In Sevenoaks we are lucky enough to be surrounded by stunning countryside. 93% of our constituency is made up of the Green Belt and maintaining it was a central pledge in my election campaign last December.
I also stood at the election on a manifesto which committed to building 300,000 houses by the mid-2020s. There is undoubtedly a shortage of affordable housing nationwide, and this is preventing families, including those right here in Sevenoaks, from getting onto the housing ladder. It is an unacceptable situation which has to be addressed. However, we must not be completely blind to the local geographical circumstances when looking to achieve this.
The Government’s White Paper, entitled, ‘Planning for the Future’ sets out proposals to speed up and modernise the planning system and get the country building. I very much support the commitment to build more affordable and green homes and to give discounts to local people. The Infrastructure Levy to help build schools and GP surgeries, is also broadly welcome and would streamline a complicated process, although I will be looking closely at the timing of payment.
However, while the White Paper says valued green spaces and green belt will continue to be protected for future generations, its accompanying algorithm – which sets the housing allocation for each area - does not seem to take this into account as fully as it should.
The algorithm proposes not just to change the methodology for assessing housing need, but also to make a standard methodology compulsory for the first time. This means it will be set in law how many homes we must build annually, and for Sevenoaks (under the new proposals) this stands at 820. An increase of 109 homes from the most recent target, and most notably 120 above what is set out in our local plan as sustainable.
Given the influx of emails I have received on the topic, I know this is an area of concern to many of you and I have already met with the Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick to voice my disquiet. I am using your comments and feedback as part of my ongoing conversations, and I would encourage all constituents with an interest in this topic to also contribute to the Government consultation which can be found at: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/MHCLG-Planning-for-the-Future/.
I am of course not alone in making our local case and I applaud Sevenoaks District Council for their hard work to protect our green belt provisions– alongside their continued efforts to secure sign off on our excellent local plan. Cllr Peter Fleming and his team are working tirelessly to prepare a detailed submission to the Department in response to the consultation, and I will do all I can to work with them to ensure this is heard at the highest levels in Government.
By working together, we can – and will- ensure the voice of Sevenoaks is heard, and our green belt protected.