Agenda item

To consider any questions by Members under paragraph 19.3 of Part 2 (The Council and District Council Members) of the Constitution, notice of which have been duly given.


Two questions had been received from two Members in accordance with paragraph 19.3 of Part 2 (The Council and District Council Members) of the Constitution.


Question 1: Cllr Streatfeild


“Significant proportion of people would like to be able to live in the town or village they grew up in. That is true of Penshurst Fordcombe and Chiddingstone and across the district – how is the housing strategy, which identifies a District wide requirement of 423 per year, going to ensure we have sufficient affordable houses, which must be built at a rate of 12 per parish per year across the District, if that is to be achieved? In answering the question could the cabinet member also touch on how the council plans to make these homes truly affordable rather than just let at 80% of market rate?”


Response: Leader of the Council


“The draft Housing Strategy 2022-2027 and emerging Local Plan recognise the importance of sustaining communities through the provision of new affordable housing.


The District Council has committed to a 5 year rolling programme of housing needs surveys across all 31 town/parish council areas.  We are now 2 years into this programme. The needs surveys provide evidence to assist communities wishing to take forward local needs housing schemes, e.g. rural exceptions sites.


Local needs housing schemes means applicants on the Sevenoaks District Housing Register with a proven local connection to the parish, will have priority in perpetuity.


We are working closely with a number of Parish Councils and our specialist rural provider, English Rural HA, to deliver new local needs homes.  Two such homes were delivered in 2020/21 (Weald Parish – WKHA) and two in 2021/22 (joint scheme with Halstead and Knockholt Parishes). Six homes are due for delivery this September (Seal Parish). A further nine homes have been permitted and are due for delivery in 2023 (Seal Parish – WKHA).  Two planning applications have been submitted for local needs schemes in Chiddingstone and Halstead Parishes. A further application is anticipated in the Autumn for West Kingsdown Parish. Work is ongoing with other Parishes, including Leigh and Penshurst


All of the above mentioned sites will provide new, genuinely affordable homes. This means homes for rent, where the rent is capped at Local Housing Allowance levels or lower. Our partner providers work hard to ensure housing running costs are minimized where possible, with keen attention paid to energy efficiency.


Delivering new local needs housing is not easy - all parties recognise it takes time, commitment, tenacity and a willing landowner, to bring matters to fruition. A timeline for the proposed WKHA scheme at Forge Field, Penshurst, demonstrates this:


In January 2009, Penshurst parish needs survey identifies there is a need for 11 new affordable homes and recommends a scheme of approximately 5 affordable rented homes to meet this need. In February 2011, Forge Field is identified as the preferred site by the Parish Council. In October 2011 a planning application is submitted (11/02258/FUL) for 6 affordable units on Forge Field. Then in April 2012 another planning application is submitted (12/00946/FUL) for 6 affordable units on Beckets Field (alternative proposal to Forge Field application). In July 2012  the Forge Field application is approved (subject to S106) at Planning Committee.


In October 2012 the Forge Field application went back to Committee so that it could be considered alongside the alternative proposal at Beckets Field at the same time, given that either proposal could satisfy the identified need for affordable housing in the parish. Forge Field is granted (subject to S106) and Beckets Field is refused (scale, height, design and lack of S106 to secure the homes as affordable and local in perpetuity). Following this in January 2013 a Judicial Review of permission is applied for by Penshurst residents group and in June 2013 a revised planning application is submitted for Forge Field (13/01590/FUL). The application is identical to the previous one, but the applicant wished to resubmit the application with a revised design and access statement to address matters raised under Judicial Review on ecology, flood risk and heritage impact. In October 2013 the revised application for Forge Field approved, and a Judicial Review of revised permission applied for by Penshurst residents group.


In January 2014 a High Court hearing is held for both cases. Following that in June 2014  the Judicial Review was successful (both permissions quashed) on the basis that not enough weight was given to the harm to both the setting of nearby listed buildings and the conservation area, however this was only established by the Courts post determination of the application following case law in Oxfordshire on a wind turbine proposal, therefore we couldn’t have known that at the point the application was considered. The judge also considered that a robust assessment of alternative sites was not undertaken following the refusal of the Beckets Field application, given the reasons for refusal could be overcome with a willing landowner (scale, height, design and Lack of S106 to secure the homes as affordable and local in perpetuity).


