Pembury care home passed in controversial vote

Pam Mills

Contentious proposals to build a 68-bed care home in Pembury were passed in a knife-edge vote, to the anger of villagers.

Earlier this month, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s 11 member planning committee reached a stalemate of five votes in favour and five against plans to build on Cornford Court, in Cornford Lane, after Cllr Bob Backhouse abstained.

Acting committee chairman Cllr Lawrence Heasman used his casting vote to grant planning permission, a decision recommended by the planning inspector.

The supportive living group named Graham Care, lodged the application to build the three-storey centre next to the existing Cornford House Nursing Home, on the site of an existing one-storey building.

The committee were swayed in their decision, feeling the ‘general need’ for care home places outweighed the objectionable parts to the building.

These include the size of the development, the access to it and the likelihood of how it could weigh down the local GP surgery. Pembury resident Gary Purdy said: “There was very little debate about the concerns that had been expressed by the objectors before a vote was called.

“Cllr Heasman was granted a second vote. Whilst that, in itself, is extraordinary, he should have recognised that a majority of six councillors [including Cllr Backhouse] had not voted in favour and used his casting vote to reject it. Thus, a building of such magnitude that will affect so many people was approved by a minority of councillors on the Committee.”

Mr Purdy added that the decision set a ‘dangerous precedent’ and had contacted village councillors about the concerns.

Cllr Heasman was leading the meeting in the absence of usual chairman Cllr Barry Noakes.
Committee member Cllr Don Sloan, who voted in favour, said: “Concern was expressed by registered speakers at the meeting that Cornford Lane is very narrow and could be difficult for emergency vehicles to access.

“It was noted that it is not safe for pedestrians with a narrow footpath on one side only. One of the main objections was the sheer size and bulk of the proposed building.

“It was a difficult decision for the committee to make taking account of the very special circumstances of the great need in our area for the provision of specialist dwellings and care for elderly people.”

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