It is for Sevenoaks District Councillors to adopt the Local Plan and they are consulting on the details.
I want to make clear that I am not in favour of building new houses on our Green Belt. Indeed I have continued to object to the 14,000 total of new houses that the government proposes: it’s unachievable without breaching a significant amount of Green Belt land. I will continue to urge the Communities Secretary James Brokenshire, to reconsider.
I am aware that Sevenoaks Hockey Club and Sevenoaks Rugby Club (where I am a Vice-President) need more pitches, and I support both of them. But this should not be interpreted as support for any particular new housing proposal.
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 newly adopted Housing Strategy at this year’s Sevenoaks Housing Forum.
The launch, which took place on Friday (3), follows the completion of the Housing Needs Survey in winter 2016. The Housing Strategy document is the response to this survey.
The Strategy aims to tackle the shorter life expectancies associated with poor quality housing, using HERO officers to combat homelessness at an early stage and develop suitable housing options for young professionals and an ageing population.
With a focus on health, the document outlines a plan to support vulnerable people with mental or physical health issues, older people and military personnel re-adapting to civilian life.
In his address, Michael highlighted the ‘chronic issues poor housing causes’, particularly to individual wellbeing. He asserted that ‘growing up or getting stuck in unsuitable housing are injustices that we must address in order to build a country that works for everyone’.
Michael hopes the Strategy will stand the test of time. He said: ‘I’m delighted to support Sevenoaks District Council’s hard work to ensure our residents can access the housing that is right for them. I hope their strategy will become an example that is followed by other councils across the country.’
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 recently officially opened Andrews Court, a new development of affordable rented apartments for the over 55s in Swanley. New residents joined Moat representatives, local councillors and officers from Sevenoaks District Council for the celebrations.
Delivered by Moat in partnership with Sevenoaks District Council, the Homes and Communities Agency and developer Jenner, AndrewsCourt is a redevelopment of the old St Andrews Court. The scheme includes larger dwellings, which allow easier access for people who may have wheelchairs or walking frames, incorporating aspects of Dementia-friendly design – such as different coloured doors and carpets on each floor.
Michael said: ‘What’s important here is partnership; with Sevenoaks District Council and the Government. These things don’t just happen. They happen when there is genuine partnership involved. This redevelopment is vital for the community because it is affordable and designed to ensure residents have the dignity of independence.
The residents here want to be looked after later in life, but they also want to be able to look after themselves. For all these reasons, I’m delighted to be here to open Andrews Court. I look forward to more of these developments coming forward here in Sevenoaks.’
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.
Michael presented certificates to 17 members of staff at Sevenoaks District Council who had recently completed an innovative management development programme, designed jointly by SDC and Passe-Partout. This had covered a whole range of subject areas which are normally unfamiliar to much of local government.
All senior managers, including the Chief Executive, have had to complete 36 different modules. More detail about this special programme can be found here.
The District Council has now started a second course which has been attended by the voluntary sector, Sevenoaks Town, parish councils and other local authorities.