To receive any petitions submitted by members of the public under paragraph 18 of Part 2 (The Council and District Council Members) of the Constitution:
The Sevenoaks Society had submitted a petition with 1463 signatures in the following terms:
“We the undersigned petition the council to make a Compulsory Purchase Order to enable the District Council to acquire the site of the former Farmers public house opposite the Sevenoaks Railway Station on London Road so as to bring it into productive use at an early date with a residential development which includes affordable housing.
Permission was first given in 2005 on appeal for the demolition of the Farmers, a much loved local pub, and the construction of 23 flats and maisonettes. In 2015 a second permission was given, again on appeal, for a revised scheme, the construction of 39 flats together with retail units on the ground floor. During all that time the site has lain as it remains today, unused and unkempt, an eyesore surrounded by scruffy hoardings contributing no rates or Council Tax.
It is time for the Council to follow up what they have said in the Local Plan about getting vacant sites into development and act to put an end to this eyesore. In collaboration with the right development partner or housing association much needed homes could be provided on this site including an element of affordable housing.”
David Green, the Chairman of the Sevenoaks Society, addressed the Council in support of the petition.
The Leader stated that he shared the frustration but often what seemed like simple solutions were far from that, and briefly outlined the planning history of the site and explained the issues faced and the financial risk of any Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO).
He moved the following motion, seconded by Councillor Dickins:
‘That the council seeks a definitive statement from the owner of their timelines to dispose of the site or to fully implement the planning permission. I also move that the council pursues the owner for the full CIL payment due.’
Speaking to the motion he advised that his preferred course of action remained finding another developer interested in taking over the site and developing it with a more sympathetic scheme than the one which was approved on appeal, as it was a real landmark site and deserved the very best architectural solution. He would not want to proceed with the current scheme which he believed was seriously deficient in terms of design, and so would need a masterplan, a consultation, a planning application followed by a CPO resolution, a possible Inquiry and negotiation on a price. A conservative timeline would be around 3 years but could be more. So whilst a CPO might look appealing it was not a course of action he could recommend at the current time.
Councillor Purves queried how much longer the town had to wait and that a fair price could be agreed at the lands tribunal. It was a scruffy site with a detrimental impact on the town when it could have much need affordable housing on it with joint partnerships with local housing associations.
In response it was stated that if there was a landlord/housing association willing to take on the site the council would be very interested. Some discussion was held on the shared feelings of frustration, and the suitability of a CPO for the site.
The motion was put to the vote and it was
a) a definitive statement be sought from the owner of the former Farmers public house site, of their timelines to dispose of the site or to fully implement the planning permission; and
b) the owner be pursued for the full community infrastructure levy (CIL) payment due.