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Planning inspector casts doubt on 2,800-home Tudeley Garden Village in Tunbridge Wells Borough Council Local Plan

Villagers opposed to the proposal for a 3,000-home garden village in their area are happy after a planning inspector raised questions about whether it should be included in a council's housing plan.

Initial findings on the proposed Tunbridge Wells Local Plan queried the soundness of the Tudeley Garden Village project as a government inspector said the council might want to delete it from the plan.

An imagination of what the new village could look like. Courtesy of Brooks Murray Architects (43977317)
An imagination of what the new village could look like. Courtesy of Brooks Murray Architects (43977317)

With around 22% of Tunbridge Wells falling within the Green Belt, inspector Matthew Birkinshaw acknowledged it was likely the borough council would need to include some land for development to meet its housing targets.

The council had carried out an assessment of the effect of the development it was proposing at Tudeley and found the level of harm to the Green Belt to be "high".

However, the council had concluded it was still a suitable area for development.

But the inspector said it had not assessed the effect of development in other parts of the Green Belt where the harm might have been lower – potentially making those sites more suitable.

He said: "Further work is therefore necessary before a conclusion can be reached that exceptional circumstances exist to release the relevant site allocations from the Green Belt."

A view across Capel
A view across Capel

TWBC is proposing building 2,800 houses on 170 hectares at Tudeley, near Capel.

But the inspector said such garden village sites had to be “well located and supported by the necessary infrastructure".

He questioned the transport links at Tudeley and suggested since the railway line between Tonbridge and Paddock Wood divided the site, it was a shame that no new station had been proposed.

Mr Birkinshaw said there was already congestion in Tonbridge town centre, the nearest urban area, and the new houses proposed at Tudeley would likely worsen the situation.

He added: "The cumulative impacts of the scale and location of development would be severe. It has not been adequately demonstrated that the impacts can be cost effectively mitigated to an acceptable degree."

One of the many demonstrations against the Tudeley Garden Village
One of the many demonstrations against the Tudeley Garden Village

The council had proposed building a Five Oak Green Bypass in mitigation, but the inspector found there had been insufficient analysis of the effects of such on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to say whether such a road could be approved.

The land needed for its construction was in multiple ownerships and would require compulsory purchase orders, a process "adding to the complexity, cost, timescales and general uncertainty of its deliverability".

He concluded that the council had not proved its case of building there.

Turning to Paddock Wood and East Capel, where the council was proposing to build another 3,500 homes, he said: "At present, there is insufficient detail on how the parcels will be delivered. The plan would need to be redrafted to make this clear."

The Paddock Wood housing is also relying on a new secondary school being built at the Tudeley Garden Village meaning if it does not go ahead then the proposed Paddock Wood housing would not have enough school places.

'The council will consider all of the points raised by the inspector before making a decision on how to progress the plan'

Mr Birkinshaw said the scale of development at Paddock Wood and East Capel would also indicate the need for a bypass.

However, he agreed that since the and surrounding Paddock Wood was both outside the Green Belt and the AONB, it was the "logical choice" for growth.

Mr Birkinshaw said while he was "relatively confident" changes to the plan could be made to accommodate development around Paddock Wood, he said: "My findings at Tudeley Village could have far greater, consequential impacts on the plan."

He went on to suggest the council might consider deleting it.

A spokesman for TWBC said the changes the inspector required to the plan were "relatively straightforward and could be dealt with through the main modifications process".

Cllr Hugo Pound (Lab), cabinet member for housing and planning, said: "The council has made significant progress towards delivering its Local Plan, having submitted a draft plan and completed the hearing sessions in the summer.

"The council will consider all of the points raised by the inspector before making a decision on how to progress the plan to adoption."

The Save Capel group, which was formed to oppose the Tudeley Garden Village and excessive housing at East Capel, was cautiously optimistic following the inspector's comments.

Chairman Stewart Gledhill said: "It is encouraging and it seems that the inspector has listened to the many points raised at the public hearings.

"It is now back in the hands of the council. Here is an opportunity for them to drop the Tudeley scheme or take on the significant risk of trying to provide the extra evidence to support it.

"At the moment the council appears to be in denial.

Stewart Gledhill, chairman of Save Capel
Stewart Gledhill, chairman of Save Capel

"We are keen to see a sustainable Local Plan adopted as soon s possible to avoid the situation of planning by appeal.

"It would appear that the quickest route for the council to achieve a plan would be to abandon the garden village.

"There is also the question of costs - should the council in these difficult times be looking to waste more money in trying to justify the garden village?"

Mr Gledhill said that Save Capel was keen to work with the council to find a sustainable solution and masterplan for new housing in the area.

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