Life moves on. Things develop. Development can be a positive thing. It all depends what you mean.
In the Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan, development means building, and building mostly means residential. Over the past five years, Swale Borough Council (the local planning authority) has spent £178,000 on plans and consultancy reports in pursuit of its stated policy to “enable” development on former industrial/commercial sites along the creekside.
Because this land is a functional flood plain – which meant it could be used for maritime activities but not for most other kinds of development – the council had to engineer a change to a less restrictive flood designation which does allow development. It is still, however, a flood plain, and everyone who has followed the news in recent years will know what a good idea it is to build on a flood plain.
The last plan for the Faversham Creek Area ( Area Action Plan 2) was apparently not “enabling” enough, since it failed to generate enough development (steering group minutes, January 2013) – so now we have the Neighbourhood Plan, which will cost a further £70,000 or so before it’s finished (minutes, February 2013) and is focused on “mixed development”.
Mixed messages about mixed development.
There has been quite a bit of “mixed development” along the creekside over the past decade or so. Most people would call it “residential”.
The Neighbourhood Plan steering group claims that there is public support for mixed development, based on questionnaires returned after a public exhibition in May 2012 – but if you look past the tick-boxes and read the comments, you’ll see that the feedback is hardly a ringing endorsement. Read visitors comments
Over three-quarters of the people who ticked the “mixed development” box qualified their choice in some way – housing must not predominate, it should be affordable housing for local people, it must be low-rise only.
On the evidence so far, the plan will have mostly housing, affordable housing is not on the agenda, and it will be at least three storeys (low-rise is not possible – ground floors can’t be used for residential purposes because of the flood risk, so everything has to be elevated).
Need or greed?
No-one denies that Britain needs more housing. But creekside development is not about housing need – it’s about premium waterfront properties.
In 2012, Swale Borough Council’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) identified land throughout the borough available for housing development. It only included sites above a certain size – except around Faversham Creek, where it lowered the threshold to include the undeveloped creekside plots, and set a target of at over 100 residential units.
The SHLAA identified a surplus of available land in Swale – the potential number of residential units is well above the borough’s target. There is no need for homes on Faversham’s creekside.
So why is Swale Borough Council so determined to see them built?
There are alternatives
Neighbourhood Plan development proposals have to be “deliverable”. The steering group seems to assume that only housing, restaurants and shops are deliverable, although there is no evidence that it has scrutinised business plans to assess the viability of proposed developments.
Doubts are cast about the deliverability of alternative, maritime uses (ironic, since the only body that has actually delivered anything so far is the Faversham Creek Trust). There are sound business plans for alternative proposals, but these have not been considered.
The creekside need not be preserved in aspic. There are great opportunities for development – so long as it is driven by the Creek itself. Get the Creek working, bring back the barges, attract the visitors, and demand-driven businesses will develop – isn’t that more deliverable than speculative development?
Need, greed and mixed development – what do you think?
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