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Medway Council gives green light to £400m Rochester Riverside project - but slams government for ‘unrealistic and totally unacceptable’ increase in housing demands

PUBLISHED: 10:29 27 October 2017 | UPDATED: 11:39 27 October 2017

Rochester Riverside

Rochester Riverside

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Council leader Alan Jarrett said he “will not stand idly by whilst our green spaces and our housing market are decimated”

A £400m development, including hundreds of new homes at Rochester Riverside was given the green light this week, but government proposals to further increase Medway’s housing requirement were branded “unrealistic and totally unacceptable”.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is currently consulting on a strategy to help fix the housing crisis, and has suggested Medway Council needs to provide almost 9,000 more homes, on top of the near-30,000 already earmarked in its local plan - a blueprint used to help shape development and make decisions on planning applications over the next two decades.

The proposals, which represent a staggering 29 per cent uplift in the level of housing to be allocated to Medway, were strongly rejected by the local authority’s cabinet this week, and the district’s three MPs, Kelly Tolhurst, Rehman Chishti and Tracey Crouch, are all understood to have written to the government outlining concerns.

At the heart of the frustration for Medway is the seemingly more intense focus on the south east region, where the average rise is some 35 per cent, compared to other areas of the country, some of which have even seen a fall in their level of housing need.

The local plan, which outlines development up to 2035, includes not only sites for homes, but also the requirement of associated infrastructure, which bosses say would have to be substantially reconsidered were a target of 38,295 homes to be imposed upon them.

Earlier this summer, the council agreed to set up its own housing company in a bid to try and speed up the process of planning and delivery, but meeting current housing targets, let alone potential increases in future, continues to prove challenging.

Only last month, plans for 5,000 homes on the site of a nationally protected bird habitat at Lodge Hill were scrapped at the eleventh hour, in a move which left Conservative council leader Alan Jarrett furious.

Speaking this week, he said: “Medway, like most of the south east, is an area already straining at the seams to accommodate the originally proposed level of growth, and therefore any increase to this figure will absolutely not be tolerated by Medway Conservatives.

“Whilst the cabinet recognises the need for housing, and is already leading by example through the establishment of its own housing company, the sustainability of the government’s plan must be seriously questioned.

“Medway simply does not have the physical or social infrastructure to cope with any increased housing target.

“It is extremely unrealistic of DCLG to propose a change of target in the face of developer’s reluctance to build homes, and a current lack of skilled workers to deliver these homes.

“Myself and my Conservative colleagues implore the three Medway MPs, and other Kent authorities and MPs, to follow suit in conveying to DCLG the severity of the concerns we have here in Kent and Medway.

“If the government were to ignore comments from this council, not only would this jeopardise the reams of work that have already gone into the production of Medway Council’s local plan, but we face a scenario in which existing housing delivery targets will not be able to be met.

“On behalf of Medway residents, the Conservative group will not stand idly by whilst our green spaces and our housing market are decimated.”

The council was backed in its opposition to the proposals by the Kent branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Vice-chairman Richard Knox-Johnston said: “We welcome Medway Council’s statement as a first realistic reaction to the increased housing demand it has been allocated and the problems it will cause.

“CPRE has been saying for some time that the infrastructure is simply not sufficient to deal with the proposed new figures, while the DCLG approach does not address the real needs of young people and young families.”

The warning comes after planning permission was this week granted for one of the council’s flagship projects at Rochester Riverside.

Countryside Properties (UK) Ltd & The Hyde Group, chosen by the local authority to deliver up to 1,400 homes and other facilities, submitted the application in July and were given the green light by planning chiefs on Wednesday.

The submission was a ‘hybrid’ planning application, meaning bosses sought outline permission for the entire project, as well as full permission for the first three phases of the development.

This consists of 489 homes and a hotel, along with 885 sq m of commercial floorspace, site access, parking, open space and landscaping.

Project chiefs also wanted outline permission for the full 1,400 homes, a primary school and nursery as well as a pedestrian footbridge.

The council gave the proposal its approval, subject to the applicant entering into a Section 106 obligation to secure appropriate infrastructure and facilities to complement the development.

In total, the council wants commitment to 25 per cent affordable housing over the entire site, £4.5m towards future maintenance of the River Wall, construction of the school and nursery to be completed by 2021, within a budget of £4.5m, as well as a £2.8m contibution towards secondary and sixth form education.

It also wants £2m towards improvements to off site open space, £655,130 towards improving local health facilities, £655,000 towards local community facilities, £214,592 towards upgrading waste services, £313,012 towards deterring birds from landing, roosting and nesting on the site, and £55,486 towards controlled parking zones.

Responding to Cllr Jarret’s warning, the DCLG said councils are free to use their own methods to assess housing need if they have “sufficient reason to” and said it encouraged all responses to its consultation, which closes on November 9.

“The simple truth is that for far too long we haven’t built enough homes and we don’t build them quickly enough – so it’s time to fix that,” a spokesman added.

“This new approach will cut the unnecessarily complex and lengthy debates that can delay house building.

“It’s not a local target, but will help make sure there’s a clear and realistic assessment of how many new homes are needed.”

Mr Chishti, Ms Tolhurst and Ms Crouch have all been contacted for comment.

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