The first thing to note is that the delivery plan is a very ‘glossy’ document, full of sketches depicting red-brick housing scenes covered in green, and without a person or vehicle in sight. And the language used suggests the creation of a perfect ‘community’ that might make Kubla Khan jealous. It is not a difficult stretch to assume that the PR agency hired by Hadlow Estate – to put a positive spin on its destruction of hundreds of acres of prime agricultural land enjoyed by its current community – had quite a hand in the document’s creation.
But what it doesn’t have are the answers to many of the questions we raised last year.
There is still little addressing the impact the plans will have on the surrounding areas, with Tonbridge certain to be a magnet for the settlement’s residents and their traffic.
Admittedly there is a little more known about some of the infrastructure that will support the village. The consultancy tasked with making recommendations for Tudeley and East Capel’s infrastructure requirements has completed its report, and a map with some basic proposed routes has been published. But this still suggests the bulk for the settlement’s traffic will need to use the existing B2017 to access Tonbridge – albeit possibly widened in places and with a roundabout at Hartlake road. Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) says this will be sufficient in its pre-submission version of its local plan, but the evidence it says the consultants have gathered has not been published (at time of writing). So we can’t see how this already congested route will absorb the extra 6,000+ residents’ journeys, even at the optimistically low traffic movements created by the development as suggested in the document. Are we really supposed to believe that a large proportion of residents will cycle up the significant gradient into Tunbridge Wells, in the pouring rain, to do their weekly shop rather than jump in their cars?
There is still no evidence that the railway station can be delivered. When previously challenged, Hadlow Estate had suggested that this was aspirational and only needed if they developed north of the railway. With TWBC having increased the target for Tudeley it will have to.
Yes, the targets for both Tudeley and East Capel have been increased, with an extra 200 for Tudeley in the lifetime of the local plan, and a further 500 or so in East Capel. How is that for a slap in the face of the thousands of people who objected to the inclusion of both sites in the local plan? What does that mean for public consultation?
And there is more to question in the Tudeley delivery plan.
The document states that the plan ‘aligns with needs and priorities across the district‘. Yet the Head of Planning at TWBC said some time ago that these homes would be filled by migration from London.
The plan also states that it is “responding to regional capacity shortfalls for secondary [school] places”. And yet the June 2020 KCC ‘Review of Commissioning Plan for Education Provision in Kent 2020-2024’ states that “as of October 2019 surplus capacity across secondary school sector is 6.4% across all years” with TWBC’s surplus noted as being 12% across all years. There appears to be no regional capacity shortfall at all.
So why then does the document threaten that the “Delivery of this school which will be a key piece of infrastructure for the Borough as a whole, is dependent on the delivery of Tudeley Village. If this new settlement is not built increased school provision will need to be provided in Paddock Wood or elsewhere.”?
Without the Tudeley development, the provision of a new secondary school within Capel becomes redundant as the new site identified at Five Oak Green could not be considered to be in a sustainable location for the proposed major growth at Paddock Wood.
There are some interesting choices of wording too. The plan says that ‘145 people booked tickets to attend‘ the exhibition. But not how many actually attended. It claims there were ‘104 specific comments on the Masterplan’s detail‘ but doesn’t list them. It would be very interesting to see all those comments. And this is being used to claim consultation. But something less than 145 is not adequate consultation – even if you use COVID-19 as your excuse. This section in particular smacks of having been crafted by the PR’s pen.
And in another exercise in positive spin, the document mentions how ‘Leaky Wood Structures were installed in Jan 2020‘ on Estate land when trying to demonstrate the Estate’s credentials where flooding is concerned. Areas of Capel suffered severe flooding in February that year, beneath where these ‘structures’ had been installed and on one occasion an unusual torrent effect was noted. South East Rivers Trust (who actually installed the structures – Hadlow just let them do it on its land) stated to Capel Parish Council that only about seven had been completed by January. But in a press release issued by the Estate, Harry Teacher quotes the number as 50.
Poundbury, a Dorchester-based development Hadlow Estate likes to refer to in an effort to suggest that Tudeley will be similar, pops up in the plan on a few occasions. In one, it states that ‘Poundbury can boast that it has as many jobs as it has residents’. Why this comparison is drawn is not clear, as Poundbury already had an existing factory on the site and its critical infrastructure was put in first. Another attempt to spin the truth?
But there are references to the character of Kent that the development would like to reflect with images of ideal villages. It is a shame none of the inspirations come from within Capel, the Parish it will change forever.
There is plenty more to question in the delivery plan. But overall it smacks of a heavily spun attempt to convince whoever needs to be convinced that this entirely unsustainable development is worth backing and embedding in the Tunbridge Wells Local Plan. Once that happens, then the backtracking and excuse-making can begin, and we will all discover what the Hadlow Estate is actually prepared to deliver far too late.