Finding 3: Opposition to Capel Plans is widespread
Interestingly, the opposition to the plans for Capel is not limited to local residents but is distributed within and outside of TW borough. As you would expect, a large portion of respondents (~40%) are from Capel Parish itself. But nearly half of our support comes from outside the borough – ca. 40% of respondents are from Tonbridge and 10% are from Golden Green/Hadlow/East Peckham. The remaining 10% of respondents are from other parishes across the borough of Tunbridge Wells.
This cross-boundary interest is heartening and very welcome, but it is a sad state of affairs when it takes ’non-borough residents’ to remind TWBC of the need to be a good neighbour, and to highlight how non-sensical these plans really are.
Finding 4: What’s wrong? Take your pick
When perusing the reasons for objecting to the plan, the list is long and varied. Environmental concerns top the list – the destruction of 600 acres of green belt, climate change, air, noise and light pollution. Followed by lack of transportation and infrastructure. Flood risk. Loss of high quality farmland. Damage to the rural landscape and our heritage. Loss of biodiversity. Concerns on due process and delivery risk. Impact on a neighbouring borough. Not to mention the complete disregard for the needs of the local residents whose livelihoods will be turned upside down and whose parish will be unrecognisable.
Finding 5: Respondents – The good, the not so good and the ugly
Beyond individual responses, the plan also attracted commentary from a wide array of political bodies, special interest groups and developers. Though their responses were not always as expected.
Reassuringly, Save Capel can count on a wide range of potential allies: The plan was opposed by or at least caused strong concern with 10 political representatives including Tom Tugendhat (MP for Tonbridge & Malling), Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council, the parish councils of Capel, Brenchley & Matfield, East Peckham, Hadlow, Shipbourne and various councillors. We also attracted support from many interest groups such as the CPRE, High Weald AONB Unit, Tonbridge Line Commuters, TW Friends of the Earth and the Tonbridge Civic Society. Our heartfelt thanks go to everyone that voiced their opposition!
Rather more surprising is the fact that there are also four developers objecting to the Capel plans. Dandara/ DHA Planning, Persimmon, Sigma / Rydon and Taylor Wimpey all objected – typically on the basis of excessive cost, unrealistic timelines and unnecessary risk. While they will all have their own axe to grind, should the fact that developers are declaring Capel plans unrealistic not give pause for thought?
The timid list
Less impressively, there are a number of organisations that are rightfully concerned but did not declare an objection. Were they too timid? This includes a number of public bodies such as Capel United Church, Highways England, Historic England, Natural England, NHS West and the RSPB. All of the above neither supported nor objected to the plans but restricted themselves to raising concerns or making general observations.
Our message to you…. we respect your desire to be balanced, inclusive or non-confrontational, but when plans are this poor it is okay to object.
Those motivated to support
And finally, to the 13 respondents who actively supported the plans for Capel:
Unsurprisingly, this includes six developers or agents with proposed developments in Capel (Hadlow/Turnberry, Crest Nicholson/Barton Willmore, Tesco/Martin Robeson, Dandara/CBRE, Millwood/Woolf Bond Planning and Bellway Homes/Turley), as well as two public bodies (Kent County Council and Southern Water).
Rather more bizarre is the support of the British Horse Society and Sport England. Really?
But, we are especially saddened by the response of our neighbours in the Hawkenbury Village Association, who called on their residents to actively support the Capel plans in order to shift development away from Hawkenbury. Thankfully, hardly anybody listened, and hopefully that Association’s response will be more considered and less self-centred in the next phase of the Local Plan.
What does it all mean?
The community has spoken
First and foremost – the community’s opposition to the Local Plan is very clear. And however much this is sugar-coated, the overwhelming response is at least part of the reason for the delay to the Plan. Though whether TWBC will use this time productively and revert with a plan that we can all wholeheartedly support – or persist in their misguided attempts to destroy the green belt – only time will tell.
Hope for the best – prepare for the worst
While the loud echo that Save Capel’s campaign has had in the community is gratifying to hear, it would be naïve to assume that our opponents will just give up and go home. There simply is too much easy money to be made by de-classifying and building over the green belt. We should expect TWBC and the developers to continue to pursue their plans going forward. At Save Capel we are re-mobilising to meet the challenge.
What about brownfield?
One thing that will not have changed is that TWBC is under pressure to build thousands of new houses. At Save Capel, we understand and support this principle (though not the amount of houses targeted). Indeed, one of our aims is to help TWBC by presenting them with workable alternatives that prioritise brownfield and urban regeneration instead of destroying the countryside that gives the Garden of England its name. This will be one of our key priorities going forward.
In for the long haul
To close on a personal note – while the numbers above clearly reflect the balance of opinion, they do not quite convey the strength of feeling in the community. For that you need to read the 1,200 odd responses related to Capel where the confusion, exasperation and sheer anger is palpable and leaps off the page.
On behalf of the Save Capel Executive: There can be no stronger motivation and we are committed to continue our campaign to protect the Green Belt and stop these mindless plans during Regulation 19 and beyond.