Published: 07:48, 01 June 2020
| Updated: 07:50, 01 June 2020
Plans by the National Trust to build a car park on green belt land next to Ightham Mote have been rejected by councillors.
Tonbridge and Malling Borough councillors turned down a proposal which would have allowed an extra 240 cars to park at the 14th century landmark, near Sevenoaks, during an online planning committee meeting on Wednesday.
The decision, which was carried unanimously, barring one abstention due to technical difficulties, also scuppers the trust's plans to remove a temporary visitor reception and replace it with a permanent one, build a shop, and bring back the walled garden.
Councillors defied the planning officer's recommendation to approve the proposals, deciding the harm caused by the car park to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), outweighed the apparent benefits of the application.
The trust argued that the current car park, with 232 spaces and located in the walled garden and northern approach, is impractical and the scheme would bring back historic views and improve visitor experience.
Some permanent overflow spaces are included within the plans for 240 extra cars.
This would replace temporary overflow spaces.
During the meeting, Bernadette Gillow, general manager of the tourism site, said: "The proposals are fundamental to securing the sustainable future as Ightham Mote celebrates its 700th anniversary, in order to remain the jewel in the crown of the borough."
The National Trust predicts a rise to 225,000 visitors to the Grade 1-listed manor house and its grounds over the next decade, up from 178,000 recorded last year.
Many local residents concerned about the potential increase of traffic more visitors would bring, objected to the application and nearly 900 people have signed a petition against it.
During the meeting, Cllr Nick Tyler, chairman of nearby Shipbourne Parish Council, said his council "strongly supports the protection of the Kent Downs AONB that provides the backdrop to the quality of rural life in this area.
"A massive car park in an AONB introduces an incongruous element into the landscape."
'It's popular and its popularity brings its problems...'
Martin Coffin, councillor for Wrotham, Ightham and Stansted, proposed to refuse the plans.
Cllr Coffin said: "I can completely see where the National Trust is coming from but equally I can see where local residents are coming from.
"The National Trust is based on introducing people to the property because it costs a lot of money to run the property.
"It's popular and its popularity brings its problems. I believe the case has been made to move the car park, I believe the case has been made for the visitor centre.
"What I remain to be convinced about is the enlargement of the number of parking spaces."
A spokesperson for the National Trust said: "We are of course disappointed by this decision, but grateful for the opportunity to learn from the feedback we have received as a result of the planning process so far.
"We will now take some time to consider this feedback in depth before planning next steps.
Bernadette Gillow said afterwards:“Our focus remains on enabling this project to proceed so that we can secure a sustainable future for Ightham Mote.”