Time to pop the champagne corks… or is it another journey down the long and winding road?

Nov 9, 2023

The highlights

Planning Officers have at last recommended a way forward for the local plan in response to the Inspector’s Initial Findings, which he sent to them a year ago!

Tudeley Village should be deleted

 Five Oak Green by-pass cancelled (Colt’s Hill scheme remains)

 Development at East Capel should be reduced by around 850 houses

In this update you can find out what this means and the expected next steps for the examination of the local plan.

What happens next?

On Monday 13th November 2023 (6.30pm) the Planning & Transportation Advisory Board (PTAB) of TWBC will meet to discuss the proposals. Save Capel has reserved two seats to speak at this important meeting (you can watch it here).

The PTAB will provide their recommendations to the Cabinet who will meet (on 7th December) to consider whether the revised plan should go before Full Council on 13th December 2023.

Full Council will determine whether the revised development strategy goes out to public consultation (for six weeks, similar to Reg 19) which we could expect to be early in the new year. The revised proposals, evidence base, and public responses will then be sent to the Inspector to continue the examination. Focussed hearings on the evidence will likely follow as directed by him.

So, will we finally be getting close to a destination on our Long and Winding Road after four and a half years of navigation? Let’s look at the recommendations in more detail below...

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Planning Officers Response to the Inspector’s Initial Findings (subject to approval) – REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL!

The key constituents of the response which affect the Parish of Capel are:

  • Adopting the Inspector’s Option 3 and removing Tudeley Garden Village (TGV) from the Local Plan! The Council now concedes it does not have sufficient evidence of ‘exceptional circumstances’ to remove the Tudeley site from the Metropolitan Green Belt (MGB). The proposed FOG by-pass and Tudeley secondary school would be cancelled, whilst the Colt’s Hill improvements remain in the revised plan.
  • Reducing the number of houses for East Capel from around 2,100 to around 1,250. The Inspector has major concerns about the development of houses in areas of high flood risk so the development parcels have been trimmed back. However, the new proposals would still have a major impact on Capel. The majority of the reduction is in the north-east where provision for a new secondary school is proposed (should Mascall’s not expand by one third to 12 classes per year) … but there are now five parcels of housing development; three south of the railway line.

The consequences include:

  • These revised numbers for Capel mean that TWBC will need to find other sites in the Borough if they are to meet their housing targets as set by the Government.
  • As a result of these major reductions to housing numbers, the Council can only justify a housing supply for ten years rather than the 15 years required of Local Plans. So, there would be a review of the adopted local plan within five years.

Whilst these proposals appear very positive at first sight, and thereby a big win for Save Capel and all our supporters and generous donors, there are a number of issues which we need to consider and deal with before any champagne corks can be popped!

What Issues Arise from these Proposals and How Can We Deal With Them? – REASONS FOR CONCERN!

  • A key issue for TWBC is that until they have a Local Plan in place, they are open to speculative developments across the Borough, including Capel, which even if rejected by the Council could be approved at appeal.
  • Also, with no Local Plan in place TWBC would be at risk of further changes if there is a different approach imposed by the current Government, or if there is a new Government after next year’s General Election.
  • Because of the initial “all the eggs in two baskets (Capel and Paddock Wood) approach” by TWBC they will now have to revisit their Sites Strategy including both brownfield and green belt options; so far, they have shown little appetite to do this.
  • The landowner for TGV (the Hadlow Estate) will have invested significant funds in developing their proposals to date. How will they react to the Council’s withdrawal of their potential “Golden Egg”?
  • A growth in East Capel of 1,250 homes would mean something like a 150% increase in the population of Capel, thereby having a significant impact on the community and local infrastructure.
  • The evidence put forward by TWBC for these latest proposals, whilst long and detailed, has some omissions and we will have to wait until the final package is available for deeper analysis of the consequences.

Collectively, these issues suggest to Save Capel that whilst the work we have put in so far is bearing some fruit at last, the war is not yet won … even if a major battle has been. TWBC needs a Local Plan in place, and we need to ensure that it is the right one for Capel. Therefore, there is still much work to be done, even though it seems TGV will be removed from the fight, particularly in supporting Five Oak Green and East Capel.

So, What Next?

The Save Capel Campaign has been running since that moment back in May 2019 when TWBC pulled the two Strategic Sites rabbits out of the hat. Since that time, many of the main architects (Senior Planning Officers, Council Leaders, and Councillors) have withdrawn from the battlefield. The political shape of TWBC has changed beyond all recognition. During that time, we estimate that TWBC has spent, or could it be said wasted, £4m of taxpayers’ money, and where has it got them so far – NO FURTHER FORWARD!

Indeed, after the Inspector’s findings in November 2022 that TGV should be removed from the Local Plan and the volume of development reduced in East Capel, the Council earmarked over £850,000 of ratepayer’s money on consultants and others to deal with those findings. After a year, the planners finally came to the obvious conclusion that the Inspector was right!

Our campaign was founded and is run to support the whole of the Parish of Capel against inappropriate development. Even if TGV is withdrawn from the Local Plan, remember at this point it is only a proposal, your Executive believes that we must continue the fight to minimise the impact of the Plan on East Capel.

The support of our petition signatories (that’s you by the way!) and our very generous donors will be fundamentally important to us in taking this campaign forward – until we can truly claim “the war is won!” We have limited funds in the Capel Green Belt Protection Society’s bank account, and also a good number of pledges of further funds which we will look to renew before the end of the year. However, we may well have to do more fundraising to ensure that we can engage the professional expertise we will need to take the fight forward into 2024.

In Summary

There is no doubt that the outlook for the campaign is much more positive than it has ever been, that is a cause to be happy and grateful. The Save Capel Executive are all committed to take things forward until we achieve the full objectives we set out to do. Your continuing help and support are crucial to that and getting us to the end of that Long and Winding Road. We can’t do this without you.

And finally…

A huge thank you to all those supporters who gave up their time to protest, organise fundraising events, participate in our specialist research teams, and to those who have donated and pledged funds. The community has really pulled together to reach this important milestone.

As ever, the Save Capel Executive would like to thank you all for your continuing support. We’d love to hear your feedback on this via email to savecapel@gmail.com

Stewart, Ian, Dave, Maggie, Charlie, Jan, Mark, and Chris

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