With a special edition in April 2021 on the Neighbourhood Development Plan, the Parish Magazine editors asked some pertinent questions of the NDP team, and those with differing views to help prompt debate and discussion in the village.
Paul Tolhurst: Chair Benenden Neighbourhood Development Plan Steering Committee
Q. We’ve heard that if the NDP was voted out at a referendum, then no new houses would be built in the village. Is this true?
Definitely not. No plan means no control. Landowners put forward 22 sites for building and only a properly signed-off plan protects the parish from potentially large-scale speculative development.
Q. Why can’t the houses required be scattered in single/small numbers around the village in numerous small developments?
Our first priority is to provide affordable housing. This was made clear in feedback from village workshops and is part of national guidelines. Small sites don’t have to include affordable housing, and usually consist of large executive-style homes, rather than the smaller homes our community requires. Selecting small parts of larger sites is just not smart, because developers often argue later that further building on the rest of the site is legitimate. We have filled four medium-size sites rather than allocating parts of sites which risk future sprawl, and far better to lose only one green field (for almshouses) than numerous green fields for piecemeal development purposes.
Q. Opponents criticise you for being the only NDP in the area to allocate sites. Why did you do this?
Around 70% of NDPs write general development policies, leaving tough decisions on site allocation to the Local Authority, but this gives away control. By allocating, the parish decides which sites are developed and we can create specific policies for each site.
Q. We’re told that building “most new houses in one huge development in the East End” is a bad idea. Isn’t it?
Let’s look at the maths. There are four sites allocated in the NDP. Two sites adjacent to Benenden village will provide up to 45 new homes. Two sites at East End will provide up to 50 new homes, and are both ‘brownfield’ sites, outside the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A further 16 new homes in Benenden village (including the 12 now built at Walkhurst Lane) and existing permission for 24 at East End pre- date the NDP and are in addition to the plan.
Q. You say that a strategy controlled by a robust NDP will force developers to provide funding and amenities for the village as part of their contracts. Are you sure this will happen?
By allocating sites we can create specific policies requiring developers to fund infrastructure improvements needed to make each site work for us. The independent examiner ensures our policies are legal and reasonable, so once they are passed by the examiner and approved at referendum, developers are expected to meet our policy requirements.
Q. Opponents have also claimed that you plan to make Walkhurst Road one way and/or move the war memorial. Is any of this true?
No and no!
Questions to Hazel Strouts and ‘The Friends of East End’
Q. You would like the NDP voted out. In that event who do you see regulating required house building in the village?
The NDP needs amending.The National Planning Policy Framework requires that, “to promote sustainable development in rural areas, housing should be located where it will enhance or maintain the vitality of rural communities”. It requires sustainable transport and good connectivity. The East End has no bus service and no footpath to the village. TWBC will continue to regulate housing, judging applications on their merits.
Q. If the NDP is not supported, TWBC will still insist on the village taking its share of housing required to meet Government quotas. Which of the 22 sites put forward by local landowners will you be recommending as suitable for building on?
TWBC will insist on the village taking its share of housing with or without an NDP. TWBC planners should allocate sites with input from the village, not the other way round. Ours is the only parish to self-allocate. Recent data shows housing needs down and, in a post- Covid world, urban commercial space will be used for housing. Let’s benefit from changes.
Q. Won’t developers be delighted at the prospect of no NDP, no control over housing numbers, no need to pay for affordable housing or community projects?
Voting against an NDP that proposes so many houses will reduce, not encourage, new building. If, as seems likely, the five-year supply of housing is reached on 1 April, there will be a presumption against further development. Affordable housing? All developers building more than ten houses contribute to the community.
Q. You describe the East End as an “entirely rural” area and yet it is dominated by a hospital that employs 300 people and provides parking and accommodation for many. How does this qualify as rural?
The East End is no hamlet. It covers almost a third of the parish, extending from Walkhurst along Goddards Green Road towards Tenterden, south towards Hole Park, then west to Walkhurst Road stream and back to Goddards Green. It is entirely rural except for the small enclave of the isolation hospital, founded where the fewest live. Walk a few yards in any direction – you are in open AONB country.
Q. You say that traffic in the village would increase if houses were built at the East End. Wouldn’t traffic increase wherever houses were built in the village?
No, because other sites are within walking distance of village amenities.
Q. If the NDP were voted against, what, in your view, would happen to the two brownfield sites in East End? Won’t these still be developed but without any restrictions, or benefits, to the area?
There is already permission for 24 houses, an appropriate number.The hospital site is not industrial wasteland. It has four Local Wildlife Sites and established parkland. There is no good reason to demolish and rebuild existing 18 dwellings nor to add another 50 houses.