RESIDENTS who live near Tonbridge Grammar School are urging their local councillors to reject proposals for a new floodlit artificial turf sports pitch, claiming the plans are ‘unsound and ill-considered’.
The move by the all-girls grammar, which was named as The Sunday Times’ State Secondary School of the Year in 2014, has reignited the controversy around expanding their facilities, which would also be available for use by the wider community.
In 2014 similar plans were rejected by the borough council’s planning committee on the grounds that the increased traffic would cause an ‘unacceptable level of disturbance to the surrounding residents’. There is only one vehicular access point to the school, situated within the residential Deakin Leas.
Additionally, it was decided that the proposed level of illumination from the floodlights ‘would be intrusive and harmful to the enjoyment of those [residential] properties’. But the school are hoping that this time round the planning committee will rule in their favour, recognising the alterations they have made as sufficient.
So far, more than 160 people have formally registered their support for the project with the council.
In a lengthy public statement defending their application, the school argue that the proposed use of lights has been ‘significantly reduced’ since 2014.
The floodlights would now be on until 7.30pm at the latest on weeknights, instead of 8.30pm. On Saturday, the cut off would be 6pm, with plans for Sunday use dropped entirely. In terms of traffic management, they admit the singular access on Deakin Leas ‘presents logistical challenges’.
But in recent years ‘traffic management has become a major consideration and is central to school event planning’, with a dedicated Travel Action Group meeting three times a year.
“The boundary of the road is literally only 18 inches from my living room.”
Despite these changes, local residents are still adamant that the development will unfairly impact them. Stuart Disbrey, whose home backs on to the proposed site, described the plans as ‘the wrong type of development in the wrong place’, adding: “The proposed lighting is too bright and too high – pylons the height of three double decker buses stacked one on top of the other.
“There will be hundreds of new vehicle movements at times when most people would rightly expect some peace and quiet.
“We have to hope that our elected representatives at Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council display the courage and intelligence they did before – and reject this unsound and ill-considered proposal.”
Nick Hebditch, who lives directly next to the access road, said he recognised the positive elements it would bring to the school and wider community, but argued: “Ever since the school put themselves in the position of only having a single access road in between two houses, they’ve shoehorned themselves into an extremely awkward position. I mean the boundary of the road is literally only 18 inches from my living room.”
Support However, not all nearby residents are opposed to the plans. Pru Clement has lived in Deakin Leas since 2011. Her 12-year-old daughter attends the school and plays hockey.
She said: “In terms of traffic, I think it will have a negligible impact. I mean, it drives me mad the way inconsiderate parents park, but I don’t think children should be punished for that. When I bought the house I knew the school was there. In this day and age we need to encourage physical activity, not put barriers in the way.”
Other institutions in the town have supported the expansion. The Judd School welcomed the extra provision for hockey, and the Scotts Project Trust – who use the school’s facilities to run sessions for people with learning difficulties – also felt the new pitch would ‘enhance their enjoyment of those sessions’.