The Future of Charing Village & Parish
What will Charing look like in 15 years’ time? Well that very much depends on what parishioners wish and how well they can influence the Ashford Borough Council (ABC) emerging local plan by directly responding to it as well as via the efforts of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Committee and the Parish Council.
In a nut shell ABC produced a draft Local Plan a year ago which proposed 55 new houses over the next 15 years for Charing. That plan has just been revised and the number of new houses proposed has jumped by 327% to 235 new houses. ABC advised that this large jump in the number of houses is due to the fact that population growth is greater than they had expected and as a result a further 800 to 1200 homes are required to be built in the borough.
In addition to this plan there is a pipeline (houses under construction: at some stage in the planning process or where the landowner has indicated his intention to apply for planning permission to build houses) which Charing Parish Council (CPC) has estimated at 404 new houses and this is not including very small windfall sites .
In the worst possible case Charing could face the building of another 639 houses. This would increase the housing stock by about 50% and the population of the parish by around 55%. This is viewed as unsustainable. Amenities such as healthcare and education and infrastructure such as roads and car parking are all unlikely to cope and that would mean existing residents would be worse off.
The Following Summarises the Potential Housing Developments
ABC LOCAL PLAN FIRST DRAFT 
- CHAR 1 – 35
- NORTHDOWNS GARAGE – 20
- TOTAL NEW HOMES – 55
ABC LOCAL PLAN SECOND DRAFT 2107 (ADDS TO 1ST DRAFT)
- WHELER NORTH – 100
- LAND ADJOINING WHELER NORTH – 80
- TOTAL NEW HOMES ADDED FROM 2ND DRAFT – 180
TOTAL NEW HOMES (BOTH DRAFTPLANS) – 235
NEW HOUSES IN PIPELINE
- BLACKBERRY LANE – 6
- YEW TREE PARK – 28
- ORBIT – 51
- THE GREEN (HEALTH CLUB) – 10
- BEHIND MILLGARTH – 4
- CHAR 1 EXTRA – 7
- CHARING HEATH (FORGE HOUSE) – 5
- CHARING HEATH (NR. RED LION) – 5
- WILKINSON CLOSE EXTENSION – 7
- PARSONS MEAD ` – 36
TOTAL IN PIPELINE – 159
WHELER SOUTH (GLADMAN) – 245*
GRAND TOTAL POTENTIAL PLAN + PIPELINE – 639
*This application was rejected unanimously by ABC planning committee on 19-07-17 and it is understood that ABC will do all it can to ensure that this proposed development does not materialise.
In addition the new draft Local Plan proposes another 225 homes in Hothfield near to the Holiday Inn. It is assumed that if that proposal goes ahead many of the new residents would wish to avail themselves of Charing amenities which will be under increasing pressure as developments take place.
This presents a considerable number of problems for parishioners as the results of the recent neighbourhood plan community questionnaire suggest. The results were shown pictorially at the recent exhibition held in the parish hall and the Red Lion in Charing Heath but for those of you who could not make it here is a brief summary
1137 responses were received including from 54% of all households
- Beautiful countryside around
- GP practice
- The post office
- Green spaces within the village
The five most important views
- North Downs
- The church of St Peter & St Paul, Charing
- The countryside
- The Archbishop’s Palace
- The village from the Pilgrim’s Way
The five most important matters to consider when more housing is built
- Protect North Downs and Pilgrim’s Way
- Respect scale of village landscape
- Protect areas of outstanding natural beauty
- Off street parking
- More facilities to service extra residents
The most wanted homes were
- Homes at market prices
- Homes for elderly or disabled
- Homes with shared equity
- Sites for self-build
- Social housing
Top five preferences for new homes
- Affordable flats, bungalows and houses
- New developments should have single road access to existing road
- Houses spread across lots of different sites
- Houses for all age groups and differing physical abilities
- Lots of different styles
The number of new houses parishioners would like to see
- Over 50% of parishioners would prefer less than 100 new homes
- Over 80% of parishioners would prefer small sites and no more than 50 houses on any one site
Five main reasons why people would leave the parish
- Unacceptable village expansion
- Lack of availability of house required
- Accommodation for changing needs
- Somewhere quieter
- Nearer to family
Five main housing requirements when parishioners next move
- A smaller property
- Specialist housing for older people
- A property to buy
- More outside space
- Less outside space
Five most popular sites for development in order of response
- CHAR1 (Between Arthur Baker playing field and A20)
- CHAR1 extension
- Behind North Downs Garage
- Land opposite Bowl Road
- Wheler Site 1 (north of the railway line)
The five most highly rated facilities in the parish
- Public library
- GP services
- Children’s playgrounds
- Parish footpaths
Five top facilities that need improving
- Amenities for young
- Vehicle parking
- Adventure playgrounds
Top five businesses needed in Charing
- Small independent retail businesses
- Hospitality businesses (pubs, restaurants)
- Farming and agricultural services
- Traditional crafts e.g.thatching, blacksmiths
- Shared office space for people working from home
It is clear that there are serious diverging views between the draft Local Plan compounded by a fast moving pipeline and the expressed wishes of Charing parish residents.
