Residents call for housing rethink

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06 Oct 2010

Plan for homes 'undermined' by bid for new relief road

PRESSURE is mounting on Swale Council to reconsider proposals for hundreds of new homes on farmland on the edge of Sittingbourne.

A consultation is under way on plans for 600 houses at Stones Farm in Bapchild.
However, the development is apparently on a collision course with Kent County Council's preferred route for Sittingbourne's northern relief road.

It is feared that precious open space included in the housing plans lies directly in the path of the new road.

The 37 acres is designed to act as a buffer between an extended Sittingbourne and the village of Bapchild, although an assurance that it should never be built on appears increasingly flimsy.
Brian Lloyd, senior planner for the Kent branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said the open space was an essential part of the housing plans. "The prospect of carving up that open space seems to undermine the Stones Farm development proposal," he said.

With the scrapping of regional housing targets, Mr Lloyd said the council has the opportunity to review its existing housing sites that are yet to be developed. "Stones Farm, in particular, would seem to be a prime candidate that needs to be reviewed," he added. "Generally speaking, we want to see development focus on brownfield land. There's an opportunity in Sittingbourne in the town centre and on Sheppey -we are looking to the council to take advantage of these."

Michael Baldwin, responding to the council's consultation on behalf of the Sittingbourne Society, said the developers are disregarding the eventual existence of the relief road. He said: "No doubt this is in their corporate interests but this should in no way permit them to reduce the size of the approved public open space."

Mr Baldwin added that the housing plans need a "root and branch re-appraisal" to avoid creating "matchbox homes". He continued: "Sittingbourne has had too many recent developments of cramped, small houses. The new development, the first since the abolition of previous centrally-imposed restrictions, should create homes of which the town of Sittingbourne can be proud."

A meeting for residents of Bapchild was held at the end of last month when they were urged to take part in the council's consultation, the deadline of which has been extended to October 15.

Residents Meeting
Parish council chairman Andy Hudson said there is conflict with the open space and a "massive change" in government policy that questions whether the Stones Farm development is required.

He said: "It creates uncertainty, and if we are uncertain at this point, it should not go ahead."

Councillor John Wright, the council's portfolio holder for regeneration, said town centre sites could not be relied upon to meet demands for new housing.

He said brownfield sites can be expensive to develop and stressed the need for other options, such as Stones Farm, to be brought forward.

Commenting on the apparent conflict between the planned road and the open space, Cllr Wright said: "Anything that comes forward will have to fit in with the critical infrastructure that's planned.

"I am sure they will end up with 15 hectares of open space."

He added that he thought Bapchild residents would welcome the new road because it has been designed to take traffic away from the village. "It could easily be taken out and then they would have to put up with all the traffic," he said..

Report by Stephen Waite
East Kent Gazette