Tuesday, 7 August 2018

800 Kent homes approved after Minister overrules Inspector

Proof positive that housing numbers matter has just been shown by a major decision in Canterbury.

Despite significant uncertainty over who would fund the necessary local road improvements, Secretary of State for Housing, James Brokenshire, has approved plans for up to 800 homes in Canterbury, overruling his own planning inspector.

Developer Hollamby Estates has now been granted permission for the development scheme at Strode Farm, renamed Lower Herne Village, after a two-year appeal process, having lodged the initial application in 2015.

The decision brings to an end an appeal process – lodged by the developer on the grounds of non-determination – that has run for more than two years after Canterbury City Council.

In addition to the 800 homes, the proposals include commercial and community facilities, and supporting infrastructure, but it appears no funding for the required local roads.

Initially rejected for the “lack of rented affordable housing in the context of housing need and the greenfield allocation is sufficient to justify refusal”. The Secretary of State recovered the decision and a public inquiry was held, with the Inspector recommending dismissal, a decision welcomed by Kent County Council, Canterbury City Council and the local parish council.

The developer subsequently changed the housing mix, offering 30 per cent affordable housing contribution in all phases, split 70:30 in favour of affordable rent rather than shared ownership. This satisfied the Minister.

Worryingly for local authorities, and clearly demonstrating the persuasive influence housing numbers have on Ministerial thinking, the Minister recognised the proposed scheme would contravene several policies in the development plan, notably in relation to listed buildings, conservation areas, and highways infrastructure.

The Secretary of State even acknowledged that there was “no enforceable mechanism in place” to make the developer contribute to the Bullockstone Road infrastructure scheme, despite KCC saying it wouldn’t pick up the bill. He argued that the balance weighs in favour of the scheme, on the grounds that the site is allocated in the development plan and would make a significant contribution to the district’s housing land supply.

The new decision will not have been welcomed at Canterbury City Council, who earlier in the process had praised the then Secretary of State, for fully backing them by reinforcing the council’s position on the significance of the road improvements and affordable housing.

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