Tunbridge Wells town would be better protected from large scale new house building if the council proposal goes ahead to put 6,800 homes at Tudeley and Paddock Wood.
The controversial proposal for the tiny village in the heart of the countryside and the small town were officially unveiled this week to parish councils.
Residents were getting to grips with the shock of the proposition put forward by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. which is grappling with a housing target more than doubled by the Government, to reach 13,500 new homes in the 20 years up to 2036. This is around 680 each year.
But while two areas could be changed forever during a timescale council leader Alan McDermott put at “probably 25 years” – Tunbridge Wells, which for years has seen controversial infilling, office conversions to residential, sizeable brownfield developments and new estates built or under way, might get something of a breather.
The proposals are in the draft Local Plan which will go out for public consultation in the early autumn.
Head of planning Steve Baughen said: “These strategies reduced the impact on the area of outstanding natural beauty compared to some of the other potential options, for example a more dispersed pattern of development across the borough.
“Similarly, this option does not add such intense pressure to the existing infrastructure as much as other options would – for example, if the vast majority of the development were to be around the main urban area, Tunbridge Wells and Southborough.”
Mr McDermott said new infrastructure, potentially including schools, drainage, utility links, a road off the A228, doctors’ surgeries and employment development, would be built as part of the Tudeley and Paddock Wood proposal.
Talking of the council’s track record in Tunbridge Wells as the planning authority, Mr Baughen said: “We always look to prioritise previously developed land and the redevelopment of previously developed land but as you are seeing, a lot of the sites which have been identified as suitable for redevelopment sites in the previous Local Plan and the Site Allocation Local Plan now have planning permission or indeed are being built out.”
He added: “This is a finite resource but this Local Plan looks again to make sure that suitable sites within the urban areas are being identified and allocated but a number of them have permission already.”
Petrina Lambert, who lives in Brampton Bank, Tudeley, said: “Our first reactions were shock, distress, upset then extremely angry.
“The whole idea made us feel sick. We moved here to live in a rural community that was now going to be destroyed.
“Why so many homes? 4,000 in Paddock Wood and 2,800 here in Tudeley. Tunbridge Wells borough has to build 13,000 new homes but why 6,800 in a four square mile radius? What about the rest of the district?
“There is also the development at Woodgate Way in Tonbridge only two miles away and no infrastructure in place to support this and a new development with a sudden and large increase in this area’s population.
“It is the destruction of a small and happy community and that of an area of outstanding natural beauty that upsets us most and there are not the right words to describe the loss.”
The Local Plan will go out to public consultation
The original housing target of 6,000 new homes for Tunbridge Wells was more than doubled by the Government to 13,500 during the past few years.
The Local Plan, an evergreen and constantly updating document, is in its 2016 to 2036 planning period.
In order to work out how many homes need to be built in the future, the council must take account of the housing which has already been built or permitted since 2016.
This leaves 9,000 homes – and the council is putting forward Tudeley, which is little more than a large cluster of homes, and Paddock Wood, which had a 8,253 population in 2011, for around 6,800 of them.
The explosive proposal was unveiled officially to parish councils on Monday and Tuesday nights, although the borough council said it had been working with the parishes behind the scenes.
The council said by building homes on such a large scale rather than ad hoc, proper planning could go into infrastructure.
The Local Plan will go out to consultation in September/October and again a final consultation on the final Local Plan next September before submission to the Planning Inspectorate in December 2020. It will be examined formally in the spring or summer of 2021.
By Mary Harris
Source: Kent Live