Ashford Borough Council is short of its requirement to have a secure plan to provide housing needs for the next five years and this has been made worse as the latest government population trends indicate that ABC will need to build between 800 and 1200 new homes to accommodate increases in population. ABC believe that the fastest way of addressing borough housing demand is to press for many more houses in the more substantial settlements of Tenterden, Charing, Hamstreet and Wye.
ABC has been a “persistent under achiever” in meeting its five year housing need supply especially as not enough houses were built during the 2008 recession and is trying to catch up. And to do that it is emphasising large developments which are more attractive to the big building companies and which can be completed relatively quickly. This is evidenced by the proposal in the revised draft local plan of a large estate of 200 houses at the western perimeter of the village of Charing immediately to the south of the North Downs area of outstanding natural beauty.
As you can tell ABCs needs are in conflict with Charing parishioner wishes. Parishioners expressed wishes for a much smaller number of new houses and to have any new developments on smaller sites with an emphasis on smaller and affordable houses.
How can these differences be addressed is the $64,000 question? We hope through a positive dialogue with ABC. Charing Parish Council and the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Committee have engaged two expert consultants to provide specialist advice to help resolve conflicts and develop a neighbourhood plan which will be supported by both ABC and parishioners.
So a reminder for everyone: what is a neighbourhood plan (NP)? The newish concept of localism is that decision making should be passed from local government to local communities such as the parish of Charing. A NP is a community-led planning framework for guiding the future development, regeneration and conservation of an area. It is about the use and development of land and may contain a shared vision, aims, planning policies, proposals for improving the area or providing new facilities or allocation of key sites for specific kinds of development. It may deal with a wide range of social, economic and environmental issues such as housing, employment, heritage and transport. Neighbourhood planning provides a powerful set of tools for Charing parishioners to ensure that they get the right types of development for their community where the ambition of the neighbourhood is aligned with the strategic needs and priorities of the wider local area. Community engagement is vital from the beginning right through to the end and we are fully committed to this approach. Engagement has been strong:
NP launched at four meetings during September/October 2016.Over 300 parishioners attended the meetings, around 20% of the adult population. At those meetings almost 1000 views and opinions were obtained about what is currently good and bad and how parishioners would like to see Charing and Charing Heath in 15 years’ time.
A NP Steering Committee was established in October 2016 to oversee progress towards a NP.
In November 2016 four workshops were held where those attending developed views on key issues which emanated from the launch. These included:
- Traffic and transport
- Community facilities
- Landscape views and green spaces
- Sustaining and developing new businesses
- Maintaining and improving village character
In March/April 2017 we sent a questionnaire to all households in the parish to obtain views on a wide range of issues which developed on from the workshops. Over 1,100 responses were obtained.
In July 2017 we held an exhibition of questionnaire results over three days where almost 250 parishioners attended.
Many of those attending our NP events have volunteered to help develop the NP including joining a task group; delivering leaflets; helping at community meetings including reception, preparing and serving refreshments and setting up and taking down. If after reading this you are prepared to give some help please email me.
A NP will be part of the statutory development plan for the area if supported by a majority of people who live in the area (in the case of Charing, the parish itself). This statutory status gives NPs far more weight than previous plans such as parish plans, village design statements and community plans.
The plan we are developing will be based upon strong community involvement and engagement and strong and objective evidence to demonstrate that the NP is based on a proper understanding of the area and the views, aspirations, wants and needs of local people. When the NP is completed it will be submitted to ABC and then be subject to an independent examination to ensure that proper legal process has been followed and that the plan meets the basic requirements including general conformity with strategic local policy.
Our neighbourhood plan aims to include:
- The vision for how the area should be in 15 years’ time
- The likely economic, social, environmental and physical trends affecting the area over that period.
- The development of housing including local needs and affordable housing
- Provision for businesses to set up or expand their premises
- Transport and access (including issues around roads, parking, cycling, walking and access for disabled people)
- To see the development of necessary local facilities such as pharmacy, GP services, educational facilities to meet additional demand without deteriorating service to existing residents.
- The design of buildings and the avoidance of damage to local heritage character
- Protection and creation of open spaces, nature reserves, allotments, sports pitches, play areas, parks and gardens, the planting of trees and the countryside.
- Protection of important buildings and historic assets including archaeological remains
- Promotion of tourism
We are about to commence work on around twenty different projects to provide evidence on which the final plan will be based. If anyone would like to help please contact me.
In order to keep you informed we are about to issue a regular newsletter by email. If you would like to receive a copy please email and ask to be on the circulation list.
Cllr Hugh Billot
Chair Charing Neighbourhood Plan Committee