29th October, 2015
MAIDSTONE BOROUGH LOCAL PLAN- PUBLIC CONSULTATION (REGULATION 18) – OCTOBER 2015
Lenham Parish Council would like to reiterate its stance in regard to the Parish of Lenham vis-à-vis the above Local Plan, not just with respect to the document currently being made available for consultation but to the plan as a whole. Consequently we should like the contents of our letter dated 3rd September to be considered largely to in fact relate to this consultations and we, therefore, repeat most of its content hereunder. We recognise the reference to Master Planning may not be totally applicable in regard to this consultation but we still consider that it really is strongly relevant to the development of the LP.
Whilst there are aspects of this plan (including the latest review of landscape designations) which we strongly support, Lenham Parish Council has several major concerns with regard to it. As advised to you previously, these issues are of such concern we have consulted leading planning counsel, David Elvin QC, of Landmark Chambers, who is familiar with the emerging plan and has reviewed your recent reports and decisions for us.
The PC therefore requests that Maidstone Borough Council considers the points here carefully and provides a detailed response, which we will consider together with leading counsel.
Our concerns can be summarised as follows:
- In accordance with national policy, Lenham Parish Council intends to pursue the finalisation of its Neighbourhood Plan as soon as possible and will, subject to discussions already held on 5th August, take into account the advice given endeavouring to assist MBC in contributing to the Borough’s housing needs. This is wholly in keeping with Government policy of handing over planning for local areas to local people. See e.g. paras. 183-4 of the NPPF.
- Lenham Parish Council considers that it is premature at this stage for any detailed discussion with regard to any masterplanning for Lenham in connection with draft policy H3 for a number of reasons-
- There is strong objection in principle to the soundness of H3 so far as it relates to Lenham which the Parish Council will pursue at the next stage of the process and at plan examination if necessary.
- Masterplanning is a detailed matter which is not part of the local plan process and would normally be the subject of SPD following adoption of the plan. Indeed, absent an adopted plan policy to which it could be attached, since H3 is not adopted policy, it is difficult to see how you could produce SPD at this stage. As the NPPG states of SPD (Local Plans, para. 28 Reference ID: 12-028-20140306):
“They should build upon and provide more detailed advice or guidance on the policies in the Local Plan. ”
It is not open to the Council to argue that the masterplan would not be SPD since the provisions of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 apply as a matter of law regardless of the label attached to the document by the Council. See R. (Wakil (t/a Orya Textiles)) v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC  J.P.L. 1334 and West Kensington Estate Tenants and Residents Association v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC  EWHC 2834 (Admin). Indeed, it is possible that the masterplan might require to be produced as local plan having regard to the provisions of regs. 2, 5 and 6 of the 2012 Regulations. All of this strongly suggests that the Council ought to explain in greater detail how it sees the masterplan as being relevant at this time, what its parameters would be (including boundaries), how you would take it forward and in what form, and how that exercise relates to the local plan process.
- These points are further underlined by the fact that the H3 element of the local plan is meant to relate to late in the plan period and therefore masterplanning it at this stage is premature. It is noted that despite the assertions that H3 is meant to apply only at the later stages of the plan period, there is nothing in the policy itself which actually prevents development being brought forward under H3 at an early stage and this suggests that the drafting of the policy is unsound in that it fails to reflect its purpose.
- There is a more fundamental objection in that masterplanning requires clear parameters yet the local plan does not set any clear boundaries for H3 and indeed, the policy appears to be number driven rather than location/capacity drive. There are soundness issues arising in this respect therefore. If the Council is proposing to make assumptions about boundaries for H3 purposes in terms of masterplanning this suggests that a boundary should be set in the local plan and properly tested in terms of sustainabilty and environmental effects. No boundaries have been considered, as in an allocation,so capacity has not been properly tested, nor have reasonable alternatives to the assumed boundaries been tested to consider the impacts of different housing numbers as against different boundaries and different environmental effects. Given the heritage and AONB implications of H3 these defects in the policy and its evidence base plainly raise serious questions as to soundness.
