U-turn helps Tonbridge council to reduce housing target by 3,000

The Mead School in Tunbridge Wells gave a professional level performance in the  ISA drama contests

TONBRIDGE & Malling Borough Council [TMBC] is set to see its quota for building new houses go down by more than 3,000 over the next two decades.

The revised figure comes after the government imposed much higher targets than had been planned for – but later handed councils a get-out clause if they had a good track record on building.�

Last September the council had worked out it would construct 696 new homes per year until 2031.

But the day after TMBC’s Planning and Transportation Advisory Committee revealed its method for meeting that figure, the government increased it to 859.

That represented a 23 per cent hike – or 3,260 extra houses over a 20-year period, a figure which council Leader Nicolas Heslop described as ‘undeliverable’.

In contrast Tunbridge Wells faced a rise of 7 per cent and Sevenoaks 13 per cent.

There followed a six-month period during which ‘there was a lot of uncertainty’, according to TMBC’s Planning Policy Manager, Ian Bailey.

Then the government revised its controversial policy, opening the door to flexibility with a ‘transitional window’.

Now if TMBC can demonstrate by January 13 that it can meet ‘reasonable expectations’ in its targets over a shorter time frame – known as the ‘five-year housing land supply’ – it will be allowed to pursue its original calculated figures. The council expects to meet that deadline.

‘It punished those who had delivered quite a lot of houses up to that point’

It has now published its draft Local Plan, subject to approval on September 12 – with� a mandatory six-week public consultation period starting after that.

Mr Bailey told the Times: ‘In 2010 the government said ‘work out your own requirements’. In 2016 we carried out a consultation, then we refined it and took it to our [full council] members.’

The draft includes 480 units around Lower Haysden Road and 352 at Coblands Nursery on Trench Road.

‘Within a day, the government basically said [to all councils]: ‘You’ve taken far too long to sort out your own individual needs, we’re going to give you a formula so you don’t have to worry about that anymore. There won’t be any more arguments, so Bob’s your uncle.’

‘That rang a lot of alarm bells for us. It punished local authorities who had been delivering quite a lot of houses up to that point, like Tonbridge & Malling.�

He added: ‘We’ve been building, on average, 615 a year over the last 10 years and we should be able to make up the difference to 696.�

‘That incorporates the boom and bust years since the financial crisis so it’s a good average. We rely on private housebuilders to deliver.’

The news of the transitional window came as a relief. ‘We couldn’t believe it,’ said Mr Bailey. ‘They had listened to some of us who said: ‘If you really want to get this Local Plan through and not delay it by two years while we go back and revisit everything, give us a half-decent chance of being able to submit it before you introduce this.”

Louise Reid, TMBC’s Head of Planning, said the five-year method means the government cannot step in and increase housing on designated sites.

Crucially, such an intervention would not necessarily provide the additional infrastructure to cope with the extra residents’ needs.

She said: ‘If they didn’t give us this six-month period it would take another two years easily [to publish the plan]. There’s a lot more work involved.�

‘I’m not saying that’s not the right thing to do, but we wouldn’t have had a five-year housing land supply and the government could come in and say: ‘Well, you haven’t come through so here’s another 50 on this site. And we’re not going to give you a lot back for the community’.

‘So basically sites go forward without being planned. That’s where the risk comes into it. For the community it’s a much bigger issue.�

‘They need schools, doctors’ surgeries, roads, a wider infrastructure. It’s much harder to deliver through that process because it’s ad hoc.’

Howard Porter, Chairman of the Tonbridge & Malling Green Party, said: ‘Faced with a new and onerous housing target imposed by central government, TMBC had little option but to accelerate its Local Plan process to take -advantage of the ‘transitional period’.�

‘The council made it clear – and we agree – that the new figure is undeliverable and would actually delay the provision of new homes.’

But he warned: ‘The Green Party is concerned that housing has become a numbers game.’�

‘Opportunistic developers and landowners are exploiting the lack of a five-year land supply and the hiatus before a Local Plan is submitted to put in speculative applications for unsuitable sites.�

‘The five-year land supply figure is a crude measure and will clearly fluctuate as sites come forward for development or are removed.’

PICTURE: PLAN OF ACTION: 500 homes have been earmarked for around Lower Haysden Road

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