Challenging Times for Benenden’s Neighbourhood Plan

The late Peter Davies warned me that the path of the NDP would not be smooth. So many vested interests and competing pressures would become apparent. Well it seems he was right.

TWBC have a target of 14,000 additional homes to be built across the Borough over the next 15 years. If they fail to deliver, the power to manage planning matters could be taken from them and passed to the mandarins in Whitehall. Of course Tunbridge Wells, Paddock Wood and other large settlements will be taking most of the development. But Benenden is targeted for a significant chunk.

A group from Benenden NDP including Nicola Thomas our PC Chair, met with TWBC Planners on 24 April. I have to report that the meeting raised some concerns for us. TWBC are clearly under pressure and confirmed that due to the significant quantity of land offered under their ‘Call for Sites’ they currently plan to target Benenden for development of around 200 houses. This is on top of existing planning permissions for sites at the Hospital and in Walkhurst Road. The target is based on a TWBC planning assumption of a density of 30 houses per hectare. Benenden’s settlements have less than 10 houses per hectare; so development based on the planned housing density would create a number of new ‘Sissinghurst Style’ housing estates.

We pointed out that such development would be unsustainable, and questioned the accuracy of TWBC’s assumptions. They were unable to share the basis of their assessments at that time. They stated their target is based on a ‘bottom up’ approach. However, it is not based on assessed housing need, economic viability or any consultation with the Parish. Their ‘bottom up’ is simply asking landowners to put forward sites. Our local landowners have been extremely forthcoming. Over 200 hectares of land has been offered within the Parish under the ‘Call for Sites’. For other Parishes, where less land has been offered, their housing targets are lower, much lower than ours. Since the ‘Call for Sites’ closed, more landowners have come forward with additional sites. At this stage the NDP team are not considering any additional sites, we have our work cut out assessing those that went through the formal process.

We will continue to lobby TWBC through our Borough Counsellor and at a further meetings. TWBC have agreed to a full day workshop with us later in June, and to provide more information in advance so we can have a better informed discussion. In turn we have shared a number of documents with them, which sets out the logic for a reduced overall target. Our submission also sets out reduced planned density for future housing development, which would be more in keeping with the character of our rural settlements.

All those working on the NDP agree some more suitable homes should be developed in Benenden and we should play our part in dealing with the well reported housing shortage. We are working hard to balance Parish needs and desires with those of the wider world, the path is not going to be easy!

Chair Benenden Neighbourhood Development Plan