentioned that once in, nobody wanted to move out. Maybe a Community Land Trust was the answer, to lease land to a Housing Association while the Parish Council retained control over who goes in. It was hoped this would go forward.

Kingsley from Designscape agreed with all the above. Saying Designscape had been discussing this sort of thing with a landowner about the south of the railway land, he mentioned that the housing market in the UK was controlled by the likes of Persimmon and Wimpey – and that self-built plots were simply not feasible if the plot, as currently, was going for £100-125,000, they were only sensible if plots could be sold for around £30,000.

Identifying local needs was raised, and a question was asked about the processes necessary to identify the needs, to deliver the results and then stand up to scrutiny. Janetta said that yes, it was easy to organise the survey and everyone was keen to take it forward, but a Borough mind-set was needed – she mentioned that 11 of the 80 Hollies development in Harrietsham were for local needs and were very over-subscribed. These sorts of houses also needed to be smaller, the 1-2 bedroom size, and therefore also, presumably cheaper. Someone pointed out that this meant they would be sold to London ‘’buy-to-letters’’ and would not end up in local hands. This was what had happened to a lot of the houses recently built in Harrietsham – they were now rented, having been bought by wealthy Londoners.

Someone said that the absolute earliest MBC had been able to agree to do a Lenham local housing needs survey was April 2016.

Mention was made of the government’s right to buy scheme – and the fact that Housing Associations were going to be made to sell their houses by the government. The talk again turned to ‘’nice’’ landowners agreeing to put leans in the Land Registry on their land sold for local/affordable homes to get them remaining in local hands. MBC couldn’t then do other things with the houses when they were agreed/built.

Someone asked the Sams how much support there was among their fellow councillors for this sort of thing. Tom and Janetta said there was support. But getting local needs housing was a huge task, the Hollies had been an enormous task for Harrietsham and had involved lobbying Borough Councillors.

Another member of the audience pointed out, again, that getting the landowners onboard could sideline this problem. Kingsley from Designscape agreed. Leans on the land were the easiest method, and could be built into the Local Plan, Tom Sams agreed too, the Hollies development originated with a benign landowner. Designscape said this route was probably the only watertight one.

A member of the audience said that the problem of single people living in large houses hadn’t been addressed yet. Designscape mentioned the bedroom tax as solving this in the social sector, but agreed nothing was happening re this in the private sector.

Designscape suggested any objections should:

Focus correctly on the problem/application (many people had objected to the planning application/s re the Co-Op which weren’t the original one [ie the one for the compressors, and the one to downgrade the sustainability of the flats (from 4 to 3, the minimum anyway] and so wasted their time and effort.

  • Use legitimate planning reasons [see above]
  • Cite your own local knowledge – this is valued by the planners, you might know stuff they don’t.
  • There is a problem with the ‘’statutory consultees’’ [ie the Highways Agency and people like this] being more highly regarded than locals. If a HA official says something, then it goes not what Mr Smith next door says.

Legitimate planning reasons include [not exhaustive]:

Overlooking (but remember nobody has any right to a view, objecting on this ground is pointless]

  • Overbearing bulk
  • Traffic
  • Ecology

 

DON’T object on:

 

  • Right to a view – you don’t have one, period
  • Property prices – they’re not required to take this into account, so nobody does
  • Infrastructure – eg ‘’the sewage won’t work with too many people’’, as the answer is simply, they’ll have to build more of it, and they will.
  • And don’t complain about immigration – its irrelevant to the planning process.

 

BUT do consider mentioning:

 

  • You can mention the landscape and how its valued
  • You can mention the culture and the local society, and how any particular build with interact with it – all this features heavily in the NPPF (national planning framework) and therefore they have to take this into account.

 

You can consider petitions – but names on a petition don’t count as much as a letter or email.

 

DON’T use templates for emails or letters, they have a much lower value because ‘they’re a template’.

 

Do check your key dates – there’s no point writing the day after the closing date for objections, you’ll waste your time.

 

Sandy mentioned the length that an application is open for consultation with the public is only 21 days, from the date that the Site Notice goes up.

 

A member of the audience said the Planners locally were considering scrapping the Site Notices – all agreed this would be a bad step, as this was one of the major routes to people finding out about Planning Applications.

 

Apparently the Loder Close application was still ongoing. [Loder Close is the road off Ham Lane – in the direction of Harrietsham – so the development is the one opposite, or sort of opposite, the Cloister flats in Ham Lane]. This was mentioned as being the application to look out for currently and lobby about.

Designscape said that the Broomfield & Kingswood Parish Council had a list on a database of 300 residents who wanted to be notified of planning applications so they could consider whether or not to object, they suggested Lenham should go this route [see the beginning, Save Lenham was doing this, can’t now, and the PC are considering taking it on].

 

A member of the audience said lobbying the actual Councillors, the Planning Committee, Members of Parliament by means of direct personal emails, might be the way to make a difference. Someone said the Borough council website had contact details for everyone, and lobbying just in advance of a Planning Meeting re a particular application was the best idea in case things ‘got forgotten’.

 

Timescales were mentioned again, Maidstone might just manage to get its Local Plan together by 2017 – which was mentioned as very very late.

 

Lenham NHP would need 6 weeks of formal Regulation 14 consultation which looked likely to take place Feb-Mar 2016. Then MBC had 6 weeks to examine it. MBC never got a year 2000 Plan done at all – the time to do it expired with nothing achieved. But they weren’t alone – this had happened to half the councils in the UK. MBC apparently are legally obliged to identify a 5 year land supply, and have not yet done this. While they haven’t done this, any decision on planning applications in these areas are simply made by officials using the information they have to hand. This made it even more vital to get a LNHP, and more vital to lobby officials re Lenham’s viewpoint – because they have no Maidstone framework into which they had to slot their decisions.

 

Any errors, omissions or misconceptions are mine – I’ve simply put this online as my take on what happened at that meeting. Read and enjoy.

Lesley

22.Nov.15

 

 

 

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