Thanet District Council Cabinet votes for option to relocate 2,500 home allocation and to drop policies protecting Manston Airport

Decision

At Thanet District Council’s extraordinary Cabinet meeting tonight, the three Conservative Cabinet members present went against the officer’s recommendation and voted for option 2; an option to take forward the draft Local Plan that had previously stalled back in January.

Option 2 was detailed in the meeting agenda:

If Members are not minded to follow that recommendation (Option 1, the option to allocate Manston Airport for mixed-use), to proceed to Publication/Submission with a draft Plan that does not allocate the Airport for mixed-use development and meets the housing requirement for the period to 2031 on other sites.

Draft Policy SP05 would be deleted and replaced with text that recognises the existing use of the Airport and acknowledges the current Development Consent Order (DCO) process for the site. This also provides the opportunity for any other interested parties to pursue the operational use of the airport through agreement with the landowners or through becoming an indemnity partner as part of a potential CPO process with the Council. The statement regarding existing use is not a policy statement; it is simply a recognition of the current planning status of the site. This also means that current Policy EC4 (and other Airport-related policies) would not be continued or replaced with equivalent policies in the new Local Plan.

In the event that a DCO or CPO is not accepted or granted, or does not proceed, the Council will need to consider the best use for this site (including housing), in the next Local Plan review.

Several Councillors spoke before the vote.

Two Conservative Councillors questioned the removal of saved policy EC4, which designates the airport for aviation use only. They also argued that the displaced housing allocation should not go in their own wards but should be allocated to Cliffsend on the opposite side of the district.

Other Councillors pointed out the lack of an evidence base for Option 2 and the risks that carried of Government intervention.

It was also questioned how many of the extra housing sites are considered to be brownfield, to which the reply from the Officer was none, contradicting suggestions made earlier in the day.

Background

From Thanet District Council Cabinet meeting Agenda:

On 18th January 2018, the Council voted not to proceed to Publication and Submission of the draft Local Plan.

In November 2017 the-then Secretary of State (SoS) wrote to the Council (along with 14 other local authorities), raising the possibility of intervention in the Local Plan process, and requiring a response from the Council by 31 January 2018, setting out how the Council intended to progress its Local Plan.

On 31st January, the Council wrote to the SoS, setting out a timetable for progressing the draft Local Plan, with submission expected in early 2019. On 23rd March 2018, the SoS wrote to the Council (and two other Councils) to advise that he had decided to continue with the intervention process.

The first stage is a diagnostic stage, assessing how the Council intends to move the draft Local Plan forward. The key consideration is whether the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) believes that further intervention would accelerate the Local Plan process. What MHCLG are considering is whether the Council has clear and credible plans to bring forward a “sound” Plan in a timely manner. Their conclusion on this point will be a significant factor in whether there will be further intervention in the Local Plan process

The Council needs to demonstrate two things:

• That it has a credible programme for bringing forward a draft Plan without delay; and

• That the draft Plan has a strong probability of being found “sound”.

While the current process is not specifically looking in detail at the “soundness” of the draft Plan, it is clear that if the Council were to proceed with a Plan that was clearly not sound (eg: if it did not seek to meet the full housing requirement), this would inevitably lead to significant delays, which could prompt additional, more far-reaching, intervention by the Minister.
If the SoS is not convinced by the Council’s proposals, this could result in direct intervention:

• MHCLG could direct the Council to publish/submit a draft Plan; or

• MHCLG could take over the writing of the draft Plan, or direct another body to do so (for example, KCC) at this Council’s expense.

Consequences

The 2,500 houses previously drafted to be allocated to the Manston Airport site will now be allocated to other areas, in addition to the existing proposed allocations:

  1. Birchington (600 homes).
  2. Westgate on Sea (1000 homes).
  3. Westwood (500 homes).
  4. Hartsdown, Margate (300 homes).
  5. Tothill Street, Minster (100 homes).

Government guidelines currently dictate a build of 17,140 new isle homes by 2031. This figure could rise to more than 20,200 homes, raising the requirement from 857 dwellings per year to 1063 dwellings per year.

Risks

The following risks were identified by TDC for Option 2:

  1. This approach is not fully aligned with the Council’s own evidence base in respect of the viability of the Airport, and carries a higher risk of being found not sound. Whilst recognition of the DCO process is a relevant consideration, previous advice from MHCLG has been that the Local Plan should not be delayed for the DCO process.
  2. Secondly, there is a risk that, if the DCO/CPO process does not proceed, the site may be available for housing in addition to the sites identified under this Option. To some extent, that risk may be mitigated by phasing some of the housing beyond the Plan period, but there remains a risk that Thanet could experience higher housing development during the Plan period than was previously anticipated.
  3. Thirdly, there is a risk that having no policy to protect the airport (which the Council could not justify on the basis of evidence) means that there is a risk that a planning application/Appeal for development at the Airport could have a greater chance of success. However, that risk already exists (see above), so this is to recognise that this may represent an increased degree of risk.
  4. If no decision is made by the Council in relation to the draft Local Plan, there is a significant risk of direct intervention by the Minister, a resulting loss of local control over the Local Plan and additional costs for the authority.

Links are already being made on social media about previous taken decisions against officer advice, such as loss of income from TransEuropa berthing fees at Ramsgate harbour, Pleasurama and also the decision to ban live exports from Ramsgate in 2012 which cost Thanet £2.3m in compensation.

Next Steps

The next stage will be for the decision to go before the Executive, Policy & Community Safety Scrutiny Panel (formerly the Overview and Scrutiny Panel) on Wednesday 11th July where councillors will have a further opportunity to speak.

The Panel will either accept the decision, in which case it will go straight to a Full Council vote on 19th July or reject it, in which case it will go back to Cabinet again before going to full Council on the same day. After the plan is voted through there will be a six-week consultation before it is submitted to the Planning Inspector for public examination.

 

You can read the documents related to tonight’s meeting here: https://democracy.thanet.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=151&MId=5069

For those with access to Facebook, you can see the recording of our live stream from the meeting here: https://www.facebook.com/supportmanstonairport/videos/1025566140944331/

The Isle of Thanet News’ article is here: https://theisleofthanetnews.com/thanet-cabinet-members-agree-extra-homes-in-isle-villages-to-protect-manston-airport-site-but-strike-out-vital-aviation-policies/