Future of derelict Farmers Pub site to be debated by full council after campaign by Sevenoaks Society
The future of the former site of The Farmers Pub opposite Sevenoaks Station, which has remained derelict since the pub’s demolition in 2006, is to be debated by a full meeting of Sevenoaks District Council (SDC) following a campaign by The Sevenoaks Society.
The Society launched the campaign in September last year as a result of the continuing failure to develop the site at Tubs Hill, despite two planning permissions being granted to the owners in 2005 and 2015.
The campaign included a petition calling on Sevenoaks District Council to compulsorily purchase the land to bring it into productive use. More than 1,500 signatures (* see below) were collected and submitted to the Council. As a result SDC has accepted that the future of the site will be debated in full Council at 7pm on 25 February.
The Society’s chairman, David Green, will be making a short presentation seeking to persuade the Council to take action and to issue a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) under s.226 of the Town and Country Planning Act so that a new scheme can be developed for community benefit.
A statement released by the Sevenoaks Society said: “In advance of the Council debate the Society is continuing to hold meetings with key personnel as well as writing to District and Town Councillors, lobbying others, urging our own Members to attend the meeting, and seeking to maintain public awareness of the situation.
“Support from the community has been considerable. Residents and workers in Sevenoaks and beyond have told of their frustration that this very visible site at a key gateway to the town has been left unused for so many years – an embarrassment for the town as well as a continuing failure to provide much-needed housing.
“Significantly Sevenoaks District Council has confirmed to the Society that it knows of no steps currently being taken by the owners to develop the site. This is despite the fact that on 20 February 2007 the Chairman of the owners, Glenman Corporation, wrote to a local resident as follows: ‘Thank you for your interest in the Farmers development site. It is our intention to develop the site shortly. We do not want to leave it as a derelict site. We are presently contemplating on changing one of the buildings that was designed for the site from residential to office use. One way or the other, we intend to start construction on site in early summer’.
“Furthermore, there has been no indication that the Council has in mind any proactive steps to explore the market and stimulate development. The Society has carefully examined all the options, and believes the choice is stark: a Compulsory Purchase Order, or continuing dereliction, planning blight, and – most importantly – shameful failure to provide accommodation that all agree is essential for our town and district.
“The pressure for additional housing in Sevenoaks is great – especially housing that is affordable. The Society’s own investigations suggest that a number of housing associations would be interested in acquiring the site from SDC with a view to undertaking residential redevelopment (with possible ground floor retail/commercial) to include a significant amount of affordable housing. This would be in accordance with the submitted District Local Plan, the emerging Town Neighbourhood Plan, and the consultation draft of Kent County Council’s Strategic Statement.
“A new, better designed scheme, developed for community benefit rather than as a speculative investment, would give back control to the Council. Both planning permissions were granted only after appeal, despite considerable local objections and rejection of the proposed schemes by SDC. The Society believes that the arguments for development through a CPO cannot be ignored:
- Speedy action now on this vacant site is far preferable to the release of more land in the town and surrounding Green Belt.
- The District’s own submitted Local Plan states that it will prioritise the redevelopment of brown-field land and refers specifically to the redevelopment of vacant sites in the Sevenoaks Urban Area.
- The scheme would be viable and would represent value for money; properly managed there should be little risk of financial exposure for the Council. The price to be paid on compulsory purchase would be the open market value of the site, not an unrealistic one put forward by the owner. If the parties could not agree, then the price would be determined by the Lands Tribunal which has considerable experience of such matters.
- Use of CPOs in appropriate circumstances is encouraged by the government and is a power tailor-made for the circumstances which here exist.
- There is a precedent: the Council made a CPO to achieve the Bligh’s development. Furthermore it owns and has a financial interest in a range of properties in the District. However this new scheme would not be a commercial enterprise: rather one in partnership with others with the clear aims of meeting an accepted housing need, at last making use of derelict land, and removing an embarrassing eyesore.
- There is no indication that the current owners will complete development under the second permission within the near future or seek an entirely new permission.
“In conclusion therefore the Society urges Sevenoaks District Council to be proactive, and without further delay to make a concerted effort to identify a partner for developing the site, to obtain planning permission for an entirely new scheme with a more appropriate design and content (including generous affordable housing provision), and to use its powers of compulsory purchase to enable this to happen.”
* Some of the petition signatures were discounted by Sevenoaks District Council as persons living outside the District, so the validated figure is 1451, still well over the 1,000 needed to require a debate in full Council.