A public inquiry into controversial plans to build 950 homes, a new primary school, new sports pitches and new allotments, has concluded.
Planning inspector Deborah Board will now take time to assess the evidence she has heard for and against the proposal for Bushey Wood at Eccles before issuing a decision before Christmas.
The inspector made three visits to the site, one a walk around on her own before the inquiry began, a second in the company of the various parties involved, and a third after dark to assess the impact the development might have on the night sky.
The developer, Trenport, lodged an appeal with the planning inspectorate when Tonbridge and Malling council failed to determine its outline application within the statutory time period – a move that was strongly condemned by council leader Matt Boughton who accused the firm of seeking to avoid the democratic process.
The scheme was opposed by most existing residents of Eccles who feared that such a large development would dwarf their tiny village, adding undue traffic pressure on local roads and moving the primary school away from the centre of the village.
More than 800 letters of objection were lodged – Eccles only has a population of 752.
Residents formed the loose-knit Eccles Action Group to fight the plans and raised £1,400 which was used to engage a planning consultant to advise on the presentations they should make at the planning inquiry.
Gayle Wallace, one of the objectors, was pleased with how things had gone.
She described the planning inspector as “incredibly fair” and said the inspector had given members of the public the chance to put their points across.
She felt the ‘no’ camp had achieved several minor victories along the way, winning permission to show a video of flooding in Hall Road, against Trenport’s wishes, and challenging an assertion that the developments would contain a new retail outlet for which no business case had been presented.
Villagers are particularly cross that Trenport wants to demolish the existing St Mark’s Primary School, which is only 21 years old, and which is within easy walking distance of the village, and replace it with a larger school on the periphery.
It also emerged that Trenport did not intend to build the new school, but only set aside land for it and make a financial contribution towards the cost, with Kent County Council expected to chip in with the rest.
Mrs Wallace said: “This raises other unanswered questions. St Mark’s is a C of E school. Will the new one be? Will the teachers want to transfer if the school loses its Christian ethos?”
Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylesford, gave evidence at the inquiry, articulating residents’ concerns.
Mrs Wallace said: “She did an amazing job.”
She said villagers were sceptical of all Trenport’s promises having witnessed what had happened at their Peters Village development just across the River Medway, where a promised bus service had fallen through and a doctor’s surgery, which was required as part of the original grant of planning permission, had still not materialised six years after the construction of the 1,000 homes there had begun.
Mrs Wallace said it was vital that the Bushey Wood application be refused: “Otherwise Eccles will be swamped.”
She said Trenport held a large swathe of adjacent land in a landbank awaiting the outcome of the Bushey Wood inquiry.
She said: “They regard this as only Phase 1.”
Trenport has been asked for comment.