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Villagers fight Hamlin Estates over homes at St Mary's church, High Halden

By Rachael Woods

Villagers are campaigning to stop homes being built in fields behind a Grade I listed church.

The picturesque setting of St Mary the Virgin church in High Halden will become "urbanised" if Hamlin Estates is given the go-ahead to build 26 properties, say protesters.

Pauline Rose a member of the High Halden Church Field Action Group said: "If the development goes ahead this ancient part of the village will be urbanised. The peace and tranquillity of the churchyard will be gone forever and the long views across the low Weald to the coast from the footpath will be hidden by housing."

A campaign is under way to stop land at High Halden church from being developed into homes (13225729)
A campaign is under way to stop land at High Halden church from being developed into homes (13225729)

Campaigners also fear for the stability of St Mary's itself, should diggers be permitted to move in. Famed for its 13th Century timber tower, the church was built without foundations and extensive work has already been carried out on it due to subsidence, which saw the building closed for a year.

More than 60 villagers gathered together on Friday holding up placards to draw attention to the scheme, which has been referred to the planning inspectorate.

Speaking on behalf of protesters, Pauline said that the Hamlin Estates development was not needed as 135 new houses were already being built in the village and that it was also outside of the Local Plan.

Protesters stand in the fields where homes could be built (13225731)
Protesters stand in the fields where homes could be built (13225731)

High Halden parish council opposes it and fears that the new homes will generate excess traffic close to the village primary school, while having an "adverse effect" on the listed church.

Kent Wildlife Trust objects to the plan and Mrs Rose described the field earmarked to be concreted over as "full of wildlife".

She claims it is home to nightingales, owls and bats, slow worms, snakes, newts and hedgehogs and a haven for wild flowers, including wild orchids and pencilled cranesbill.

The controversial plan has attracted more than 200 objection comments that have been lodged with Ashford Borough Council (ABC).

Villagers in High Halden are opposing a housing development near the church (13225726)
Villagers in High Halden are opposing a housing development near the church (13225726)

Mrs Rose added: "This site must surely be the most inappropriate place to develop of any in the borough, next to the grade 1 listed Church of St Mary's - it will change the rural setting of both the church and the conservation area around it."

Charles Robinson. planning spokesman for Hamlin Estates said the site would not create "urbanisation" and is on the edge of the village, consistent with development allowed in the new Local Plan.

He said the site itself was not in a conservation area, while development that is sensitive to the heritage of the church was possible, as had taken place near Bethesden church.

Hamlin Estates had reduced its scheme and will ensure it maintains the setting of the church, while work would have no impact on the building, as the development is further away than existing homes.

St Mary the Virgin church in High Halden is surrounded by fields (13225733)
St Mary the Virgin church in High Halden is surrounded by fields (13225733)

He added that: "There has been a full and detailed suite of habitat and ecological reports undertaken to ensure that habitats are not only protected but also enhanced."

The issue of traffic near the school would be improved by the scheme he claimed, as Hamlin Estates has offered to buy the field to the north of the homes, to provide a parking area for the school and space to build a new village hall.

Mr Robinson hinted at the prospect of affordable homes on the site and said: "It is significant to note that an affordable housing provider has approached the developer to help deliver the housing."

Residents wanting to submit their views to planning inspector Tommy Caie have until the end of the day (July 2) to email east1@planninginspectorate.gov.uk quoting reference APP/E2205/W/19/3227775.

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