- Indeed, since the masterplan would have to set the boundaries for there to be a rational and workable masterplan it may amount to a site allocation policy in substance and thus require to be subject to the local plan procedures in the 2012 Regulations. At least it may amount to “development management and site allocation policies, which are intended to guide the determination of applications for planning permission” and thus fall within reg. 5(1)(a)(iv) of the 2012 Regulations and thus require to be in a local plan pursuant to reg. 6. If not, and if not intended to guide development management, it would be difficult to see why it would justify the time, effort and cost which the exercise will undoubtly require.
- Further, since the housing sites were proposed in 2014 before the two Jacobs 2015 reports on landscape capacity and sensitivity were produced, this supports the view that the Council should revisit its proposed housing sites and assess them again in the light of the findings of the Jacobs reports of 2015. The maintenance of the position with regard to H3 and Lenham does not sit well with the Jacobs’ assessments which again raises questions about the soundness of the selection of the locations prior to the landscape capacity exercise.
- With respect to the issue of the local landscape designation, the Parish Council does not agree that the land between Lenham and Harrietsham should not be designated since it is part of the setting of the AONB as is the land to the east of Lenham. Indeed, regardless of the issue of the local designation, the land around Lenham remains part of the setting of the AONB and is subject to the application of national policy in para. 115 of the NPPF.
- Lenham Parish Council does, however, reiterate its desire to be involved in a collaborative approach at the correct time. However, to deal with this issue at this early stage, while strong objections in principle remain and the boundaries and parameters of the H3 locations remain undefined, is premature and will be wasteful of the time and resources of both the Council and the Parish Council. We also expect that the Council is keeping up to date as to possible brownfield site opportunities that might remove the need for greenfield allocations and H3 in the draft plan. Please confirm this and what the current position is with regard to brownfield opportunities.
- In this context, Lenham Parish Council again repeats its strong objection to Lenham Parish being designated as a broad location for 1,500 homes under H3, given the limitation on landscape capacity and infrastructure, proximity of the AONB, historic character and size of the existing settlement. The contribution expected of Lenham is disproportionate to its size, location and infrastructure. The proposal is not consistent with the Jacobs 2015 Reports and it is notable that the decision in principle was made long before those reports were produced. The Parish Council considers the policy to be unsound, lacking justification by the evidence base and that alternatives have neither been properly or adequately explored.
- We note that the comments on the objections to H3 in the 18.8.15 report (Agenda Item 16, Appendix 3) scarcely grapple with the in-principle issues and leading counsel has confirmed he agrees that the responses do not properly answer many important concerns expressed by the objections. Masterplanning the detail is not a response to in-principle concerns about the capacity of the landscape to absorb change, to the lack of genuine infrastructure or significant employment opportunities for 1500 houses or the failure to allocate more houses in other settlements.
- Although, it should not be necessary to do so, the Parish Council reminds the Council that the Kent Downs AONB is a landscape of national significance and importance. Councillors have expressed concern regarding the Low Weald that lies between the Downs and High Weald AONB. It is surely wrong to treat non-designated landscape (or landscape of only local significance) as of greater significance than the immediate setting of the AONB. Para. 115 of the NPPF requires that “great weight” should be given to protecting AONBs (amongst other things) and this means protecting them from harm cause from outside their boundaries as well as within (which is separately covered by para. 116). It would be perverse to give greater priority to a landscape which was not part of the setting of the AONB to that which is immediately adjacent to it. However, given the inclusion in the agenda (item 2.13) for the upcoming meeting on 8th September giving protection to Low Weald areas, it would seem reasonable that if the East Lenham Vale is to be considered in the same light (item, 2.8 on the agenda) then the Harrietsham to Lenham Vale should be included within the Setting of the AONB LLV based on the merits of its own rating together with the need to maintain the contiguous nature of the LLV and a coherent area for protection.
