Green light for homes at West Kent with Travel Plan to tackle parking
26th September 2019
THE planning application to build 51 homes on car parks at West Kent College has been approved - with a radical ‘Travel Plan’ to deal with the loss of parking spaces.
There will now be 170 fewer spaces for students and staff, and the college will also have to provide someone to monitor the impact of this on the surrounding streets.
The application was rejected in May after a direct intervention by the Leader of Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council, Nicolas Heslop.
It was turned down on the grounds that the impact of the homes on the neighbouring Spinney would be ‘intrusive and dominant’.
After the issues of scale, massing and height were addressed, the Area One Planning Committee rubber-stamped the development by Ashill on September 12 - with two fewer homes than the original 53.
The Travel Plan was not discussed at the May meeting because once the proposal was rejected by Cllr Heslop on grounds of ‘impact’, the rest of the application became redundant.
Currently there are 520 spaces available, but that will now be reduced to 350. Students will be encouraged to use public transport in order to tackle the shortfall.
Residents have already requested a Preferred Parking Scheme in adjoining streets, and the subject is due to be discussed at a Joint Transportation Board meeting this week.
According to the Travel Plan, a traffic co-ordinator will be appointed to patrol the adjoining streets, and there will be a new minibus service.
Both of these schemes must be funded by West Kent itself, which is run by the Hadlow Group - and is soon to be taken over by North Kent College.
Hadlow Group has been beset by financial difficulties and the college has been placed in educational administration to ensure courses can continue.
The sale of the two car parks and ground occupied by the Oaks Building, scheduled for demolition, will bring in around £1million for Hadlow Group.
Two assessments have been carried out to determine the need for parking at the college, which found that usage peaked at 346 and 342 cars.
The latest report by the committee states: “It should be noted that these observed levels of parking occurred at a time when the college is not actively monitoring or controlling how its students travel to the college.
“Furthermore, this lack of monitoring/control of the college car parks has also enabled non-college users to park within the college campus.”
The Hadlow Group told the Times that the 170 spaces had already been ‘decommissioned’ and were not in use during the last academic year.
The spokesperson said: “Consequently, we do not envisage that the approval of planning will impact on any of our current students.”
But he added: “We are in discussions with the developer to extend the parking at the front of the college to manage demand more effectively.
Planning officer Matthew Broome noted the proximity of the station, bus stops and cycle paths in the area, which serves several schools.
He said: “The college and the applicant would be bound to work collaboratively to undertake certain measures to manage more proactively the way in which students and staff travel to the college, with the intention to reduce car travel.”
These measures include the installation of a barrier at the entrance to the college, with a permit system in operation.
The permits will be means-tested based on the distance students have to travel and their access needs such as disability.
The college will be required to monitor student parking off-site on the roads around the college with staff observing activity at drop-off and pick-up times.
A minibus service will be introduced to bring students to and from the site and ‘public transport choices will be promoted by the college to students’.
Kerry Barton, a photography student starting her final year at West Kent, said: “I’m two miles from the college, granted I can use a bus.
“But I have two small children who I need to take to school first with their belongings, and my own work to get in. It’s not possible to go on public transport.”
She added: “I’ve paid £5,900 for the course. Now I will have to pay for buses, which will be more time-consuming. I will be late for my class.
“The students don’t get a say. We will just get told, ‘there’s no parking, other colleges have no parking. We’ve sold the land - tough, there’s a bus route.”