Petition for SDC to Compulsorily purchase Farmer's site.
SDC received a petition to compulsorily purchase a building site, opposite Sevenoaks' Railway Station.
The Farmer's pub site is on the right in the image above, opposite Sevenoaks railway station.
The petitioner (Mr. John Stabolouian) made a strong case that the land, formerly the Farmers’ public house, opposite Sevenoaks’ railway station, was not being put to good use, that it is a prominent location, and could be used to provide housing (including affordable housing). Clearly it is sad to see land being wasted and the developer has now started to implement the existing planning permission (at what speed this is progressing is unclear, and it is worth noting that it was necessary for the developer to start some form of building work in order to preserve their existing permission). There was no suggestion that the land was a hotbed of antisocial behaviour.
The leader of the council responded with an alternative to compulsory purchase, which was to both approach the developer to determine detail about their plans (including timeframes) and also to press for CIL payment [link to be added] which is now due (and which can clearly then be used as a lever to encourage them to move towards getting some form of return for the site - either by voluntary disposal or by completion of their build). The main argument from the Leader, against compulsory purchase, was a pragmatic argument over the matter of financing a compulsory purchase.
However, in my view, this is not the kind of thing for which compulsory purchase exists. Compulsory purchase does need to exist, for critical infrastructure. For example, when a road is to be widened it might be necessary to buy some land to the side of that road. Perhaps this land is owned by 20 individuals and a negotiated price has led to 17 of them agreeing to sell, and maybe there are a few holdouts who are not willing to accept a reasonably generous price. Compulsory purchase can rightly be used to mop up this minority, to allow the infrastructure to be built (in such circumstances getting a negotiated price for the majority of the land will also help to determine a genuinely fair price for the Compulsory Purchase Order).
During the debate I said that the people of New Ash Green could certainly empathise with the petitioners (in respect of the upper units in New Ash Green Village Centre). And that clearly it was sad to see such a large plot of wasted land right opposite the largest railway station in the district.
However, in my view, it would not be a proper use of Governmental power to compulsorily purchase land merely because it was being wasted.
I thought it was important that someone made the liberal argument for voting against the compulsory purchase, rather than only the pragmatic one.
One interesting thing to come out of this is that the petitioners say that a number of housing associations would be interested in acquiring this land. Certainly a reasonably positive outcome might be a voluntary purchase of the site by a housing association, and I'm sure that a demand for the CIL payment (probably of the order £100,000) might increase the sence of urgency the owner might feel to agree to such a disposal, or indeed to build out their existing permission, or to find another productive use for this land.