Communities hope to have a greater say in development
A housing development on a disputed site in Hawkhurst is to be examined by a government planning inspector next week.
The inspection will investigate developer Countryside Properties’ application to build 62 homes on green field land in Highgate Hill.
It is one example of several in the borough at present where communities have used 2011 Localism Act to exert pressure where they do not agree with developments they believe to be detrimental to their areas.
The Hawkhurst proposal was rejected by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s planning committee last autumn.
In its draft development plan document last year, TWBC had identified the land, on Highgate Hill, as its preferred location for 60 of the remaining 66 units allocated to Hawkhurst as part of a borough-wide housing target.
Residents challenged the plan and Hawkhurst Parish Council eventually convinced TWBC to include two brownfield sites in its plans instead – but the green field land is still under threat.
HPC chairman, Peter Dartnell, said: “There is no justification for building on farmland. We are in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the village is adamant it wants to build on existing, derelict brown field sites, rather than virgin green farmland.
“It was a real struggle, but we managed to get TWBC to make a change to the draft document. I think we were the only parish in the borough to achieve that.
“But the developer has put a lot of money and effort into its application and appeal, and I can’t express confidence in getting the decision we want.”
But Mr Dartnell is confident the parish council will have more influence on such planning issues in future.
He said: “The relationship is improving. It has been difficult in the past, but we are working more closely now, particularly on site allocation.
“And also on our Neighbourhood Development Plan. That’s the important thing for the future, working closely with their planning department on that.
“We’re the first parish in borough to produce one, and others are following suit. We will be more in control of our own destiny once it’s in place.”
Also involved in a housing dispute is Paddock Wood Town Council, which is also developing a neighbourhood plan.
TWBC now sets its housing targets, rather than the government, and Paddock Wood needs to build 600 by 2026, with sites at Church Farm, Green Lane and Mascalls Farm put forward for development in the draft development plan framework.
Town council chairman Sarah Hamilton said: “Many residents, including a very vocal action group, are strongly opposed to these developments.
“There are concerns over flooding and infrastructure, and whether the plans have been thought through enough. They aren’t saying they don’t want growth, they’re saying: ‘give us the infrastructure to support it.’
“I recognise growth has to happen. As a town and borough councillor, I’m looking to get the very best for the borough and Paddock Wood.
“Housing has to go somewhere, and Paddock Wood was always going to be vulnerable as it has no Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“Sadly, a lot of us are picking up what’s been done in the past. We are now reacting to previously developed documents, and a process that in the past wasn’t as transparent as it is.
“The borough council have been very good – the collaboration between KCC, TWBC and us is very positive. But obviously everything is governed by policy.
“We are faced with trying to influence policy set down before our time. The development of a Neighbourhood Plan will ensure the community has a bigger say regarding future development.
“You have to have open dialogue and move things forwards. If you have conflict, everything stops.”