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Plan for block of flats in Drayton Road, Tonbridge criticised

By Ciaran Duggan, local democracy reporter

Councillors have approved a proposal to convert an industrial unit into a block of flats despite describing the scheme as "ridiculous", "absurd", and "a joke".

A three-storey building containing nine flats will replace an industrial store which has fallen into disrepair on Drayton Road in Tonbridge after the redevelopment scheme was given the go ahead.

MKA Architects' proposal includes the provision of just two "visitor" parking spaces, none of which can be used by residents, who will instead have to apply for permits to park on the neighbouring and "congested" Lavender Hill estate or rely on town centre public transport to travel.

Proposed flats in Drayton Road, Tonbridge, have been described as "ugly"
Proposed flats in Drayton Road, Tonbridge, have been described as "ugly"

Tonbridge and Malling Borough councillors reluctantly voted in favour of the proposal, despite heavy criticism from members about the lack of parking provision and "ugly" design of the scheme located on a largely privately-owned industrial estate.

Cllr Mark Davis described the parking situation as "absurd" and "ridiculous" while Cllr Mark Rhodes compared the design of the block of flats to a "watch tower" or "American hotel".

Submitted in March this year, the proposal from MKA Architects aims to revitalise a disused industrial unit and turn into a building which would house nine families in Tonbridge town centre, located half a mile away from the train station.

In front of a panel of more than 20 elected members and officers inside the Riverside Lounge of Tonbridge's Angel Centre, the applicant's agent, Lucy Harvey, made the case to support the plan as she said the developer wanted to promote a "car-less development".

Addressing the concerns raised by neighbours, she said: "We understand objections on parking grounds but the adopted parking rules across the county allow for (the provision of) one or two (parking) spaces.

"Two spaces have been offered as an additional benefit of the scheme."

Businessman Jack Ciupka, who occupies around 80% of the Drayton Road industrial estate, was one of several locals to voice his dissatisfaction.

Proposed flats in Drayton Road, Tonbridge
Proposed flats in Drayton Road, Tonbridge

Speaking at the meeting, he said Drayton Road residents would often use his privately owned car park at the site, which has around 10 parking spaces, to park their cars on the congested estate during evenings and weekends.

However, the owner of C&K Extrusions Ltd said the same gesture of goodwill would not be permitted for the nine families who move in.

He said: "I have been here for 33 years and the last three to four years the parking levels have become difficult to manage."

Following the speeches of the two speakers, the planning committee began to debate the merits of the scheme, with many slamming the developer's parking policy.

Ward councillor Frani Hoskins, who voted against the application, said: "I find it one of the most frustrating applications.

"We know the vast majority of people living there will have cars and no where to park.

"Lavender Hill is already close to busting. It's infuriating for me, let alone the residents who live there."

"I find it one of the most frustrating applications... we know the vast majority of people living there will have cars and no where to park"- Cllr Frani Hoskins

Cllr Rhodes, cabinet member for community services, told the committee applications had been refused for less and described the availability of just two parking spaces as a "joke".

Council leader Nicolas Heslop also expressed concerns and said: "I want to be bowled over by this application but am struggling to."

Council officers reiterated that the parking provision meets the criteria set by Kent County Council and said residents who move into the flats would be eligible to apply for parking permits near the site.

The scheme's design was another point of contention for councillors, with many unimpressed due to the "ugly" colours of the building.

Cllr Hoskins, who was critical of the design, said "It looks brilliant if you were living in the middle of London with a variety of colours, blues and yellows, but we are not.

"We are in Tonbridge. People will be fed up with it."

Cllr Davis added: "We have been passing ugly applications in Tonbridge for years, so I do not see why this should make a difference."

Officers at Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council told elected members unless the design of the scheme was shown to cause significant "demonstrable harm" to the area, then councillors would not be able to reject it on subjective grounds, such as the design being "underwhelming".

Just one member of the committee, Cllr Howard Rogers, gave his public support to the design, saying: "I find it quite refreshing and the colour scheme is something to admire."

Despite the concerns raised, only two councillors from the committee of around 18 members voted against the proposal after being told by officers there were no planning reasons for it to be objected.

A representative from MKA Architects, who attended the meeting, and the developer's agent left the meeting in good spirits but declined to comment about the result.

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