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Local Plan: That’s too many new houses to be built

Councillor Paula Vickers and I have sat on the Local Plan steering group for the past several years as Lib Dem nominees. We fundamentally disagree to the proposal to increase the rate of house-building to 780 per annum from the recent level of around 550.

Consequently some of the site allocations are unnecessary, in particular the 4,000 houses in south Canterbury. We have insisted our objections be minuted during meetings at which both Conservative and Labour representatives agreed the higher figures.

This plan has been flawed from the start. It should have taken its cue from the public responses to the earlier and abandoned Local Development Framework. This gave us our best indication of what local people wanted.

We should have first openly consulted with local people about the dilemma between the need to build on greenfield land (we have almost no brownfield left) and the need to build new homes for our changing population. We should have considered the “garden city” option advocated by the government’s new planning framework. And we should have done this years ago.

However, we do agree with Cllr Gilbey on one thing. The Local Plan is indeed the most important document ever about the district’s future. The population of Canterbury district has grown almost 50% faster than the South East average according to the 2001-2011 census figures. The published draft local plan calls for 15,600 new houses to be built between 2011 and 2031 or 780 a year. For the last few years we’ve been building around 550 houses a year. This means building 42% more homes a year when we have already grown faster than the south east average. This is unsustainable and a figure of 500 houses a year, or 10,000 over the plan period, is right.

The figures are complex and are explained in the plan. Because we have some sites allocated, because we are ahead of target, and because some new ‘windfall’ sites will be found, a 15,600 target will mean 9,916 houses on new, mainly greenfield, sites. On the other hand our 10,000 target will require only 4,316 new houses.

We agree that many of the sites put forward in the draft plan should be considered but that the south Canterbury site for 4,000 houses will risk the historic setting of the city, our main attraction and economic generator. It will cause intolerable levels of traffic and use largely Grade 1 farmland which forms a key green buffer between Canterbury and Bridge. If this site is removed from the plan there is still plenty of choice between the sites left which should indeed be publicly debated.

There is also a major brownfield site in Hersden that was taken out of the plan at the last minute on Cllr Gilbey’s insistence. This must be reconsidered together with the Howe Barracks site giving much more choice over where we should build. These two brownfield sites alone could mean 1,000-1,500 fewer houses on farmland.

This plan was promised in November. It was then delayed to January, then February. Latterly we were told by Cllr Gilbey it had to be delayed until May for new traffic modelling data to be included.

This new data has not been given so the reason to delay it for publication late on the day of the local elections does seem extraordinary. It was not a date ever discussed or agreed by any of us on the working party. and clearly a decision he alone made.

Cllr Nick Eden-Green (Lib Dem. Wlncheap Ward)

HB Times letter 16th May 2013

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