The mass housing development will see 4,000 new homes ‘orbiting’ the existing town and stretching all the way to the A228 in the west, down to the border with Brenchley in the south, and to the border with Tonbridge and Malling in the north.
Along with doubling the existing size of the town, the council also plan to ‘rejuvenate’ Paddock Wood town centre, ‘expand considerably’ Mascalls Academy, and build a new primary school.
In addition, the council say they have a ‘masterplan for employment’ which will include commercial premises, retail units, and other employment opportunities in Paddock Wood to accommodate the burgeoning town.
The Draft Local Plan also includes infrastructure such as roads, transport links, and GP surgeries, as well as flood mitigation for Paddock Wood, which is prone to flooding due to its proximity to the Medway.
Steve Baughen, Head of Planning at TWBC said: “The masterplan approach to the strategic sites means development being planned in a comprehensive way, ensuring that adequate roads and transport, schools, medical facilities, leisure, employment and business opportunities are provided as well as housing, including affordable housing.”
‘Paddock Wood has been a dumping ground over the years and is used to take up the borough’s housing quotas’
He said the council is also promising to create a ‘transport triangle’ between Tunbridge Wells, Paddock Wood, Tudeley and Tonbridge, which includes a new A228, which will connect the island after the Hop Farm with a link to Tudeley before connecting with the A21 further south.
But not everybody will be happy with the plans.
Labour Councillor Ray Moon who sits on Paddock Wood Town Council who have been kept abreast of the plans, said before any new homes are built, the borough council needed to sort out the infrastructure first.
He said: “We all know there is a need for new homes for families and children but there should be no houses put in Paddock Wood until the infrastructure is in place.”
He said in particular, the ailing sewerage system needs a complete upgrade as it cannot handle the town’s existing population, which results in foul water flooding of several locations.
While the Council has promised these changes, Cllr Moon remains sceptical.
“Paddock Wood has been a dumping ground over the years and is used to take up the borough’s housing quotas but the infrastructure like the sewerage system hasn’t been touched. Words are easy but actions are better than words.”
The Council has denied that all the housing is being dumped away from the area around Tunbridge Wells town centre.
They said while there will be some ‘sporadic’ developments in other areas of the borough, but there is ‘no scope’ to enhance the existing infrastructure around the town.
At the last census the number of people living in the borough of Tunbridge Wells was around 104,000 and the latest estimation in 2017 was that the population had increased to around 118,000.
But the Council estimate by 2036 more than 131,000 will be living within the borough’s boundaries an increase of more than 25 per cent.
‘Tudeley Garden Village’
ALONG with the expansion of Paddock Wood, the tiny village of Tudeley is to be dramatically expanded with more than 2,000 new homes being planned by the council.
Situated in the parish of Capel, Tudeley is a sleepy hamlet, known for All Saints’ Church, the only church in the world that has all its windows in stained glass designed by Russian-French modernist, Marc Chagall.
However, the settlement is to become what Central Government has referred to as a ‘garden village’ or ‘garden town’, boosting the population in excess of 5,000, as 2,600 homes are built around Tudeley.
Along with the houses, the council have planned for a new primary school in Capel, and if KCC agree to build one, a new secondary school too.
They say the development has been ‘holistically planned’, and that all of the proposed new homes will be built on existing agricultural greenbelt, which all belongs to single landowner, Hadlow Estate Properties.
‘It is not even a village now, just a hamlet with a few random settlements. This will completely transform Tudeley’
However, building on greenbelt is always controversial, and not everybody is happy about the proposed scheme to turn a sleepy village into a garden town by developing agricultural land.
Current Chairman of Capel Parish Council, Hugh Patterson, says the creation of a Tudeley Garden Village will ‘change it beyond all recognition’ and that it represents an ‘existential threat to the way of life in Capel’.
“It is not even a village now, just a hamlet with a few random settlements. This will completely transform Tudeley. The view and the landscape will be lost forever.”
He said that he believed the decision to expand Tudeley was most likely a ‘political one’ but that the residents and parish councillors were ‘uniformly opposed to the proposals’.
“They had a choice to build along the A21 corridor but I think this is the easiest choice as there is just one landowner to deal with.”
He added that he expected the people of Tudeley and Capel to be ‘deeply unhappy’ about the plan and will resist any attempts to turn the village into a new town.
“I expect local people and the parish councillors will make their objections known to the Planning Inspectorate.
“I am hoping to create a working part and put forward a case to overturn this decision,” he said.
Steve Baughem from TWBC, admitted that they expected a ‘large amount of resistance’ to the Local Plan.
He said: “It is in draft form and I hope that when it is published in full everyone across the borough will look at it and make sure they give their comments and feedback through the consultation process.”
Loopholes to be closed in drive for social housing
A CRITICISM of any major housebuilding drive, especially in the South East, is the lack of affordable housing.
Council planners persistently come up against developers using ‘loopholes’ in planning regulations to reduce their obligation to provide affordable homes.
In addition, land values mean any property built in the borough is rarely considered ‘affordable’ by most people’s standards.
“Houses in Tunbridge Wells are not affordable with starting prices of £400,000, so what is needed is a full review of social housing policy,” admitted Cllr Alan McDermott.
He continued: “We are looking to housing associations to provide around 35 per cent social housing, which have 60 per cent of market rental value.”
The councillor added that they were also going to close the existing loopholes that developers use to get out of building affordable houses.
While developers are required by local authorities to provide a proportion of affordable homes in any development, many use ‘viability assesments’, essentially over paying for land to reduce profit margins, which they then use as an argument to cut down on the number of affordable homes they have to build.
Timescale and consultation
The Council’s Draft Local Plan has to be put to the people in a period of consultation.
From September 1 until November 1, members of the public of not just Tunbridge Wells, but also Tonbridge & Malling, as well as developers and other interested parties will be able to comment on the Local Plan and make suggestions or objections.
After the consultation period, the Council will make any necessary amendments and develop a Final Local Plan. This too will go out for to consultation in August and September of next year.
Finally, the Local Plan will be submitted to the Planning Inspector in December 2020 who will get the final say.
Cllr McDermott explained: “The Planning Inspector will either accept it as it is, or make small modifications or make sizeable modifications, in which case we will have to make changes and consult with the people again.
“He may even say the plan is terrible and reject it. The Planning Inspector has the power to overrule the council and put houses where he decides.”
He added that would also occur if the Council did not submit a plan by December 2020.
“It could take five years before we start digging,” he admitted.