Save Capel Votes To Support Castle Hill Proposals

Dec 7, 2020

Following a vote which ran for a week from November 29, the Save Capel membership has voted 95% in favour of a recommendation from the campaign executive to support an alternative proposal for development within the parish of Capel, put forward by a group known as Castle Hill Developments.

Save Capel has never been against sustainable development and has always said the right type of development in the right place was acceptable. We continue to believe that Tudeley and East Capel would both be unsustainable and in the wrong place.

By supporting the Castle Hill proposals, our argument is strengthened that Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) should also look beyond this rural Parish to soak up such a considerable and disproportionate number of their supposed housing need.

Background 

In 2017 Tunbridge Wells Borough Council published an ‘Issues and Options’ document in advance of a public consultation, with five options to meet their housing requirement: 

Option 1: Focused Growth – development in Tunbridge Wells

Option 2: Semi-dispersed Growth – development in Tunbridge Wells with impact elsewhere.

Option 3: Dispersed Growth – a proportional spread across the borough.

Option 4: Growth Corridor – focused around the A21, close to Tunbridge Wells / Pembury.

Option 5: A new ‘garden village’ settlement – no location was identified.

Of the 289 responses, 60% (116) preferred the A21 Growth Corridor, focusing development close to Tunbridge Wells. 18% (34) preferred the ‘garden village’, but no site was mentioned. 

Save Capel was formed as a specific response to TWBC’s proposals for ‘garden communities’ in Tudeley and East Capel. A vigorous campaign opposed the plans as unsustainable, inappropriate and patently lop-sided with over 40% of the borough’s ‘housing need’ focused on a rural community of 913 homes. The 4000+ dwellings proposed for Capel, to be built over the period of the Local Plan and beyond, would be constructed entirely within the green belt.

There was a huge and negative response to the proposals in the Local Plan that emerged in 2019. In the Regulation 18 public consultation carried out in October and November 2019, 97% of 802 respondents objected to the Capel proposals.

Castle Hill Developments (CHD)

Earlier this year, a group of developers approached Capel Parish Council and Save Capel with a counter proposal to the plans for Tudeley.

Their development would be at Castle Hill, mostly within Capel but on the Tunbridge Wells side of the A21; part of the original ‘growth corridor’ that had been the preferred option in 2017.

At an initial meeting, CHD made it clear they were keen to secure Save Capel’s active backing of their proposals, and to build a broad coalition of support to replace the proposals for Tudeley with their vision for a settlement at Castle Hill, as an urban extension to Tunbridge Wells. 

Comparative Study

Before the Executive could make a recommendation to Save Capel members, we needed to understand the proposals, seek guarantees, consider the risks and address inconsistencies. To do so we asked questions and visited the site with the CHD project team, and studied the comparisons between Castle Hill and Tudeley. 

Consideration 

The Executive also sought guarantees through a set of conditions before we could make a recommendation to members:

  • CHD confirmed they would promote Castle Hill as an explicit alternative to the Tudeley proposals with TWBC, local residents, community groups and local elected representatives.
  • Whilst we cannot expect CHD to link Castle Hill as an alternative to both Tudeley Village and East Capel, CHD has confirmed their assessments and technical documents will not only seek to support the benefits of the Castle Hill site, but will include a comparison with other sites currently allocated in the Draft Local Plan. This is highly likely to include East Capel.
  • A list of principles relating to the development, albeit in advance of technical studies, provide for 40% affordable housing, ‘starter units’ aimed at first-time buyers, and accommodation for staff at Pembury Hospital.
  • Ancient woodland and the Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) at Castle Hill would be protected “…and indeed celebrated as part of our proposals.”

Whilst Tudeley and East Capel are significant green belt incursions, Castle Hill is in both green belt and AONB; a consideration of primary concern. In an ideal situation, Save Capel would not want to see development on any green belt or AONB land. However, extensive work has shown that a reduction in the housing targets TWBC is working to is highly unlikely and, indeed, the council themselves have placed a 9% additional ‘buffer’ on top of those figures. Moreover, a recent proposal to update the calculation used to set the targets nationally suggests the figures for Tunbridge Wells may increase. 

