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Tunbridge Wells council abandons plans for Tudeley Garden Village

A borough council has officially dropped plans for a 2,100-home garden village development in order to move ahead with its Local Plan process.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council had initially included a garden village at Tudeley, near Capel, as part of its Local Plan Review.

A developer's illustration of what the garden village would have looked like
A developer's illustration of what the garden village would have looked like

But its draft plan was thrown back at it in November last year by a government planning inspector who said he was not convinced about the evidence submitted to support the garden village.

Over the past 12 months, planning officers have sought to produce the further evidence required to meet the inspector’s criticisms, but finally had to admit that they were some way from being certain the garden village would be accepted.

In the meantime, flooding zones in Paddock Wood – another area scheduled for major housing development – had been reclassified, with far more areas falling into Flood Zone 3 - the highest risk area.

Councillors were asked to endorse that a compromise plan be submitted to the planning inspector, dropping Tudeley Village and reining back on the number of extra houses in Paddock Wood by 1,000, so that none would be built in the Flood Zone 3 areas.

It means the new plan will provide Tunbridge Wells with only enough homes for 10 years into the future instead of the 15 years that was planned.

The meeting in Tunbridge Wells Town Hall
The meeting in Tunbridge Wells Town Hall

Cllr Hugo Pound, the cabinet member for housing, made an impassioned plea to his colleagues to accept the revisions.

He said: “If we don't carry this motion this evening, we will have let down every family and every business in the borough.

"Voting down the motion tonight means that we will have to withdraw the plan and start again.

“No plan means accepting that developers will be able to continue to build when and where they want to with almost no sanction.

"No plan means fewer contributions from developers for the facilities that we badly need.”

Cllr Hugo Pound: It's the best thing for the borough
Cllr Hugo Pound: It's the best thing for the borough

"No plan means more of our scarce resources spent developing a new plan that has already seven years in the making.

“No plan means tying up officers in a planning appeals environment where we almost inevitably lose.”

“No plan means we won’t get the right type of housing in the right locations of our choosing.”

Cllr Pound (Lab) warned his colleagues: “If you are thinking of voting against, be prepared to explain your decision.

"You will have to explain why you think carrying on as we are is so much better than what we could achieve.”

Cllr Alain Lewis: Abstained from the vote
Cllr Alain Lewis: Abstained from the vote

But there was still some dissent.

Earlier in the public session, resident Mike Voss had complained that an area allocated for 120 homes at Ramsyle Farm had been based on a false classification of the land as Grade 4 Urban, when it was, in fact, Grade 3 Agricultural.

He said: “This land has been farmed since the Domesday Book and is still being farmed."

In addition, it was in the greenbelt, adjoined an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and included a National Historic Monument – an ancient hillfort.

“It should never have been included,” he said, “There are other greenbelt areas in the borough far more suitable for housing.”

Cllr Jamie Johnson (Lib Dem) agreed with him. She said: “I am worried by the lack of accuracy in preparing this plan.

Cllr Jamie Johnson voted against the plan
Cllr Jamie Johnson voted against the plan

“To get wrong something so fundamental as the land classification is just not acceptable.

“I’ve lived in the area 60 years and know that this is and has always been arable farmland.”

Another member of the public, Chris Wise, criticised the council for not taking the decision it was about to take a year ago, when the inspector had first raised his doubts.

He said the year in between had been “a waste of taxpayers‘ money.” He pointed out that the council had spent an additional £178,000 on consultants’ fees, as well as the waste of officers’ time.

Cllr Ray Moon: Tudeley was the logical move
Cllr Ray Moon: Tudeley was the logical move

Cllr Alain Lewis (Lab) was concerned about the continued inclusion in the plan of 100 houses at Caenwood Farm off Speldhurst Road in Southborough.

He said the area couldn’t take any more traffic and there was a risk from traffic fumes to the health of the many schoolchildren in the area.

He said: “Since moving to Southborough, I myself have acquired asthma. Enough is enough.”

Cllr Lewis said: “I believe it is important to have a Local Plan, but I cannot support this one.”

Cllr Carol Williams, a Paddock Wood Town Councillor, told her borough colleagues that although the town welcomed the new flood risk classification which was “more in line with the experience of people living in Paddock Wood,” she was concerned that the revised plan no longer offered a new central sports hub for Paddock Wood, and held out the possibility that Mascalls School might be expanded to a two-form entry school, now that a new school at Tudeley Village was no longer on the cards.

Cllr Siobhan O'Connell: We can't stop now
Cllr Siobhan O'Connell: We can't stop now

She was supported by Cllr Ray Moon (Ind) who said that the Tudeley Garden Village scheme had been well-researched and would have provided more schools and better GP access.

He said: “Logically Tudeley remains the best option.”

He was concerned that without it there would be “only sticking plaster solutions for Paddock Wood.”

He said that the benefits for Paddock Wood were no more than "just wishful thinking and words.”

Stuart Gledhill, the chairman of Save Capel which had been campaigning against Tudeley Garden Village from the start, naturally thought otherwise.

Stewart Gledhill, chairman of Save Capel, has won - for now
Stewart Gledhill, chairman of Save Capel, has won - for now

He said pointedly: “We wish all those who vote in favor of dropping Tudeley Garden Village a very happy Christmas.”

But Cllr Tom Dawlings (Con) warned: “There’s a risk that this plan will only bring short-term relief for the opponents of Tudeley Village.

“(Because it’s only for 10 years) work on the next local plan will need to begin immediately with a new call for sites.

“I would place a very large bet on the Hadlow Estate re-submitting their site for Tudeley Village.”

Cllr Siobhan O’Connell (TWA) said: “The alternative of not voting for the plan is unthinkable.

Cllr Tom Dawlings: Tudeley Village will come back
Cllr Tom Dawlings: Tudeley Village will come back

“It has already cost millions of pounds and we’re now so close to having a viable Local Plan.”

Cllr Pound said the revised plan "works for the whole borough.”

He said it was a pragmatic approach that would “set Tunbridge Wells on its way to a brighter, greener future where people can flourish.”

The vote was 33 in favour of the revised plan, six against, with three abstaining.

The Mayor, Cllr Hugh Patterson, excused himself from the vote and left the council chamber during the debate.

He had been one of the founders of the Save Capel campaign.

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