Fury erupts over council 'deceit' in housing plan numbers row

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13 Apr 2012
Swale council has refused to apologise over claims it was “deceitful and misleading” in a consultation leaflet about its new Bearing Fruits strategy.

Chairman of Bapchild parish council Andy Hudson accused the town hall of failing to properly inform the public about the extent of house building up to 2031.

He said the new leaflet stated there would only be “4,000 new homes over the next 20 years” when the total overall figure is actually around 13,600, as set out in Swale council’s core strategy.

The authority argued, however, that the leaflet related to the latest local plan document which focused on allocation of land and not the total number of homes planned for the borough.

But Mr Hudson accused the council of being “deceitful” and said the consultation may be severely compromised.

“The leaflet clearly states and I quote “4,000 new homes over the next 20 years” which is quite simply untruthful,” he said.

“I was informed by the planning department that the final figure included in the core strategy was 13,644 and taking into account the 3,238 already constructed leaves some 10,406 homes to be allocated over the next 20 years, which averages out at 520 per annum for the period.”

Mr Hudson said the leaflet made it impossible for people to understand.

“Those questioned said they felt this was deceitful and highly misleading and had I not made them aware of this they would not have known,” he said.

“The council must at once re-issue all the leaflets and make a full public apology.

“I would also suggest that the deadline of the consultation is brought back to compensate for the lost time and that residents are allowed to withdraw any responses already made which might prejudice the results.”

But cabinet member for planning Cllr Gerry Lewin said Mr Hudson had taken the quote out of the context of the leaflet, which he said makes it clear the 4,000 figure relates to the amount of land needed for the next stage of the council’s local plan.

“The council refutes the allegation that the consultation leaflet or any information presented by the council has been ‘untruthful’,” he said.

“The plan and its supporting research base have been posted on the council’s website as part of our consultation exercise to help understanding of the process. The leaflet is to alert people to the fact the information is there and very clearly brings the proposed new allocation areas to public attention..

“The breakdown of the figures are set out in table 4.3.3 on page 42 of the draft strategy: The plan period is 2006 -2031, the total proposed housing over that period is 13,644 dwellings, however, 3238 houses have already been built.

“A further 5313 houses either already have planning permission or have been allocated by the current (2008) adopted local plan - these are retained as they have already been through a local plan public inquiry;

“Therefore, we will need sites for a further 5093 dwellings and we are assuming that 1,450 houses will come forward on windfall, for example unanticipated, sites.

“And so we need to allocate additional sites for 3643 more houses to plan for the period up to 2031 and it is these sites which are the subject of the current Bearing Fruits consultation.

“We do not therefore need to find new allocations for 10,000+ houses as Mr Hudson claims. The 4,000 figure in the leaflet is a rounding up of the 3,643 figure quoted above, and was intended to simplify matters.”

Cllr Lewin said the full quote in the leaflet reads: “We consulted you last year on the big issues and options facing the borough.

“We have now moved on to the next stage - allocating enough land for new jobs and 4,000 new homes over the next 20 years - and would like your views on the draft proposals.”

Leaflets were distributed to every home, inviting people to have a say in the consultation which is due to run until May 18.

Protect Kent, the county’s branch for Campaign to Protect Rural England, said while it commended the distribution of leaflets, the contents “seriously undermined” the effectiveness of inviting responses to the consultation.

Spokesman Jamie Weir said: “When I received this leaflet I was shocked to see it stating only 4,000 houses when I know that Swale Borough Council is actually planning around three times that number during the plan period.”

The organisation said the council was being “disingenuous” and the lower number of houses stated in the leaflet could result in a low level of response.

By Marijke Cox
Your Swale