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Planners sticking to their guns over homes

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NO CHANGE: Chief executive Colin Carmichael
NO CHANGE: Chief executive Colin Carmichael

Controversial plans to deliver 780 new homes per year in the Canterbury district will not be scaled back, council chiefs have warned. Senior officers claim the 15,500 new homes target for Canterbury, Herne Bay and Whitstable over the next 20 years is realistic – and could even be increased. They say it would be disastrous to tear up the existing plan and are resisting calls to start the process from scratch. Tonight, they will recommend the authority’s executive to press on with its existing plan – despite claims it is based on over-inflated population projections. Chief executive Colin Carmichael told the Gazette:

“We’ve now looked at the latest figures and still come up with the 780 target, possibly higher.”

Petitioners are urging Canterbury City Council to axe the Local Plan in its current form and redraft it with a significantly lower new homes target. They say officers used inaccurate figures when drawing up the plan and more recent figures from Kent County Council put the household projections at under 600 per annum. Mr Carmichael and Ian Brown, assistant director of planning and regeneration, have hit back, claiming government national housing requirements leave them with their hands tied. Independent consultants have now looked at revised projections and have endorsed the 780 per year target, they add. Mr Carmichael said:

“If the consultants had said lower it, we would have. I know there are people who think we want to cover the place with houses. There’s this view that we’re all being bribed by developers. It’s nonsense.”

Petitions to scale back plan will be ignored
Petitions to scale back plan will be ignored

According to a report prepared for tonight’s executive, the govermnent’s Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) and National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) put pressure on local author!ties to adjust housing targets upwards.

“The [consultants’] report explains the result of carrying out its up-to-date NPPF/PPG compliant assessment…using the latest housing projection figures, leads directly to a figure which, in fact, has to be higher than the household projections figure, not lower,” it says. “[The consultants’] work shows the current strategy, a requirement of 780 units a year, forms a robust housing requirement figure within the Local Plan.”

Mr Carmichael and Mr Brown say the targets will be reviewed in any event by a government inspector. Canterbury’s Local Plan will be subject to public examination by the inspector with hearings starting mid July. Mr Brown said:

“We can’t simply give a target of say, 200 houses and say ‘take it or leave it’. The inspector will dismiss it. Then we have no plan. It’s important to remember we’ve done well to get the plan this far. Lots of local authorities have failed to manage it.”

Head of planning lan Brown
Head of planning lan Brown

Mr Carmichael added the alternative,tearing up the plan, would actually play into the hands of prospective developers. By playing ball with government requirements, the council has the power to pass planning consent for development subject to financial contributions from developers, he says.

“No plan means we lose control of the process and we lose control of the goodies,” said Mr Carmichael. Part of the point is we can extract money from developers to pay towards major projects. The more we resist and the more they appeal, the less chance there is of getting that cash.”

The petition against the current Local Plan has been presented by Jim Gascoyne, Ukip’s parliamentary candidate for Canterbury and Whitstable. Mr Gascoyne told the Gazette:

“Clearly this is not what we want them to be recommending. We have local government elections and the city council may have a very different complexion. The new city council may take a view on this. Officers can recommend what they like, but it’s elected councillors who make the decisions.”

‘You need to ditch your car’

People living in Canterbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay must prepare to ditch their cars, say senior council officers. Drivers need to be willing to embrace public transport because thousands of new homes in the district are inevitable, they add. Mr Carmichael said:

“Anyone can recognise there’s an issue with affordability and there’s a shortage of housing. But I think many people don’t appreciate the pressure local authorities are under from central government. We have to build the houses.”

Mr Brown says that the challenge faced in the district is to devise a transport system that can cope with the increasing population.

“Getting people out of their cars is essential. in other cities people wouldn’t think about driving one-and-a-half miles into the city centre. We need to embrace change.”

Mr Carmichael adds that Canterbury was a victim of its own success in terms of its popularity as a destination.

“We are faced with challenges, but these are positive challenges, in a sense,”

he said.

Herne Bay Gazette, April 23rd 2015

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