Saturday, March 28th, 2020

Sevenoaks Society loses skirmish with district council over future of former Farmers Pub site but the battle goes on

The Sevenoaks Society were left disappointed this week after members failed in their bid to resolve the future of the derelict parcel of land where the former Farmers Pub stood opposite Sevenoaks station, but the campaign group were due to meet again this week to plan the next course of action over what they consider is an eyesore for visitors to the town.

DAYS GONE BY: The former Farmers Pub opposite Sevenoaks station

A campaign and petition by the organisation raised enough signatories to force Sevenoaks District Council to debate the matter this week and Sevenoaks Society chairman David Green was given just five minutes to present a case which would see the district council make a compulsory purchase order on the land.

A packed public gallery attended the council meeting to hear the debate but despite attracting support from somecouncillors,the society’s proposal for a CPO was rejected. However, two motions put by Councillor Peter Fleming were passed.

The first is to request from the site owners a definitive statement of their intended timetable for construction of any proposed development, and secondly, to pursue them for the outstanding Community Infrastructure Liability payment (CIL).

A spokesperson for The Sevenoaks Society said: “Naturally, we were disappointed at the outcome, and cannot agree with the arguments put forward against our proposal. But we are consoled by the fact that at least our campaign has provoked the Council into considering the situation and making public their position on this matter, and to take some form of action.

OVERGROWN: The plot which was the former site of The Farmers pub

“We are surprised that it has taken our petition to get the Council to take these steps and, especially, to pursue the developer for the outstanding Community Infrastructure Liability payment.” It is over a year since development was said to have commenced on the site and the CIL was due claims The Sevenoaks Society).

The statement continued: “Our campaign does not end here. There are further matters that we certainly wish to discuss with SDC, particularly the extent to which they have investigated the possibility of other developers such as Housing Associations being involved to provide a significant measure of affordable housing.

“It is not so much that the site is an eyesore – which of course it is – but that the opportunity is there to develop a scheme that will help to meet the housing needs of our community. We are extremely concerned that if no strong action is taken now, the site will continue to remain derelict and the opportunity lost”.

Here is the full presentation made during the District Council debate by David Green, chairman of the Sevenoaks Society

The current view of the former Farmers Pub site opposite Sevenoaks Station

“I have lived in Sevenoaks since March 1949. I spent 44 years of my working life as a solicitor in the town during which I was for 16 years the senior partner of my firm. I retired in 2011.

Let me start with five things which cannot be disputed:

First, the site could hardly be a more prominent, gateway site – immediately facing the main railway station.

Second, for 14 years it has lain vacant and derelict despite planning permissions for residential development on which only token starts have been made.

Third, here is the opportunity to achieve approximately 40 housing units, including affordable housing at a time of housing crisis, nationally and locally, and for which in Sevenoaks Town there is a real shortage

Fourth, for all those 14 years the site has been in the beneficial ownership of the same absentee individuals, resident in the Republic of Ireland, who in 2007 gave a written assurance that the site would be developed promptly and not left derelict.

Fifth, there is a precedent for this Council making a planning CPO your predecessors did this to enable the Bligh’s development (in Sevenoaks Town Centre) to go ahead. We simply ask you to use a tailor-made statutory planning power to facilitate redevelopment in the public interest.

Nos three serious issues. Firstly. Are we asking you to go it on your own? No, as our document makes plain, you will need professional assistance to identify one or more developers prepared to carry out the development

Then, working with that developer, who may be a housing association with access to borrowing and grant from Homes England, you acquire the site through compulsory purchase, and achieve a markedly superior residential development to that permitted on appeal by the Planning Inspectorate, including a significantly increased element of affordable housing.

Secondly, despite what others may assert, there is no reason to believe that this will involve an unacceptable financial risk. You will not proceed until you have identified a developer. You will then acquire the site for its market value, objectively assessed by the Lands Tribunal if necessary, probably around £2-£3 million. This is not a project on which the Council should be looking for a commercial rate of return, but the Council should with proper advice be able to get back the capital cost of acquiring the site.

In any event the sums are quite modest for a Council whose latest financial accounts show Investment Property of almost £30 million and net current assets (after deducting liabilities) of almost £8m. So please, do not be fobbed off with assertions that this proposal is ill-considered and naïve. If ever there was a case for the responsible exercise of CPO powers, this is it.

Thirdly, is there a genuine alternative? Since the Society first raised the question of a CPO, no option other than talking to the owners and waiting on events has been identified. To dismiss this Petition is to consign the site to further delay and dereliction –there is not the slightest indication that the owner has any immediate, or even medium-term, plan to achieve the site’s redevelopment, despite what they may recently have told the Chronicle.

We have been encouraged by the enthusiastic support this petition has received from residents and workers of all ages and across the District, as evidenced by the 1451 authenticated signatures it attracted The people of Sevenoaks are fed up with inaction on the Farmers site and there is strong feeling that the Council should have the courage to do something about it.

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