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Tunbridge Wells council under fire over Local Plan proposals

There was strong criticism of Tunbridge Wells council when cabinet members met to consider whether to move their Local Plan process on to the next stage.

One Southborough resident complained that a proposal for between 50 and 120 dwellings at Mapledon Farm had not been clearly shown on the proposals map, she pleaded that before the council put the document out to public consultation they should "Please make it more visible."

Paddock Wood ward councillor Sarah Hamilton spoke against the allocation of the Memorial Field in the town as a "community hub", saying that a parish poll in the village had already determined that townsfolk wanted it kept as an open space, it's currently set out as a cricket pitch. She said it was incredibly valuable for people "to have space to roam and find peace."

Save Capel protest outside Tunbridge Wells Town Hall
Save Capel protest outside Tunbridge Wells Town Hall

But the majority of complaints came from residents of Capel and Tudely who object to the council's plan to create a "Garden Village" which they refer to as Tudely New Town.

Stuart Gledhill from Whetsted said he was "extremely concerned" that no flood risk assessment had been carried out for Tudely. He urged a delay of six to nine months for a risk assessment to be carried out and to get past the uncertainties of Brexit and the possibility of an election that might bring in new policies.

Cllr Maggie Fenton, vice chairman of Capel Parish Council, said: "You have blighted Capel. The stress, anger and anguish that you have caused our community cannot be overestimated.

She urged Tunbridge Wells to follow Sevenoaks' example and refuse to use Green Belt land to meet alleged housing need.

Farah Brooks-Johnson, of the Save Capel Campaign, said: "Imagine the shock when just 12 weeks ago we were told that we were to have another 4,000 homes in out parish - that's a 500% increase!"

Cllr Hugh Patterson, chairman of Capel Parish Council, spoke specifically about the borough's plans to extend housing to the west of Paddock Wood - in the Green Belt. He said it would lead to the coalescence of Five Oak Green and Paddock Wood. He pointed out that the area was a flood plain, and asked: "Why build on the lowest and most flood-prone land? This is madness!"

He also urged the borough to follow Sevenoaks' example and told councillors: "Do not go down in history as complicit in the destruction of this valued and beautiful landscape."

But the council's head of planning, Stephen Baughan, had answers for his critics.

He produced an errata page to correct errors in the previously published plan, including the missing Mapledon Farm site.

He told Mr Gledhill there was no point delaying for Brexit as "There will always be changes in circumstances and things just over the horizon."

Capel Parish Council chairman Hugh Patterson: It's madness
Capel Parish Council chairman Hugh Patterson: It's madness

He assured Cllr Patterson that a flood risk assessment had indicated that mitigation measures were possible to allow housing "without causing material harm."

He conceded that Sevenoaks council was following a different route, submitting a Local Plan for fewer homes than assessed as being required by the Government formula. But he said the Government inspector's decision on the Sevenoaks plan would be available in the Spring. He said: "This will be about the time that we are considering the responses to our Regulation 18 consultation and we will be able to see then if it has any implications for Tunbridge Wells."

Cabinet member Cllr Jane March asked if there was any possibility of the new town getting its own railway station, but Mr Baughan confirmed that after discussions, Network Rail had said there was no chance.

The cabinet then voted to put the draft Local Plan out to Regulation 18 consultation unchanged.

The vote was five in favour and one against. Cllr Carol Mackonchie, who represents Capel, was the sole voice of dissent.

Meanwhile, an online petition organised by the Save Capel Campaign has already attracted more than 2,800 signatures. Campaigner Farah Brooks-Johnson said: "We aim to get to at least 5,000. Please encourage friends, family, colleagues and neighbours to sign."

The petition can be found here.

Save Capel has organised two public exhibitions to explain what is being proposed for Capel, Tudely and Paddock Wood. They will be in the Goldsmid Hall, Tudely Road, Capel, between 10am and 11.30am on Tuesday, September 24 and again on Friday, September 27.

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