Building on brownfield land would be the preferred solution. Save Capel has spent significant time analysing brownfield land availability within the borough and while many sites have been identified they are generally small, and a large number of unconnected developments would be needed to meet the housing targets. With the timescales the Local Plan is working to, we do not believe it will be possible to convince TWBC to move to a brownfield-only approach to match the number of homes earmarked for Capel. So, we have had to look at sustainability and believe that the Castle Hill proposal is a far more sustainable option than the Tudeley proposal. This considers infrastructure, flood risk, proximity to facilities and a number of other factors.

It is important to point out that the Castle Hill proposal will not have a direct effect on the East Capel proposals, but the Save Capel campaign will continue to press for the removal of its unsustainable development from the Local Plan. By accepting this significant number of dwellings in Castle Hill, as a direct replacement for Tudeley Village in the Local Plan, we believe the arguments against East Capel are strengthened. The developers of Castle Hill have offered to provide us with advice and expertise, which will support our continued challenge of both the East Capel and Tudeley proposals. TWBC should therefore look elsewhere to make up any shortfall, including brownfield sites and the urban regeneration Tunbridge Wells so desperately needs.

A question and answer (Q&A) document was prepared to assist Save Capel members make their own assessment. This can be downloaded here.

Conclusion 

After Hadlow Estate presented its so-called ‘masterplan’, several discussions with CHD and other interested stakeholders followed, particularly around the viability and credibility of the Tudeley proposals, or lack thereof. 

TWBC has appointed a masterplanning consultancy, David Lock Associates, to plot the development of East Capel and the infrastructure requirements for both Capel sites. Their first remit is to report to the Council on the scenarios for how to proceed with Tudeley or East Capel, or both. Their initial findings are complete but not available publicly, and it is unlikely the public will be consulted on the scenarios despite the overwhelming rejection of both sites at Regulation 18. 

The Castle Hill option is designed to take the place of Tudeley but, in the view of the Save Capel Executive, also appears to be our best chance of persuading the Council to remove East Capel from the Local Plan.

After full consideration and debate, and ongoing discussions with CHD, the Save Capel Executive unanimously decided to recommend members support the proposed development at Castle Hill.

Now that the members have confirmed their support for the proposal, Save Capel moves from a position of opposition to all major development in the Parish to one where the campaign continues to oppose unsustainable development, while demonstrating support for a significant proposal which we believe to be sustainable and in the ‘right place’. Or perhaps, in a ‘less wrong place’. 

What next?

It is now for the wider set of Save Capel supporters, and the public generally, to show whether they back this initiative. The more people show their support, the more persuasive the argument becomes and the more TWBC must consider the option being put before them.

Please review the proposals at the CHD website (www.backcastlehill.co.uk) and, if you agree, register your support there.

If you have further questions, please email CHD via their website or let us know at savecapel@gmail.com and we will do our best to answer. 

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Save Capel on Twitter


So, Conservative members of the Planning and Transportation Cabinet Advisory Board fell in line with their leader, with a vote of 7/ 4 in favour of approving the draft Local Plan. Once again they are forging ahead against the wishes of 1000s of constituents. Sounds familiar?

Tonight TWBC Planning and Transportation Cabinet Advisory Board meet to approve the draft Pre-submission Local Plan. SaveCapel will be there highlighting the flaws and asking them to take more time to properly assess alternatives. Listen in at https://t.co/fH4xho3hlG

Yesterday Capel Parish Council voted unanimously to support, in principle, the Castle Hill alternative to Tudeley village. Today we have written to @TWellsCouncil to request an urgent meeting to call for its consideration as part of the draft local plan.

Help @savecapel and have a cup of tea! @ReginaldAmes has donated a selection of different branded Tudeley Tea’s to help us fight the TWBC Local Plan. ALL proceeds from the sale of this tea go directly to the campaign. For details go to https://t.co/ZlE8s3GqWa https://t.co/GFNt8ILFit SaveCapel photo

We must hope that TWBC grasps the nettle to reinvent Tunbridge Wells - there is certainly a lot of work to do there - instead of its current plan to bulldoze Capel and start again! https://t.co/mcOLVgjd9D

A bit long, but an interesting read, which explains the flawed thinking behind the need for so many new houses in England and probably TWBCs ill-thought-out response with its draft Local Plan https://t.co/jARsoMnucF