By Andy Tong andy@timesoftonbridge.co.uk

ROOT AND BRANCH REFORM KRLG fear the loss of all eight River Lawn chestnuts

THE Tonbridge campaign group Keep River Lawn Green (KRLG) have questioned the price tag placed on the riverside site.

The half-acre plot has been valued at £2,125,000 by Tonbridge & Malling District Council (TMBC), whose Cabinet voted to sell it to private developers last October.

But KRLG, who succeeded in having the site designated as an Asset of Community Value, say the cost is higher than expected.

They asked to see the documentary evidence of the costing but the council refused, forcing KRLG to lodge a Freedom of Information request.

KRLG are also examining the implications that the valuation will have in terms of the density of any subsequent development.

Mark Raymond, Chief Corporate Policy Officer at TMBC, said the sum ‘is the minimum amount that the council will be looking to achieve on disposal’.

“This appraisal has been arrived at following consideration of all relevant matters, including the planning status of the land and any property-related or environmental issues,” he added.

KRLG’s Chairman, Mark Hood, said: “Unless you are part of the establishment, TMBC plays hard ball.

“Why award Asset of Community Value status if you are then going to deliberately attempt to price community bids out of the process?

‘The value seems to have been inflated as if planning permission had already been secured’

“Normally such status allows the community to buy at a price reflecting its current use as undeveloped land, but in this case the property’s value seems to have been inflated as if planning permission had already been secured.”

KRLG are approaching funding sources and benefactors including property owners nearby with a view to finding a sympathetic buyer.

They are also consulting the Kent branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and the Open Spaces Society about the implications of development.

On Tuesday (April 3) they submitted an application to Kent County Council to have River Lawn designated as a village green.

Mr Hood said: “The thought of having a concentration of residential housing in an area already adjacent to the second worst pollution hotspot in the borough is contradictory to TMBC’s obligations to minimise the effects of developments on Air Quality Management Area No 2 – or Tonbridge High Street.”

“It is typical of TMBC to attempt to price out a bid by the community to buy back land it already owns to prevent it disappearing under a sea of concrete. There will be no negotiation and no discount.”

The issue of cost is compounded by the fact that the council has admitted it sold adjacent land on River Walk to developer Assura at below the market value in order to facilitate the construction of the new medical centre on the site of the old Teen and Twenty Club building. Assura will retain ownership of the surgery and rent it out to the Tonbridge Medical Group.

“Contrast this with the sale of another property at a discount to Assura, a private company that posted a £92.5million profit last year,” said Mr Hood. “The town loses its assets and the NHS will be paying more for premises it will never own.”

That sale has already resulted in the decision to fell a mature chestnut tree and Mr Hood is concerned that the land on River Lawn will be at such a premium that contractors will not spare the remaining chestnuts there.

“The worrying aspect of this is that should the site sell for this amount, developers would be likely to build at such a high density that all the remaining eight trees will be likely to go, and this is supposed to be a Conservation Area.”

A fortnight ago, the council triggered a six-week time frame in which interested parties could register a claim to buy the land.

There will then be a six-month moratorium period in which the prospective buyer can come up with the funds to do so.

KRLG are concered that the loss of River Lawn and River Walk is the start of a wider programme of asset disposal for the cash-strapped council, who are facing a budget deficit or £1million over the coming financial year.

“TMBC are carving up our publicly owned assets one by one,” said Mr Hood. “When River Lawn and River Walk are gone, they will be looking at others.

“They have already mentioned land at Silver Close [near Tonbridge Cottage Hospital] as being underused in documents we have seen.”