Published: 10:20, 30 July 2020
A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to help pay a potential £50,000 legal bill in an ongoing battle over the green belt.
East Malling and Larkfield Parish Council is urging people to chip in to help fund the hiring of lawyers in its fight to preserve open countryside between its neighbouring towns and villages.
Campaigners hope a review of the local plan will see the existing green belt extended to include land between East Malling and West Malling, preventing the gradual merging of what are currently distinct built-up areas.
This includes farmland to the west of Winterfield Lane - known locally as Forty Acres - which is currently the subject of a controversial planning application for 250 new houses.
David Thornewell, chairman of the parish council, says other communities have seen greater success when bringing in legal advice to help them fight against development.
Explaining the aim of the online fundraising drive, he said: "It's for the examination of the local plan, when the proposed extension of the green belt is to be considered.
"It's so we can be properly legally represented. We think we need someone professional to put across the case.
"At the moment the green belt runs down the centre of the high street in West Malling, so the object of this exercise is to make sure all of West Malling is in the green belt and not just part of it, and to protect the countryside between East and West Malling and prevent them joining up.
"We want to get to £5,000, which we can then put with funds from ourselves, West Malling and Leybourne. We ask people to please contribute, however small or large the amount you can afford."
It is estimated the council could face a bill of some £50,000 for instructing legal advice and representation for the local plan hearings later this year.
So far the crowdfunding campaign has raised more than £4,000 from online donors.
The 250-home plan for housing on the Forty Acres site would see the new properties, along with a community centre and play areas, erected on land in East Malling south of the A20 London Road.
Currently the 45-acre site is made up of two large fields used for arable farming, with the A228 dual carriageway to the west, Lucks Hill to the south and Winterfield Lane to the east.
The application for outline planning permission states that 40% of the homes would be classed as affordable housing.
Despite this, an online petition against the scheme was launched by neighbours in January.
Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council (TMBC) considered the application at a planning committee meeting on July 9.
The committee voted to refuse the application and, pending legal advice, will consider it again at its next meeting on August 20.
Campaigners and the council are united in efforts to protect the green belt.
The TMBC Local Plan is now at the examination stage. It covers the period up to 2031 and envisages the need for around 6,800 new homes in this time.
TMBC backs moves to protect swathes of countryside, arguing rural land acts an important green lung, and it has submitted proposals to formally classify more land as green belt under the new local plan.
Currently the borough can only demonstrate it has a three-year supply of housing land available - not the five years required by Government.
This makes it difficult for the council to turn down applications for new developments as it strives to meet housing targets.
More by this authorRhys Griffiths
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