Plans for 635 Kent homes approved despite loss of employment land

Plans for up to 635 homes on a site allocated for employment use have been approved after planners concluded there were 'significant material considerations' that could justify the departure from adopted local planning policies.

Kings Hill: artist's impression of the new homes
Kings Hill: artist's impression of the new homes

The outline plans for phase three of the Kings Hill scheme in Kent were approved unanimously by Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council.

The application includes plans for the 635 homes, a new primary school, an extension to a community centre, additional allotments and sports pitches.

A planning report into the application said that the fact that the scheme proposes housing on land allocated for employment uses "means that the proposal is a departure from the development plan".

"Most of the site is allocated for employment uses and forms the majority of the borough’s intended provision of high quality office development. Thus the erection of houses on that land needs to be assessed against the impact of loss of employment opportunities but also the benefits of increasing the supply of readily available and serviced housing land," the report said.

The document said that a study, carried out for the applicants by consultancy DTZ, suggested that "there is no realistic prospect of the majority of business floorspace, of around 100,000 square metres with outline planning consent within Kings Hill will ever be built.

"This reflects changes in the national economy, the Kent economy, also reflecting changes in patterns of demand and more intensive use of floorspace by business occupiers so that the same number of people can be accommodated in less space".

The report also said that the adoption of the local plan policies which allocated the site for employment use was done before the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which "indicates in paragraph 22 that planning policies should avoid the long term protection of sites allocated for employment use where there is no reasonable prospect of a site being used for that purpose.

"Land allocations should be regularly reviewed. Where there is no reasonable prospect of a site being used for the allocated employment use, applications for alternative uses of land or buildings should be treated on their merits having regard to market signals and the relative need for different land uses to support sustainable local communities".

The planning report said that, though the council can currently demonstrate it has a 5 year housing land supply as required by the NPPF, "there is no question that the proposed development is a sizeable windfall that will make a positive contribution to the housing supply over the next 10 years and guard against any possibility of under-performance on other sites, even those which have planning permission let alone those that might be expected to come forward in the normal run of things but may not".

It added: "In accordance with paragraph 47 of the NPPF, the site is deliverable because: it is available now with the majority of the land cleared for development; it is a suitable location for housing development as demonstrated in section 6 of this statement; the development is achievable as there is a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within the next five years, and the development of the site for residential led mixed-use development is viable".

The report concluded: "As explained above there are a number of significant considerations that can be judged to justify setting aside these [employment land] policy considerations.

"Most importantly the release of the land to housing would support the significant NPPF identified national aim of improving housing land supply both as an end in itself and also as a tool in supporting the national economic growth agenda. That is supported by the identified assessed need for housing in the borough".

HOW Planning was planning consultant for the application.

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