A Reminder: How the NDP got off the ground

I hope that you managed to feed back on the Benenden NDP before consultation closed mid-December.  This final phase of public consultation (known as Regulation 16 – more here) followed public consultations in autumn 2019 (Regulation 14 – more here), and on our Rough Draft in spring that year.

An independent examiner will study our plan, our supporting documents, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s Local Plan(s) and your feedback, alongside input from businesses, statutory bodies and landowners.  The examiner will recommend to TWBC any changes required to ensure our plan complies with the complex network of planning regulations and guidelines.  We await their report with pen at the ready.

I thought I should remind readers about the journey so far.  It started in May 2017 when the late Peter Davies organised a meeting to kick-start the NDP.  At that time, I could see no reason why we couldn’t be finished in 18 months, but by the time our plan either clears or falls at the final hurdle we will have been working on this for four years.

We received an early wake-up call.  Our consultants told us that one absolute requirement for planning was availability of suitable land. Landowners had to be prepared to sell land to developers for residential building to happen.  TWBC had opened a ‘call for sites’ across the borough.  Goudhurst parish had four potential sites, with only two deemed suitable, so development would be modest.  Bidborough had no sites offered, so they would have no development.  Benenden had many landowners keen to help, and the call attracted 18 potential sites.  By the time our final draft was submitted to TWBC this had risen to 22.

With so many sites offered, TWBC saw Benenden as ripe for expansion.  We already had permissions for two sites (Benenden Hospital and Walkhurst Road) which would increase housing stock by 34 dwellings.  TWBC’s opening proposal was a further 200 dwellings: 187 from new sites plus around 10% further ‘windfall development’ over the plan period.  We started work in earnest.  We had to ensure we had the right level of development for the village.  We worked hard with residents, businesses, and the Parish Council to understand the local need, and our specific constraints.

Our next meeting with TWBC was critical.  We met them in June 2018. It was a ‘robust’ meeting about what could be achieved by way of housing development.  We demonstrated that growth of some 230-240 dwellings in Benenden, with our poor transport links and lack of infrastructure, was unacceptable.

We proposed that we could deliver around 90 dwellings in addition to the existing planning permissions.  After some deliberation and more meetings, it was agreed that our plan should offer ‘around 100’ new dwellings in addition to existing permissions.  This aligned with the Parish Plan approach of around eight new dwellings per year. Next month I will remind readers about how we developed our local priorities, policies, and green spaces.

Paul Tolhurst

Chair, Benenden NDP Steering Committee

Jan 2021