In light of the housing target set by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in Sevenoaks, Sir Michael wrote to the Housing Minister, James Brokenshire, urging him to reduce the unsustainable and unrealistic target: Sevenoaks is 93% Green Belt and 6% Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, making it one of the hardest hit by the new target.
Sir Michael said: “The Government’s housing target for Sevenoaks is just unrealistic and I have urged the Housing Ministry to reconsider. I have always pledged to protect the Green Belt and I will continue to do so. My hope is for a balance between the need to provide some new and affordable housing for the next generation on one hand, and protecting our villages from intrusive development on the other.”
Michael has officially launched Sevenoaks District Council’s new Super-HERO service in a ceremony at the Housing Forum.
The Sevenoaks District Council’s current Housing, Energy and Retraining Options (HERO) service has received national recognition for its work. According to the Council, its HERO service has helped thousands of people with issues relating to housing, debt, mortgage and further education and employment options.
Super-HERO extends the decade-old HERO service to offer a more holistic approach to providing support. It will help people to live independently in their own homes, offering small home adaptations such as grab-rails and stair lifts to more technologically-based devices such as remote health monitors.
HERO officers will now work closely with GPs and provide relief such as a maternity package covering benefits, housing and debt service to vulnerable parents and people fleeing domestic violence.
Michael awarded the Council’s HERO officers with certificates as a mark of their achievement.
He said: ‘I’m pleased that HERO has evolved into a service that will now look beyond just housing, with health at its core. I refer hundreds of my constituents to Sevenoaks District Council services every year, and I see at first-hand the commitment and professionalism of its officers.’
Michael has welcomed the Sevenoaks District Council’s Local Plan survey: an important planning policy which says what can be built and where, as well as what should be protected up to 2035.
The survey, sent to every household in the district, is the first step to forming the new Local Plan. It asks residents for their opinions on early suggested options for dealing with anticipated issues the district will face.
In a comprehensive set of responses, the Sevenoaks MP indicated that he supports the Council’s overall strategy to promote housing choice for all whilst maintaining Green Belt protections.
‘Only 15 per cent of housing here is affordable’, he wrote. ‘Older generations need options to downsize and younger; economically-active families need a chance to move in.’
The local MP supported the District Council’s approach to promoting environmentally-friendly improvements, but cautioned against developing renewable sites that diverge from the historic aesthetic of the district.
Michael said: ‘The Plan recognises that both ambition and caution are required to deliver for the next generation. Residents must decide how best to solve the challenges we face. I will continue to work with the Council.’
Michael has welcomed the Government’s decision to provide over one and a half million pounds for the redevelopment of Fort Halstead.
The announcement came as the Government allocated £102 million of Local Growth Deal funding for nineteen projects in the South East.
The £1.53 million for Fort Halstead will enable the building of 450 homes, a hotel, a new village centre and a business park with 1,100 high-tech jobs, making it Sevenoaks’ largest new employment site.
Michael said: “This is excellent news for Sevenoaks. Redeveloping Fort Halstead is a key local priority. This funding will kickstart the process, delivering the new housing and jobs we need in the area.”
In his latest column for the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Michael has written about the need to protect the Green Belt:
Like many in Sevenoaks, I was concerned by the suggestion that our district council is considering allowing swathes of new housing on the 300 sites that were submitted earlier this year for possible development, including many on Green Belt land.
While more homes are needed to cope with a rising population, the idea that 12,400 new sites in the District would be developed by 2035 led to understandable alarm. We love our town and villages with the beautiful countryside that surrounds them. The large amount of Green Belt land in this area is one of the many things that makes my constituency one of the nicest places to live in the country.
But it is important to remember that this number is merely an initial target, calculated using national figures without accounting for local constraints.
It is vital therefore that the council undertakes a proper, methodical process to develop its plan. If its plan isn’t sound, unwanted development could run rife, with applications governed by national policies, not local priorities.
We need to get this right. But I am confident the council’s work will demonstrate that the constraints presented by our large areas of Green Belt and AONB make it impossible for so many houses to be built.
We also need to ensure that this process stands up to local scrutiny so that people can have confidence in the final plan. The public consultation that will take place next year must not merely pay lip service to the legitimate concerns of local residents.
Of course we need some more housing. But there are still many brownfield sites awaiting development and any development needs to respect our local priorities and the characteristics that make our town what it is.
At the general election last year, I promised the people of Sevenoaks that I would fight to protect the Green Belt from inappropriate development. I intend to keep that promise.
On Friday, Michael opened The Vales, a new affordable housing development near Bat & Ball Station in Sevenoaks.
The development is owned by Moat Homes, which has worked in collaboration with SDC to build 11 new properties. The properties are a mixture of shared ownership and affordable rent homes.
Michael spoke to the assembled guests, which included representatives from SDC and Moat and several of the new residents. He congratulated Moat on the development, which is built on the site of the former ambulance station, before joining guests for a tour of the new properties.
Michael said: “I was delighted to open The Vales. We need more housing in Sevenoaks but we also want to protect our environment and the Green Belt. This innovative scheme is an example of how collaboration between councils and developers is reinforcing the bottom rung of the housing ladder, helping young families to work towards owning their own home.”
Michael enjoyed a visit to Tubs Hill House in the heart of Sevenoaks on Friday. The site formerly consisted of offices and is now being converted into 100 high quality new apartments, which will reinvigorate the centre of Sevenoaks.
The Prime Place project was begun in the summer by contractors Buxton Group, who will be using local tradespeople for the project. Willmott Dixon, who own the site, have a close relationship with Sevenoaks, having already constructed brand new buildings for Trinity Free School and Knole Academy.
Michael said: “It is essential that we build the homes that we need for future generations. Redevelopments like the one being undertaken at Tubs Hill House are an intelligent way to create more homes and reinvigorate our town without creating further urban sprawl or intruding on the Green Belt. It was a pleasure to see the latest progress on the site.”
On this latest regular day in his constituency, Mr Fallon also met Inspector Robert Slade at Swanley Police Station to discuss a number of local concerns and held his regular advice surgery at the offices of Sevenoaks District Council.