Sevenoaks District Draft Local Plan Consultation July 2018

Document Section Draft Local Plan July 2018 A Balanced Strategy for Sustainable Growth in a Constrained District Policy 1 - A Balanced Strategy For Growth in a Constrained District [View all comments on this section]
Comment ID DLPP1065
Respondent Pro Vision (Robin Buchanan ID-5377) [View all comments by this respondent]
Response Date 27 Sep 2018
Current Status Accepted
Response Type OBSERVATIONS
Comment

The Government is committed to “protecting Green Belt land” (NPPF chapter 13 and NPPF
133 and 134). So is the Council (see the Plan ‘Vision’ – ‘people and housing’ and Plan
‘Foreword’).
How this is to be achieved through decision-making (NPPF chapter 4) in response to
“proposals affecting the Green Belt” (i.e. through the development management and planning
application/appeal process) is articulated in NPPF 143 to 147 (and in the Plan’s other policies
including Policy 4 ‘development in the Green Belt’), including the concepts of ‘very special
circumstances’ and ‘inappropriate development’ as these apply to decision-taking. These are
‘non-strategic’ policy matters.
Whereas for plan-making (NPPF chapter 3) this ‘decision-making’ context does not apply,
there is a different regime and conceptual ‘starting point’ available for the Plan. This is
explained by the Government at NPPF 136 to 140 and in Planning Practice Guidance (the PPG,
including ID: 3-044-20141006 and ID: 3-045-20141006). These are ‘strategic’ policy matters.
However, in terms of
“green field Green Belt land” (as the Council refers to and to distinguish
from its ‘brownfield’ Green Belt land ambitions, paragraph 1.10) Plan Policy 1 is ambiguous
(and suffers from the lack of strategic and non-strategic policy clarity in the Plan). It fuses
non-strategic, decision-taking (
“by permitting development in the Green Belt” – not allocating)
with qualified strategic, plan-making (
“only in exceptional circumstances
” – and as opposed
to very special circumstances).
This unhappy amalgamation is indicative of the Council’s muddled thinking and pessimistic
largely ‘development management’ approach to the key issues of Green Belt and housing
need. It is in contrast to what the Plan ‘Foreword’ otherwise acknowledges to be an
”ambitious
and appropriate”
plan making opportunity. Planning policies should play an active role in “guiding development towards sustainable
solutions, but in doing so should take local circumstances into account, to reflect the character,
needs and opportunities of each area”
(NPPF 9).
The Green Belt and housing (and other development needs) are local circumstances, but a
fundamental problem is the Council’s local definition of ‘exceptional circumstances’ (see Plan
glossary) which left alone will otherwise potentially acquire development plan weight.
While the range of possible ‘exceptional circumstances’ is left open ended (
“this may occur”)
the definition nonetheless qualifies the supply and delivery of new housing development to
make it conditional on other factors and limitations, i.e. where it is:
Sustainable re-use of brownfield land;
Ensures the delivery of new and needed key infrastructure;
Is needed to achieve regeneration, and
Helps achieve significant compensatory improvements in the Green Belt.
This mantra is as a consequence also reflected elsewhere in the Plan:
Housing must be “in addition to” social and community infrastructure. Even where the
“scale of [housing] need, including for affordable homes”
is acknowledged, the Plan
“is considering [only]
sites… that… have the Exceptional Circumstances required to
propose Green Belt amendment, which we have defined locally as providing social and
community infrastructure which meets an evidenced need
” (paragraph 1.10).
“We will be building on Green Belt land only in ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ where
developers are proposing social and community benefits for existing communities”
(pre-amble to Policy 1 - ‘Finding Places for New Homes’).
“We are still assessing whether the infrastructure proposed meets a genuine
evidenced need and whether the exceptional circumstances proposed are sufficient
to warrant a Green Belt amendment”
(paragraph 1.14).
The definition that informs the Plan applies a handbrake to housing every time. Indeed, the
use of semi-colons and the word ‘and’ in the definition appears to indicate that all these criteria
need to be met. But, even if that is not intended, the definition (and the Plan) does not
expressly or clearly envisage at least the opportunity or possibility for housing development
itself (including considering the scale of unmet housing need) to be an ‘exceptional
circumstance’ to fully justify Green Belt boundary review and release of greenfield Green Belt
land in the Plan (housing need achieves only an
“important target” status (paragraph 1.8)).
It is a serious omission in the Plan and in the Council’s approach to the plan-making process
(including in its earlier stages of strategy and plan formulation and public consultations on the
Swanley and Hextable Vision ‘masterplan’ and in the local plan Issues and Options).
This is to be clearly distinguished from the suggestion that housing (or other development)
needs (automatically) override constraints on land, such as the Green Belt, and must be met
in full. That is not Cooper Estates’ position and is not envisaged by the Government (PPG ID:
3-044-20141006 and ID: 3-045-20141006).
But, having objectively assessed and identified the (very high) need for housing development
and examined fully all other options for meeting that need (than green field Green Belt land
Planning policies should play an active role in “guiding development towards sustainable
