Last week it emerged that Thanet Council’s failure to produce a Local Plan would have consequences.
This was widely reported – as was the letter from communities secretary Sajid Javid to the council’s leader Bob Bayford.
But while media reported the implications for Thanet, including being directed by central government on its plan or Kent County Council being tasked with it, there was another element Mr Javid’s letter to Cllr Bayford which went largely unnoticed.
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The minister said: “In terms of the intervention criteria, Thanet have failed to make progress on planmaking, the policies do not appear to be up to date and there is high housing pressure.
“My officials will begin formal discussions on the options of inviting Kent County Council to prepare a Local Plan for Thanet and with the neighbouring authorities on the possibility of directing a Joint Plan, as part of considering whether to use my statutory powers and if so which ones.”
A joint plan with a neighbouring authority? Thanet only has two neighbours: Canterbury and Dover.
Canterbury has already produced its Local Plan which contains nearly 16,000 new homes on sites across the district.
The plan is not popular with those who make it their duty to scrutinise what the council is up to, but it has been approved by the independent planning inspector.
In short, therefore, it’s a goer. The council has already approved the construction of the Mountfield Park development at the foot of the New and Old Dover Roads.
So what does the authority, which has poured so much officer time into drawing up its plan, think about the possibility of having to come up with a joint plan with Thanet?
The short answer is that it is saying little. Asked this week if it is concerned that it might have to rework its document or even find room for more homes around the district, the council said: “We are watching developments in Thanet very closely and hope they can resolve the difficulties they have encountered in adopting a local plan in due course.”
Presumably, nothing is yet certain and the authority does not want to alarm its residents unnecessarily.
Many residents who have looked at the Local Plan are not fans of it and one, former city and county councillor Martin Yve, dubbed the 4,000-home Mountfield Park element the worst planning decision Canterbury had ever taken.
His Lib Dem counterpart Nick Eden-Green, the Wincheap city councillor, also has plenty to say on the matter.
He told the Canterbury Journal: “We have mixed reactions to this news.
“We recognise the need for a regional planning framework, particularly to meet improved infrastructure needs as a result of a significant increase to housing numbers.
“Thus we welcome Sajid Javid’s regional input. One of our main reasons for consistently opposing Canterbury’s Local Plan was because it utterly fails to address the problem of the ring road and the feeder roads to it being required to handle traffic from 10,000 plus more houses.
“The bland hope that people will take to walking and cycling from fringe of city housing estates is pie in the sky and not a valid planning solution but a vainglorious hope.”
Cllr Eden-Green added: “Sajid Javid’s intervention, albeit caused by the incompetence of Thanet Council who couldn’t produce a Local Plan in the first place, does give the opportunity to look at housing numbers on a sub-regional basis and to support them with appropriate infrastructure such as a southern bypass for Canterbury.”
Cllr Eden-Green’s words will resonate with those who believe planning should be done on a regional rather than local authority boundary basis.
David Kemsley is vice-chairman of of the Oaten Hill and South Canterbury Association.
He said: “I can’t speak on behalf of any of the organisations I’m a member of because we haven’t discussed it at committee yet, but this looks like a really big story.
“It could have all sorts of ramifications for Canterbury, but equally it’s full of unknowns.
“And I’ve always felt that when it comes to things like housing and roads, they should be looked at on a half-county or even whole county scale.
“It doesn’t make much sense to divide such things up according to small local authority boundaries.
“If what Sajid Javid is saying happens and the plan has to be done again, then this should be an opportunity to review it and to look closely at the supporting infrastructure.”
Peter Styles, a businessman from south Canterbury, added: “Canterbury should have co-operated with Thanet prior to proposing mix of housing supply in a new Local Plan.
“A joined up housing proposal could have centred on a Manston Garden City, with ready made high speed rail and dual carriageway road access.”
The fate of Manston – whether it remains a functioning airport or is developed for housing – has a caused considerable headache for years and is tied to Thanet’s failure to produce a Local Plan.
Now its plight is threatening to have an effect on Canterbury. But quite what that will be remains to be seen.