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HOUSING: Council in race against time to prevent 'near doubling' of homes demand

Thursday 10th September 2020

MAIDSTONE faces a race against time to prevent the "near doubling" of Government-imposed housing targets, it emerged today.
When the Maidstone Borough Council Local Plan was adopted in 2017, the anticipated annual quota was around 880 but this has risen to just under 1,600 if planning reforms go through.
A Government White Paper suggests sweeping changes to local authorities' ability to determine where developments go and reduced public consultation.
But it is the steep rise in the number of houses - which could total 34,000 - which is causing most concern among elected MBC members.
Earlier this week, chairman of the strategic planning and infrastructure (SPI) committee at MBC Cllr David Burton was defeated in his attempt to skip the next round of the Local Plan review - called regulation 18 - in order to speed up housing decisions ahead of the Government's expected rapid reforms.

Now MBC will seek to compress the consultation period of regulation 18 from six weeks to three or four weeks, reporting back with a timetable on September 22.
Cllr Burton, who insisted decisiveness is key, said: "I remain deeply concerned that by this course of action we'll simply dilute and delay our ability affect the greatest influence on the numbers.
"Despite that, I will work very hard to make this work but I do feel we have missed an opportunity."
Cllr Paul Wilby argued the decision "will allow the council to adapt the plan for Regulation 19 based on comments from not only groups such as Kent Highways, Kent Education and the NHS but also the public and local groups".
He added: "Without such consultation the council would be sidestepping an important democratic process. Sadly, failure to respond to the housing targets can ultimately leave us exposed to government inspector choosing to approve housing applications, which have been refused by the borough, at appeal."
Cllr Martin Cox, MBC leader, said: “Our communities know how difficult it has been to meet our current housing targets. The council has worked positively and transparently and is close to determining where and how we can accommodate these targets.  But the near doubling of our housing figure by the Government (to 1598 from 883 in the current plan) will be difficult for people to stomach.  In addition to attempting to slow down the potential impact of this the council will be making representations in strongest terms to get this number reduced.”