A new campaign group called Gillingham Deserves Better is to hold a public meeting in the town to help boost support for its fight against the planning system and over-development.
The creation of the group, whose meeting is at the Methodist Church on the High Street at 7.30pm on Wednesday 30 November, reflects growing anger in the town at development on greenfield sites and what is seen as as an unfair planning system.
‘We’re angry and frustrated by the injustices and inequalities of the current planning system, which is heavily weighted in favour of the developers’, says Malcolm Briggs, acting chair of Gillingham Deserves Better.
‘We need to find a way to stop this licence to print money for the developers!’
‘It’s so easy to say “There’s nothing we can do”, but if enough of us stand up against this appalling state of affairs, we may succeed,’ he says.
Gillingham Deserves Better aims to combat the over-development of greenfield sites around Gillingham by challenging the current planning process with the help of specialist lawyers, and is seeking local support from people living in and around the town.
The campaign group is already concerned about the lack of infrastructure planned to cope with houses that are currently scheduled to be built in the area in the coming years – some 2,200 in all. ‘This represents about a 40% increase. Allegedly, there will be a new school, surgery and some shops provided. Will we ever actually see them? Will someone want to take them on? Will they be able to staff them?’ asks Malcolm Briggs.
‘There is NO discussion about improving rail or road access and so all those extra people, who will probably not work in Gillingham, will be commuting and that will probably be by car. That’s likely to result in thousands of extra journeys along the B3081 or the B3092.’
But GDB is also worried about planning rules that could allow even more developments to be built around the town on greenfield sites.
They point to the government policy change in 2011 which means says that if planning permission for enough new homes is not granted – or, crucially, the building of those homes is not completed – developers can apply for areas outside those highlighted for development in the local plan.
Developers can thus take out ‘conditional options’ on greenfield sites all around Gillingham, which will become enforceable once outline planning permissions have been obtained – a practice known as ‘land banking’.
‘We now have a free-for-all where options are being taken on greenfield sites all around Gillingham,’ says Malcolm Briggs.
‘As long as the actual building process is slow enough, the developers can keep applying for yet more planning permissions. This means that big developers can build on greenfield sites all over Gillingham that they would never previously have been allowed to.
‘Two sites off Common Mead Lane have already been granted on such a basis and the borders of our town are now defenceless. Prepare to be overwhelmed by over-development!’