Plans for a large new housing estate and medical centre have been recommended for approval, despite claims a village will become a “concrete jungle”.
The proposals for Hawkhurst, near Tunbridge Wells, have split opinion.
Some argue the village “needs homes” but many others claim a medical centre is being used as a “shameful bribe” to get permission to build.
Developer Rydon Homes lodged its plans for up to 70 homes, the doctors’ surgery and a country Park in June this year.
The site, off Birchfield Grove, is used for sheep grazing and hay production.
Rydon Homes argues the proposal will be a “highly sustainable residential development” and will include “70 individually designed homes comprising 40% affordable homes to help meet local housing needs”.
A total of 28 homes would be marketed as affordable.
The site is east of the centre of the village in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and is the size of 19 standard 11-a-side football pitches.
Land safeguarded for the expansion of the nearby Hawkhurst Church of England Primary School is set to be included, as well as donations to Kent County Council for secondary education in Tenterden and Cranbrook.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) officers are recommending the planning committee backs the bid.
Major developments in AONBs require “exceptional circumstances” to be justified under planning rules but TWBC officers say that in this case they apply.
The developer said: “It is well known that there is a national housing crisis and that affordability pressures in the south-east are very strong and persistent.
“Increasing housing numbers is one of the most effective ways of meeting housing demand.”
It adds: “The shortfall in the delivery of new housing within TWBC does mean that development of new housing is in the public interest both locally and nationally.”
Research from the Centre for Cities think tank says the UK has a shortage of 4.3 million homes and needs to build almost half a million every year for the next 25 years.
Land for a medical facility is included in the plans, with TWBC officers writing that it will “provide an enhanced medical facility offering and service a patient list of 12,000 people and provide for the consolidation of Wish Valley and North Ridge doctors’ surgeries into a single modern building”.
TWBC cannot currently demonstrate that it has enough land and housing for the next five years, so it has to look more favourably on developments it may otherwise have refused.
Seven people wrote in to TWBC’s planning department to back the plans, with Nicholas Brewer writing: “People need houses to live in and Hawkhurst needs homes.”
The Holmes’ wrote: “We desperately need a new medical centre and work.
“It will enable the village to have extra doctors which are desperately needed to meet the requirements of the ever expanding population of this village.”
However, 195 people wrote in to oppose the plans.
“No more greenfield sites should be allowed for building in hawkhurst. The green village will become a concrete jungle,” wrote Lucy Livesley.
“It is shameful that the council are being held to ransom over a medical centre...”
“The congestion in Hawkhurst is already ridiculous for a village.
”Hawkhurst can not take anymore developments of this magnitude.”
Very close to the site is another 26-home development by Riverdale Developments Ltd, which was approved in 2016.
However, an attempt to build on the same site in 2013 was taken to the government Planning Inspectorate after TWBC didn’t decide on it in time and was rejected.
“There have been many other new-build developments in the village already. It is shameful that the council are being held to ransom over a medical centre,” wrote Jane Sullivan.
Expressing similar sentiments Jamie Latuskie wrote: “This is a shameful bribe. Health care should not come with strings attached.”
TWBC’s planning committee is set to make the final decision at a meeting on Wednesday, November 8.