The Leader of Thanet District Council, Cllr Rick Everitt, has said that a letter received last week from Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Rachel Maclean MP, provides no encouragement that the government will give any additional support to protecting the district’s high quality agricultural land from development.
Cllr Everitt wrote to Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State at the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, on this issue in September following a meeting with local residents’ groups opposed to development of farmland around Westgate, Garlinge and Birchington.
The council had not received a response to a letter sent to the government in March by then Thanet leader, Cllr Ash Ashbee, which argued that Thanet’s best and most versatile agricultural land should be protected as a special case in the interests of food security.
Cllr Everitt further requested in his letter that the Secretary of State use his powers to call in applications for development on Thanet’s agricultural land so that he could decide them at national level on that basis.
In a reply from Ms Maclean on Monday 9 October however, she says that “the Secretary of State will, in general, only consider the use of his call-in powers if planning issues of more than local importance are involved”, making no acknowledgement that this is the case here.
Ms Maclean goes on to commend the use of the Planning Inspectorate to decide appeals, which it must do on the basis of the existing Thanet Local Plan and National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
Significant areas of such agricultural land were put forward for development in the current plan, sent for examination in 2018, and adopted by the council in 2020, in order to meet government housing targets.
The minister’s letter also argues that updating the Local Plan is the best way to protect sites from development. However, this is a lengthy statutory process and has been delayed by uncertainty surrounding the future of Manston Airport, as well as pending changes to the NPPF and housing number methodology which are not now expected until next year.
The council is currently considering how to progress the Local Plan Update in the light of these delays. Using the current methodology, which is based on 2014 population projections, would be likely to lead to further housing allocations on agricultural land as there is very limited brownfield land available in the district.
Cllr Everitt said: “I am disappointed that the minister does not appear to recognise the case for protecting Thanet’s high quality agricultural land which was set out by my predecessor in March. Without government intervention, the council and the planning inspectorate is obliged to decide applications on the basis of the adopted Local Plan.
“In the consultation on changes to the NPPF, Thanet asked the government to strengthen the rules on protecting agricultural land in future as we believe its draft proposals on this are insufficient to be effective in the absence of alternative sites. Overall, there is no encouragement in this letter that the protection of this land will be given sufficient weight.”
Attached: Letter from Cllr Everitt to Michael Gove MP (11 September); letter from Rachel Maclean MP to Cllr Everitt (9 October).