Dartford council has delivered a further blow to Gravesham’s efforts to plug its house-building gap by penning a strongly-worded response to a consultation on its Local Plan.
The prospect of developing the highly-valued green belt proved deeply unpopular when it first surfaced towards the end of last year.
Residents don’t appear to have warmed to the idea despite council leader Cllr David Turner (Con) explaining his authority didn’t have much choice over the matter.
So if the upper echelons of the Civic Centre were hoping councils in a similar position might provide some relief they would have been deflated when Dartford’s letter arrived last week.
In the response, Cllr Turner’s opposite number Cllr Jeremy Kite (Con) wrote that Gravesham’s record of house building — 165 last year against Dartford’s 1,162 — had inevitably put the green belt at risk.
He said: “I regret that Dartford council is unable to endorse the potential harm to the green belt (or the wider impact on north Kent) that seem to lie within Gravesham council’s current growth options.
“Dartford is concerned that, instead of reinforcing protection of green fields in the green belt, the consultation features several unnecessary and premature release options.”
Of the six options consulted on, only one required no release of green belt land and Cllr Kite said that option was presented negatively.
He added: “It is a legal requirement for all local plans to be prepared in cooperation with other planning authorities. There is a concern the potential for any meaningful discussion is undermined by a continue lack of clarity on Gravesham’s position.”
Cllr Kite says Gravesham council’s consultation fails to explore the development potential of the town centre and therefore focuses instead on green belt land.
Speaking this week, Cllr Kite said Dartford had been criticised for the scale of development in the town centre but that this was necessary to protect the green belt, he added it was therefore in a good position to help Gravesham with its plan.
Cllr Turner said he was drafting a full response to the letter, adding: “As a council we will take on board Dartford’s views, however, I do not agree with a number of the points.”
Last year housing targets were increased in most areas of the country and Gravesham’s rose from 4,600 to 6,170 by 2028.
This is a silly argument as Inspector for the Core strategy in 2015 required a review as even under the old OAN target the sites ran out by 2028. Under the additional NPPF OAN they will run out much sooner. Therefore the exceptional circumstances test has been met in the plan. So much for joined up planning and the duty to cooperate in the light of the Thames Estuary 2050 report and its ambition to houses some of the 1 million overspill from London. It is also rather hypocritical as Dartford has large areas not in the Green Belt deliberately such as Ebbsfleet Valley and Swanscombe.
The proper response from Gravesham should be, were we to not release sites from the Green Ebkt will you take our unment need?
The issue here of course is both authorities are are a marginal knifedge between labour and conservatives. UKIP also did well in a by election back in 2010 I think leading the then labour administration in Gravesham to remove Green Belt sites in favour of brownfield sites than have not proven viable and have not come forward. Analysis of general election results has shown that in Dartford labour benefitted net by being pro housing more than it lost votes from Nimbys. Conservative run Dartford however dont want themselves to be forced to consider Green Belt sites.
The situation is complicated by the Deputy Leader of Gravesham resigning over the Green Belt Plan and 6 cllrs in Gravesham including the leader now having been deleslected by the local association for reasons unknown and which may or may not be to do with the Green Belt row. They will now fights as a breakaway group. This could let labour in at the next local elections who may reserve the decision, potentially poutting them on the local plan naughty step as then there housing supply position would be rest to the old local plan 20 years old. Looking more like north of the Thames by the day.