At the end of last year there was a mad rush to pull forward the schedule for Maidstone's housing plan, to "lock in" the current existing planned housing numbers (already boost by 40% by the government since the original local plan of 2017), before of the government’s announcement on housing policy. The government had cautioned that numbers would rise by a further 40% for any authorities who were not sufficiently through their local housing plan process (!).
Originally the council had planned to hold a public consultation on housing sites [called Regulation 18B], following by amendment of the housing plan at the council based on residents' feedback. This revised housing plan would then be put back out to final public consultation [Regulation 19] in June 2021 and the government inspector would review the feedback and make final changes to the plan.
At the time Conservatives pushed for removing the first public consultation, which would have left the government inspector to decide on Maidstone’s housing plan. Maidstone Liberal Democrats opposed this approach insisting all public consultation stages had to remain and, critically, that the council had to keep control of its housing plan. This approach was agreed
Fast forward to the Strategic Planning Committee in June 2021, and we now discover there will be a delay in the housing plan going to public consultation as planned this month, but little more can be shared. In the discussion, Cllrs Clark and Grigg both questioned how there could be such a delay when timing had been so critical and nothing new has been included in the papers to explain the need.
After hearing that the government’s extra increase in housing will no longer happen, and therefore timing is less critical, Cllr Clark commented that this has been a “Bait and Switch” by the government, where the council has done all that it can to meet the new deadline, only to find it was never a deadline in the first place.. just a ploy speed up housing delivery in the borough.
It is clear that had the Conservatives been successful in removing this important public consultation, the housing sites and numbers in the borough and the consideration of residents feedback would be entirely outside of the council’s control. We would be in position where we would have completely lost control of our local plan.