In addition, we have concerns with:
- There is a lack of an Integrated Transport Strategy, and full consideration has not been given to the strains that will be placed on already, in many areas, totally inadequate existing infrastructure.
- MBC does still not seem to be engaging sufficiently with Kent County Council and, in fact, has ignored the County’s objections and commissioned its own transport modelling. How can it possibly be acceptable for MBC to remove itself from a Kent-wide review of an important area of communications where road congestion in one part leads to massive log-jams in others?
- In regard to clean and waste water, it is apparent that consideration is only being given on a development-by-development basis rather than the cumulative effect of the overall LP. This will, inevitably, lead to an increase of the problem areas that already exist currently in the Borough.
- There needs to be a proper strategic assessment of required infrastructure before any additional strain is placed upon the existing, and individual planning applications need to have these issues considered on the basis of overall effect rather than just the development in question. The draft Local Plan does not do that and is therefore fails on the grounds of sustainability, especially in Lenham.
- Housing Numbers
- Lenham’s emerging Neighbourhood Plan is supportive of proper development in the rights areas but can in no way see that 1,500 homes, in addition to the earlier 245, are neither feasible nor sustainable.
- Although Maidstone state that they have examined all avenues to argue against the least figure of 18,560 homes within the Borough it can be seen from other consultations that the full flexibilities allowed within the NPPF have not been fully applied by the Borough’s Consultant by both taking into account the oversupply that has been achieved in earlier years and the development of brownfield sites. It is suggested by some that had this truly been taken into account the correct number of homes required in The Borough would be nearer 10,000 rather than the 18,560 be now quoted. This in turn would drastically reduce the number of homes being forced into Lenham converting the Countryside into concrete jungles.
- Traveller Sites
- According to reports Maidstone Borough is already over represented with such sites compared to other areas in Kent.
- In this regard, it can be stated that Lenham already has more such sites than other Parishes in the Borough and thus has already met its targets for them.
- As such we deem it necessary to protect Kiln Wood in that we do not consider that it is sufficient to propose a 15m gap between the travellers’ site and the ancient woodland (Nature Reserve) of Kiln Wood. In order to prevent animals, such as dogs, straying into the wood and fouling the woodland floor, and in order to prevent litter from being blown into the woodland we suggest that a strong border shall be instated between the traveller site and Kiln Wood. This border ought to consist of wire fencing and a native hedge.
- We also want to stress that people living on this site and claiming traveller status have to be identified by the owner of the site and the local authority as genuine travellers acc. to new government guidance ( August 2015), i.e. “Persons of nomadic habit of life whatever their race or origin, including such persons who on grounds only of their own or their family’s or dependants’ educational or health needs or old age have ceased to travel temporarily, but excluding members of an organised group of travelling show people or circus people travelling together as such.”
- As a further consideration in determining whether persons are “gypsies and travellers” for the purposes of this planning policy, consideration should be given to the following issues amongst other relevant matters:
- whether they previously led a nomadic habit of life
- the reasons for ceasing their nomadic habit of life
- whether there is an intention of living a nomadic habit of life in the future, and if so, how soon and in what circumstances.
The aspect which is new in this guidance is that travellers have to demonstrate that occupation of a site is only for a temporary period as part of a nomadic lifestyle moving from one traveller site to another. Should the occupants of the site be unable to document a nomadic/traveller way of life they no longer fall within the planning definition of a gypsy and traveller. As a consequence the planning policies relating to a development for gipsies and travellers will no longer apply.
- Reference is also made to the arguments put forward BY KALC in regard to this subject.
Lenham Parish Council remains committed to assisting MBC in reaching the delivery of their Local Plan but not at the expense of ruining Lenham’s Countryside, Heritage and Culture.
Yours Lenham Parish Council