Tonbridge council Leader stops plans for new housing at West Kent College
by Andy Tong | 5th June 2019
A PLANNING application to build 53 homes on car parks at West Kent College in Tonbridge has been rejected after the intervention of the Borough Council’s Leader Nicolas Heslop.
The brownfield site was sold to developers Ashill in a bid to raise money for the Hadlow Group, which owns the college but has been beset by financial difficulties.
The sale, which was supposed to bring in around £1million, will only be completed when planning is approved.
The application was put in last September and was set to be approved by the Area 1 Planning Committee.
But it was halted in April because of issues with the height of the develop- ment affecting neighbouring properties.
Cllr Heslop was re-elected as Leader – a post he has held since 2012 – on May 20. He told the Times: “My concern with the application was the impact of the proposed dwellings in relation to existing properties on The Spinney.
'I raised concerns about siting, scale, massing and height. I said that they would intrusive and dominant'
“So I raised concerns about siting, scale, massing and height relative to the boundary of those properties on The Spinney. I said that they would intrusive and dominant.”
Similar problems have already been addressed on houses adjoining Hillside.
Remaining objections to the application were mainly focused on the lack of available parking at the college – there will be 170 fewer spaces – and the resulting impact of students having to park on surrounding streets.
Other concerns are congestion and air quality on Brook Street, which includes The Judd School and Hayesbrook.
David Cure, a Conservative councillor of Judd ward where West Kent is situated, succeeded in forcing a fresh site inspection in April before he was voted out in the local elections.
Changes were made to the elevations at Hillside, but he was also raising awareness about parking and pollution.
The same issues have been put forward by two Green Party councillors who have now been elected to Judd ward, April Clark and Mark Hood.
Mrs Clark said: “Mark and I were able to raise a number of concerns, including the height and impact of the development on near neighbours, which was the basis for the rejection of the current version of the application.
“While we welcome the idea of more homes being built on brownfield sites rather than Green Belt land, it is important that issues such as traffic congestion and air quality, affordable housing and parking are taken into consideration by developers, to protect existing as well as future residents.”
The Hadlow Group decided to sell off parts of the campus - which it described as an 'asset that is underused' - to release funds to 'reinvest in resources'.
This year the group has been mired in controversy following the resignations of its principal and chief executive, Paul Hannan, and his deputy Mark Lumsdon-Taylor amid claims of financial irregularities.
Hadlow College, which it owns, has become the first UK college to be placed in administration.
West Kent and Ashford Colleges have also been handed a ‘financial health notice of concern’.
The plan was amended so two houses adjacent to Hillside had their height reduced by 2.7 metres.
But the contentious ‘impact’ concerned distances between the new homes and The Spinney.
'Ashill is very disappointed with the committee’s decision. We will take this time to consider the reason for refusal before deciding on our next steps'
The report by the council’s planning officer Matthew Broome concluded: “I do appreciate that the residents of The Spinney remain concerned with the separation between the rear elevation of their properties and the proposed dwellings.
“The members’ site inspections allowed members to see this relationship first-hand, which I still consider to be acceptable.”
The developer told the Times: “Ashill is very disappointed with the committee’s decision.
“We will take this time to consider the reason for refusal before deciding on our next steps.”
Ashill pointed out: “Our plans were significantly improved to respond to feedback from neighbours, including reducing the number of homes from 61 to 53 and the replacement one of the apartment buildings with houses.
“In response to comments made at the Planning Committee our design was improved again by reducing the height and size of [two plots].”
A spokesperson for West Kent said: “The land was sold in summer 2018. Planning permission was sought by the developer as an independent action. The details relating to the planning application are a matter for the developer and the borough council.”