River Lawn set to go on market after village green bid rejected

River Lawn set to go on market after village green bid rejected
River Lawn, Barden

The deadline comes after the Barden Residents’ Association had their application to have the site designated as a village green turned down by Kent County Council [KCC] last week.

Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council [TMBC] responded to the decision by inviting prospective purchasers to put forward bids to secure the land.

This results from the campaigners having already registered the site as Asset of Community Value under the Localism Act 2011.

The half-acre plot was valued at £2,125,000 in April 2018, which campaigners claimed was an inflated figure.

If no buyer can be found before the deadline expires, the Council intends to put the land on the market. TMBC’s Cabinet voted to sell it to developers for housing in 2017.

In the immediate aftermath of KCC’s judgement on January 21, TMBC tweeted: “This decision means we can now push ahead with our plans to see this land put to good use. The proceeds from its sale will also help fund vital Council services.”

It later deleted the reference to ‘put to good use’ after the comment attracted widespread criticism on social media.

A TMBC spokesman said: “We are very aware of the strong feelings of some local residents about the future of River Lawn. However, this area has been part of our plans for development of Tonbridge for some time and was included it in our proposals published in 2008.

“KCC’s regulation panel agreed that this meant it could not be registered as a village green so we now intend to pursue our plans to sell the land, using the proceeds to invest in Council services.”

He added: “There will now be a six-week period during which community interest groups are eligible to register their interest in buying the land. If no such expression of interest is received, we will open the process to other bidders.”

The five members of KCC’s Regulation Committee ruled that the village green bid was inadmissible on the technical grounds of a ‘trigger event’ relating to the Tonbridge Centre Area Action Plan 2008.

TMBC said the Action Plan identified River Lawn as a potential site for development, though it was not included in the draft Local Plan currently being viewed by the Planning Inspector.

Adrian Stanfield, the Council’s Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Central Services, explained: “The legislation relating to village green applications excludes the right to apply for registration where a prescribed event, known as a ‘trigger event’, has occurred within the planning system relating to that land.

“The Borough Council has made representations to Kent County Council that two such trigger events have occurred in relation to the land at River Lawn.”

The other objection made by the Council was that planning permission had been granted to install a single CCTV camera on the edge of the site 15 years ago, but KCC disregarded that.

Emma Hood, the Chair of Keep River Lawn Green, had enlisted the backing of the Environmental Law Foundation to help the application. And the residents were helped by two barristers representing them free of charge, Cain Ormonroyd and Alexander Greaves of Francis Taylor Building.

Mrs Hood said: “The result is obviously very disappointing. Our barrister, Alexander Greaves, clearly argued that the area earmarked for improvement was adjacent to River Lawn and not actually on the village green application site. 

“TMBC’s legal advisor said our arguments were to stifle development of the site and not to see the site registered as a village green.  We believe the two go hand in hand.”

She added: “The Facebook post by TMBC after the decision was utterly despicable and shows poor judgement on their part. We will continue our fight, and will look to our local Councillors for their support when the use of the land is discussed in TMBC meetings.

“We hope that the land will continue to be deemed as open space and the status as a conservation area upheld.”

Lucy Athey, the association’s secretary, said: “With the £2million price tag they have put on this, it can only attract a development of high-density and highly-priced accommodation which would have to be built with a car park in the ground floor to get around the fact that this area is likely to flood again.

“You only have to look at the water pumps hastily installed on River Lawn before Christmas, which are still to be removed.

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