How will the news 200 potential development sites are being considered in one Kent borough have been received, and what are the implications for landowners and developers?
The council in question is Tonbridge and Malling, and the sites are being listed as a result of its efforts to develop a Local Plan.
The general public will inevitably be asking: what does it mean for me? Will my house be surrounded by new development? Will I lose my lovely view?
To assuage concerns, the council has uploaded a scaleable map of the sites to its website, outlined the timeline for the process, and briefed the press.
To those who think developers are simply looking to concrete over the Garden of England, the news will come as vindication of their ‘no to everything’ approach.
This includes the Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything group (BANANAS) , many of whom will be hitting the send button, firing off angry emails to councillors and the media. Unfortunately, while many in this group may consider themselves well intentioned, they too often shout ‘no’ before often considering the question.
Here, it will be a case of how do we explain all this to an electorate that is inherently conservative and largely opposed to development, yet the Government’s NPPF requires a five-year land supply and buffer.
From their perspective, politicians are often caught between a rock and a hard place. Support development and they face losing local political support, oppose it and they contravene national planning policy, leaving them open to losing at appeal and costs.
Many developers and landowners will now be considering the scale of the challenge and competition to secure their site within the Local Plan, and considering what can be done to strengthen their case, or importantly mitigate any negative reaction.
Securing a positive reaction from the local community is rare, and for many developers – especially those with larger and more controversial schemes – the challenge is how to manage the negative before it becomes a full-blown opposition group. This is often a job for the likes of Maxim, which aims to present a positive case to the right people at the right time.
The prospect of development is manna from heaven for the media, with the image of local residents fighting the big bad developers: manning the barricades, placards in hand. The challenge is how and when to brief the press, at what is a very early stage in the process.
And then there are the Tonbridge and Malling planners who have had to sift through the sites put forward, giving each one the necessary assessment and consideration. They will be the ones who bear the brunt of the public criticism. Arriving at the 200 sites that have made it this far has required considerable man hours, and the work is far from over as there will be public consultation later in the year.
With planning departments under huge pressure in terms of resource, having to manage the Local Plan process must put added strain and probably hinder the passage of many other actual applications.