Call for hotel instead of housing as Fidelity sells land to Berkeley

Call for hotel instead of housing as Fidelity sells land to Berkeley
Fidelity International headquarters in Hildenborough

The 100,000 sq ft premises on the 16-acre site has been purchased by Berkeley Homes for an undisclosed fee. It is not known how many units it is planning to build.

There is speculation that the company is also looking to acquire additional land adjacent to the property.

The investment management company has had a branch in Hildenborough since the late 1980s but announced in 2017 that they would relocate staff to Kingswood in Surrey later this year.

The existing Oakhill campus offers the potential for accommodation across three office buildings and a mansion house.

There is an underground area that provides 240 parking spaces across three levels, an asset which could allow a greater density of housing to be built; there are 335 spaces above ground.

A Berkeley Homes spokesperson told the Times: “We are pleased to confirm that Berkeley Homes has completed on the acquisition of Fidelity’s office campus at Oakhill House.

“Berkeley Homes are looking forward to working with local stakeholders to deliver the best vision for the Oakhill House estate and hope to create a great place for people to live, in a highly sustainable location.”

The site was not included in Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council’s [TMBC] draft Local Plan, which has gone out to consultation again on the instruction of the government inspector.

Berkeley would almost certainly have to demonstrate ‘exceptional circumstances’ in order to build residential housing.

It is a commercial site and TMBC has made a point of preserving these at brownfield sites in the Local Plan to provide employment spaces.

By doing so they hope to ensure job creation and avoid turning Tonbridge into a dormitory town where residents mostly work in London.

The estate is also entirely in the Green Belt, which is designed to provide a buffer between built-up areas and open countryside.

Car parking spaces are often permitted on Green Belt land because they are regarded as a temporary development.

A council spokesperson said: “Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council has not received any formal pre-application query with regard to the Oakhill House site in Hildenborough.

“Any applications would need to be considered on their own merits and accord with national and local policy and guidance – this includes Green Belt and listed building constraints.

He added: “Our planning policy makes clear that we will prioritise brownfield locations for new homes as long as they are suitable for that purpose.

“As Oakhill House is currently designated as being used for employment within the Green Belt, any proposals for development will be considered within the current policy governing such areas.”

There are also concerns over whether the village would be able to accommodate a large number of new residents in the local schools and transport infrastructure.

The two primary schools in the village, Hildenborough Church of England and Stocks Green, both have more than 200 pupils and are full to capacity.

And the car park at Hildenborough station is always full, with commuters travelling long distances to use it – meaning there is significant overspill into surrounding lanes.

The village’s surgery, located over the road from Fidelity, shares its patient list with the Trenchwood Medical Centre in north Tonbridge.

Mark Rhodes, who has served as a councillor in Hildenborough for 23 years, is keen to see Oakhill House retained and exploited rather than adding ‘extras’.

“I can appreciate the site could lend itself to housing,” he said. “But I would prefer redevelopment of that which is currently there – it would possibly be difficult to turn that down.”

He believes that one way round the various stumbling blocks is to turn the site into a hotel, something he believes the area needs.

“The first thing I thought was ‘good’, they can turn it into a hotel,” he said. “The parking underground would be really useful for that.”

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