Finally, in August 2021 Penshurst Parish Council undertake a new parish needs survey, which identifies an updated need for 18 affordable homes (2 of which are for older person households) and 5 open market homes for older person households who wish to downsize/move to more suitable housing for their needs. We continue to provide ongoing assistance with their site search. However, I am sure the local Member will put his full weight behind finding such a site.


Hever Parish Council also encountered very strong opposition when consulting on a potential site for local needs housing. This largely came from neighbouring residents.  Ultimately the Parish Council decided to call a halt and matters have lain dormant since. It is hoped the updated needs survey of the Parish, due in Year 4 of SDC’s rolling programme, may help to re-energize activity including the critical identification of potential sites.”


Chairman throughout this the Council, West Kent Housing Association and others have shown their unwavering commitment to find genuinely affordable housing both in the questioners ward and rural wards across the district.”


Supplementary question: Cllr Streatfeild


Clearly the numbers given fall a long way short of the total needs identified and how will that gap be closed?


Response: Leader of the Council


The Leader went back to his opening marks and advised that the Housing Strategy clearly set out a 5 year programme of which we were in year two of trying to identify sites. As he then went onto explain it was not that easy. If sites did not come forward, if the sites were not suitable and local residents wished to spend money on judicial reviews then the council were going to find themselves in the same situation. However, the second part of the original question was about affordability and the council were absolutely committed to genuinely affordable homes. These homes would be at the local housing allowance rate or below and that makes them genuinely affordable. 


In accordance with the Constitution, no further discussion was allowed.


Question 2: Cllr Purves


“With reference to the proposed KCC cuts in the school bus service, I appreciate this is not a District Council responsibility, but it will affect a large number of children in the District.


What can SDC do to help to ameliorate the situation?”


Response: Leader of the Council


“Thank you, I’m just going to pick up on one error in the question. These are not KCC school bus services which are being cut, these are operator- Commercially Operated bus services that serve schools. I think it’s a very important distinction to make.


The fact that that Kent actually looked to remove bus services at the same time and made a decision, although interestingly keeping the Kent Carrier Services – something that we as a Council lobbied on meaning that some of our most vulnerable residents will continue to have bus services which will take them to where they need to go, should be applauded.


I have written to the relevant Portfolio Holder at KCC. I’ve written two letters. The first on the economic impact of some of these non- school routes being lost. Particularly affecting the Northern Parishes of the district, New Ash Green and Swanley and also affecting other Northern Parishes as well. As well as highlighted the  environmental impact and also noting our new Economic Development Strategy which talks about transport and the importance of transport for a thriving economy.


I have separately written to the relevant Portfolio Holder on the school bus issue and I’m pleased to say at the weekend we heard that GoCoach would be taking over some of the route and discussions are still on going. For those that are interested, if you google KCC buses there is a real time update  as to how those negotiations are going. I know it is something concerning parents and pupils across the District and I will keep the channels open. I have offered any help that we can bring to bear in those negotiations but it is important to note that the school buses are commercial routes and they were stopped by commercial bus companies for commercial reasons.”


Supplementary question: Cllr Purves


The DFT funding of £35 million for Kent for the Kent business improvement plan, is only for investment in new services, so could Sevenoaks District Council not bid for a share of the money to run a school bus service itself in the District – it’s a new service so it would it not qualify for DFT funding?


Response: Leader of the Council


The Leader advised that his understanding was that a large chunk of money was in fact for capital expenditure and not for revenue expenditure to support bus routes.  He emphasised that they were not KCC school bus cuts. KCC had reduced their funding on a number of routes to £2million from £5 million and it was a non-statutory service for the County Council. He was sure KCC would be exploring how best to spend the money from the DFT and watching with interest ow the money would be spent, particularly within the district.


In accordance with the Constitution, no further discussion was allowed.


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