solutions, but in doing so should take local circumstances into account, to reflect the character,
needs and opportunities of each area”
(NPPF 9).
The Green Belt and housing (and other development needs) are local circumstances, but a
fundamental problem is the Council’s local definition of ‘exceptional circumstances’ (see Plan
glossary) which left alone will otherwise potentially acquire development plan weight.
While the range of possible ‘exceptional circumstances’ is left open ended (
“this may occur”)
the definition nonetheless qualifies the supply and delivery of new housing development to
make it conditional on other factors and limitations, i.e. where it is:
Sustainable re-use of brownfield land;
Ensures the delivery of new and needed key infrastructure;
Is needed to achieve regeneration, and
Helps achieve significant compensatory improvements in the Green Belt.
This mantra is as a consequence also reflected elsewhere in the Plan:
Housing must be “in addition to” social and community infrastructure. Even where the
“scale of [housing] need, including for affordable homes”
is acknowledged, the Plan
“is considering [only]
sites… that… have the Exceptional Circumstances required to
propose Green Belt amendment, which we have defined locally as providing social and
community infrastructure which meets an evidenced need
” (paragraph 1.10).
“We will be building on Green Belt land only in ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ where
developers are proposing social and community benefits for existing communities”
(pre-amble to Policy 1 - ‘Finding Places for New Homes’).
“We are still assessing whether the infrastructure proposed meets a genuine
evidenced need and whether the exceptional circumstances proposed are sufficient
to warrant a Green Belt amendment”
(paragraph 1.14).
The definition that informs the Plan applies a handbrake to housing every time. Indeed, the
use of semi-colons and the word ‘and’ in the definition appears to indicate that all these criteria
need to be met. But, even if that is not intended, the definition (and the Plan) does not
expressly or clearly envisage at least the opportunity or possibility for housing development
itself (including considering the scale of unmet housing need) to be an ‘exceptional
circumstance’ to fully justify Green Belt boundary review and release of greenfield Green Belt
land in the Plan (housing need achieves only an
“important target” status (paragraph 1.8)).
It is a serious omission in the Plan and in the Council’s approach to the plan-making process
(including in its earlier stages of strategy and plan formulation and public consultations on the
Swanley and Hextable Vision ‘masterplan’ and in the local plan Issues and Options).
This is to be clearly distinguished from the suggestion that housing (or other development)
needs (automatically) override constraints on land, such as the Green Belt, and must be met
in full. That is not Cooper Estates’ position and is not envisaged by the Government (PPG ID:
3-044-20141006 and ID: 3-045-20141006).
But, having objectively assessed and identified the (very high) need for housing development
and examined fully all other options for meeting that need (than green field Green Belt land
None of the land promoted by Cooper Estates is in conflict with the particular function of this
Green Belt, but even if it were it amounts to around 0.1% of the land area in the District that
is in the Green Belt (approximately 133 square miles). Whether by allocation for development
in the Plan now or in a subsequent review, Sevenoaks would continue to be a ‘headline’ 93%
Green Belt authority.
This ‘loss’, such as it is, can be legitimately weighed correctly in the planning balance including
for housing delivery reason alone (NPPF 11(a) and (b)) and because the Cooper Estates
promoted land has highly sustainable urban edge extension potential at Swanley and
Edenbridge (the second and third most sustainable locations in the District) and are not in the
AONB. Whereas, of the 12 individual exceptional circumstances sites listed in the Plan:
one third (4 sites, 33%) are not in urban edge extension locations next to any of the
four main settlements (Sevenoaks, Swanley, Edenbridge and Westerham) – so about
half (3,365 units, 49.5%) of the anticipated 6,800 units would be in less sustainable
more remote Green Belt locations.
a quarter (3, 25%) are in the AONB – so 3,150 units (nearly half, 46%, of the
anticipated 6,800 units) would be fundamentally incompatible with the Plan which
otherwise intends land in the AONB to be conserved and enhanced in a way which
protects local identity and distinctiveness - see ‘What is the District Like’ and Policy 3,
consistent with the Government’s objectives for AONBs (and as distinct to the Green
Belt, as explained earlier above).
and of the 8 urban edge extension sites, one is in the AONB (for 600 units).
Alternatively, the Cooper Estates land could at least be removed from the Green Belt now and
‘safeguarded’ to meet longer term needs (NPPF 139(c) and (d)) rather than leaving that to a
future review of the Plan; but the Plan does not aspire to any proposed ‘safeguarded land’
(and at least in contrast to previous development plans which have safeguarded land, albeit
of limited quantum). This omission is unexplained but given that existing Green Belt
boundaries are
“drawn tightly around the 24 settlements in the District that have defined
Green Belt boundaries, which naturally restricts settlement capacity”
(paragraph 1.7) this
appears further indicative of a lack of ambition in the Green Belt and instead to largely
maintain the policy ‘tool’ and status quo of existing Green Belt settlement boundaries.



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