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Planning inquiry into Lavenders Road homes plan in West Malling continues

A public inquiry into whether permission should be granted for 65 homes to be built close to St Mary's Abbey in West Malling will continue all next week.

The inquiry, which started on Tuesday, has already heard evidence from Mother Abbess Mary David, who said she feared that the sisters' lives of quiet contemplation would be ruined by the plans by Bellway to build 65 homes nearby off Lavenders Road and Swan Street.

She said the nuns could leave West Malling forever if the application were passed.

Mother Mary David gave evidence
Mother Mary David gave evidence

But there has been plenty of other evidence too.

There has also been argument over the effect of extra traffic on roads – with both Lavenders Road and Swan Street designated as Quiet Roads – and on the loss of about 40 trees, protected by a Tree Preservation Order, in Swan Street to create a safe entrance to the site.

But much of the debate has been on how the new build might affect the 11 listed buildings within the Abbey's grounds.

A scene from the planning inquiry
A scene from the planning inquiry

The inquiry heard first from experts engaged by West Malling Parish Council, who talked about the historical importance of the "Fayre Field" - the application site - on the setting of the Abbey.

The field was the site of medieval fayres that continued until the 19th century. The local experts were closely questioned by Hashi Mohamed, the barrister representing Bellway Homes.

They were followed on Friday by a heritage expert engaged by Bellway who sought to minimise the objections, saying that an area of recreation space between the new homes and the Abbey would act as a sufficient buffer.

The inquiry ran out of time to hear all his evidence and he will resume the witness stand when the inquiry re-convenes on Wednesday (there is no hearing on Tuesday), to be cross-examined by Rob Williams,the barrister representing West Malling Parish Council.

Thursday will be given over to each party summing up its case and on Friday, the Government planning inspector, Frances Mahoney, will make a site visit.

Her decision and reasoning is not expected to be released for several months.

The proposed building plot near the abbey
The proposed building plot near the abbey

Feelings against the application are running high in West Malling, where the public have contributed more then £20,000 to a fund to help the parish council contest the application - £4,000 directly by cheque and £16,000 via a Crowd Justice fund-raising appeal.

Bellway argues the development will bring much-needed affordable housing to the town and will help meet Tonbridge and Malling's housing shortfall – at present the borough council cannot prove it has sufficient sites to meet a five-year housing supply, as required by the Government.

Those wishing to keep in touch with the campaign can visit the Facebook page of Protect West Malling.

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