THE Council’s plans to build more than 2,500 homes in Tudeley are under threat after a government inspector raised concerns over how the housing project will affect traffic in Tonbridge and the amount of Green Belt that will be swallowed up.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) proposed the building of a garden village in the parish of Capel in its Local Plan to help it meet government housebuilding quotas of more than 13,000 new homes in the borough by 2038.
The Plan outlines where houses are to be built over the next 15 years and also proposes a large expansion of Paddock Wood, as well as some new homes in wards such as Pembury and Broadwater.
But the most controversial aspect of the Plan since it was first drafted in 2019 is the proposed Tudeley garden village, which has given rise to protest group ‘Save Capel’ that was formed to try to block the development.
Following an extensive period of public consultation and examination that began in March 2022, TWBC’s Local Plan, which was backed by all parties at the Town Hall, was sent to the government’s Planning Inspectorate in November 2021.
Now, Planning Inspector Matthew Birkinshaw has written back to TWBC voicing his ‘concerns’ over particular aspects of the Local Plan that ‘go to the heart of whether the site and strategy for Tudeley Village is justified and effective’.
In particular, he expressed concern about the impact that the garden village would have on traffic in and around Tonbridge.
Mr Birkinshaw said: “Local Plan growth will add traffic to these junctions, causing negative impacts on their operation. This substantiates the concerns raised by Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council and local residents.”
“The issue with the soundness of the Plan is that, unlike some other junctions, which can be altered to mitigate harmful impacts, the space to provide any mitigation in Tonbridge town centre is limited,” he explained.
He said there was ‘insufficient evidence’ that measures suggested by TWBC were likely to ‘adequately mitigate against the likely increase in car travel’.
Mr Birkinshaw added that ‘given the existing constraints and congestion in Tonbridge town centre, the cumulative impacts of the scale and location of development would be severe’.
He also voiced concerns over the amount of Green Belt and AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) which TWBC has proposed building on.
“National planning policy is also clear that the Government attaches great importance to the Green Belt, the boundaries of which should only be altered in exceptional circumstances,” he said.
“When considering the level of acknowledged harm to the Green Belt that would occur, combined with the significance of the issues raised, I find that exceptional circumstances have not been demonstrated to justify removing the site from the Green Belt.”
TWBC will now have to provide additional information to justify the Tudeley garden village.
Alternatively, the Council could modify its plan to make changes to the garden village or delete it from the plan altogether.
A spokesperson for Save Capel said the Inspector’s findings show that he had applied ‘common sense, logic and the law to the ridiculous and unfathomable proposals’.
The spokesperson continued: “He [the Planning Inspector] appears to have fully grasped and been persuaded by many of the arguments all of us – and any sane and independent observer – would have made.
“In short, he has found that the strategic sites, namely Tudeley Village and Paddock Wood/East Capel, have major flaws and cannot proceed as proposed.”
He continued: “The ball is now with TWBC, who should determine whether they wish to continue with the examination or withdraw the plan.”
But Cllr Hugo Pound (Labour), the Cabinet member for Housing and Planning at TWBC, said: “The Council has made significant progress towards delivering its Local Plan, having submitted a draft plan and completed the hearing sessions in the summer.
“The inspector has now written to the Council to provide advice on the way forward.
“The Council will consider all of the points raised by the inspector before making decision on how to progress the Plan to adoption.”