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The Local Plan - Six Months On

February 19, 2018 7:28 PM
By Nick Eden-Green in Kentish Gazette

Canterbury District's controversial and much unloved Local Plan was published 6 months ago so perhaps it's time for a review. The Plan proposed 16,000 houses to be built almost entirely on greenfield land and concentrated onto the urban fringes of Canterbury. It was accompanied by a Transport Strategy that proposed over £100 million of expenditure with no clarity on where all the money was coming from. This strategy did nothing to address our biggest congestion and pollution problem - the ring road and the feeder roads to it - other than hoping for a 'modal shift' from driving to walking and cycling.

So where are we now? Well, outline consent (which means consent in principle) has been granted to most of the major Canterbury sites with no clarity on how to deal with the traffic. Perhaps more importantly a string of other sites have been granted consent which were not in the Plan in the first place! Many of these were far more appropriate and far more sustainable than the ones in the Plan which is why the council's own planning committee has, quite sensibly, passed them.

These include an extra 200 houses on the Howe Barracks site, 83 on the Littlebourne Road, 87 at Blean (granted by the planning inspector), 630 in South Hersden and an extra 100 on the N Hersden site. That's another 1100 houses over and above the Plan which makes the Thanington site (or several others) redundant.

With all these extra sites, what is to stop developers from part developing each site but stopping before they are required to put in any new infrastructure? For example at the main South Canterbury site they plan to build the first phase of houses without a single affordable house and with no road or infrastructure improvements. A whiff of a downturn in the housing market and they will put in their well paid accountants to show public infrastructure or affordable houses are uneconomic and can't be built anyway!

Sadly, it gets worse! There is nothing in the Plan about student halls of residence. We have seen a rash of these come forward in the last few years. They are mostly speculatively built and almost entirely on brownfield urban sites that could have been used for housing. There will be accommodation for over 3000 students at Pin Hill (the old Peugeot Garage site), Kingsmead, St George's Place, Military Road (the old United Dairies site), and Pound Lane (behind Barratts). None of these are in the Local Plan. All could have been used to house local people in easy walking distance to shops, buses, trains, doctors surgeries etc thus meaning far fewer car journeys. Even Christchurch University is against them.

We all know that the population of Canterbury increases by about a third in term time. I, for one, welcome the idea of building purpose designed halls of residence for students if it frees up family houses for long term residents. But wouldn't it have been better for residents to live in the city and for student halls of residence to be on the fringe? After all, students are younger and fitter and can walk or cycle more easily than Mums with pushchairs or the elderly. It would also be easier to offer them a dedicated bus service to campus. But above all student halls of residence take up far less land than houses so use far less valuable farmland.

Because the student halls are speculatively built to make a profit for their owners, they are expensive. Evidence to date shows that they are not even being fully occupied because students quite understandably want to live in cheaper houses in multiple occupation. So we are constructing buildings on sites which could have had houses for local people and these buildings are part empty. Crazy.

The Local Plan was never good which is why I, and my fellow Lib Dems, consistently spoke out and voted against it. However, the reality is worse. It needs an urgent review and a major rethink.

Written by Nick Eden-Green and published in the Kentish Gazette, Feb 2018.