You may or, more likely, may not know that Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council is currently preparing its Local Plan which will determine how the borough develops until 2031. If you have heard about this at all, the chances are that it is the impact of large numbers of new houses, especially, on green sites, that has come to your attention.
In all fairness, the numbers (a net requirement of 6,534 homes) are not determined by the council but are a result of a formula imposed by central government and the locations are the result of a centrally imposed “call for sites” process.
Planning is complicated and made even more so by the fact that the council needs to beat a government deadline to get its plan in by the end of this year or face an uplift of 23% in the number of houses. I agree with the council that this is simply not achievable. However, there are many features of the planning process and the way Tonbridge & Malling have handled it that we should all be concerned about.
We need more homes but under the current local plan we have seen thousands of new homes built but prices have continued to rise and the waiting list grows - it now stands at 1,145 families. What's more, we are now seeing opportunistic landowners and developers putting in applications on sensitive sites, exploiting the current situation.
The housing market is broken but so is the planning system. It does not seem capable of delivering the homes we need. There are no social houses for rent included in the new plan and schemes with an allocation of “affordable” housing, set at 80% of market rate, do nothing to help local people on modest incomes. The housing crisis is set to continue.
Planning should be an open and transparent process, involving all those who make up a community. Unfortunately, this is not the way this local plan is being developed. It is being rushed through. For understandable reasons perhaps but full, open and transparent consultation is still essential.
For instance, we cannot see the public comments made on the earliest iteration of the plan, The Way Forward, so have no idea to whose views the council is giving greatest weight. It certainly does not appear to be listening closely enough to those of us who are concerned about tackling climate change, providing sustainable, low carbon (and cheap to run) new homes or ensuring we have the infrastructure to serve tens of thousands of new residents.
Despite all the constraints on local authorities there is good practice out there and a positive approach to planning is possible. Crucial decisions that will affect all our lives for years to come can be made in a spirit of openness and partnership but, sadly, Tonbridge & Malling has chosen to manage expectations and push through the new plan with the minimum of scrutiny. Quite simply, this isn't good enough and I think people deserve better.
Howard Porter, chair, Tonbridge & Malling Green Party
This column first appeared in the Times of Tonbridge 27th June 2018