Village uprising as medieval pocket of Kent faces 500 per cent increase in housing

·4-min read
 Ian Pattendenian, at All Saints' Church in Tudeley, Kent - Julian Simmonds
Ian Pattendenian, at All Saints' Church in Tudeley, Kent - Julian Simmonds

It was once described as one of the best medieval landscapes in northern Europe, with undulating fields dating back to the Domesday Book.

Boasting the only church in the world with all its stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall, villages do not get more quintessentially English than historic Tudeley.

Yet residents of this sleepy slice of Kent countryside are giving new meaning to the phrase “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” over plans to build more than 5,000 homes in the area, destroying 600 acres of green-belt land including ancient woodland.

The proposed development - which would see 3,000 homes built in Tudeley and a further 2,160 in nearby East Capel - represents a 500-per-cent increase in housing in the Tory stronghold.

The row has already cost the local Conservative councillor her seat to the Liberal Democrats, and now threatens to knock another hole through Boris Johnson’s Blue Wall after the party lost leafy Chesham and Amersham in a by-election in May.

More than 1,800 angry residents are now backing a “Save Capel” campaign to persuade the Tory-run Tunbridge Wells borough council to rethink the controversial scheme.

Ian Pattenden, who has lived in Tudeley for more than 30 years with his wife Angela, said: “This has happened under the Tories’ watch. What’s being proposed is sacrilege. It’s going to completely destroy the Green Belt and change the entire complexion of an area that has been like this for centuries.

“We are not NIMBYist and are more than happy to have housing here. We have even suggested a number of brownfield sites that could be developed but the borough council doesn’t seem to want to listen. It’s as if they have already made their minds up.”

A senior Conservative familiar with the plans admitted: “It’s one of those moments when you say to yourself - what the hell is the point of being a Tory if you can’t protect this?

The borough council earmarked 2,100 new houses for Tudeley in its draft Local Plan to 2038 and a further 2,160 homes in East Capel between Five Oak Green and Paddock Wood - Julian Simmonds
The borough council earmarked 2,100 new houses for Tudeley in its draft Local Plan to 2038 and a further 2,160 homes in East Capel between Five Oak Green and Paddock Wood - Julian Simmonds
Mr Pattenden, pictured with his wife Angela outside their home, said: "We are not NIMBYist and are more than happy to have housing here." But he believes there are better-suited brownfield sites - Julian Simmonds
Mr Pattenden, pictured with his wife Angela outside their home, said: "We are not NIMBYist and are more than happy to have housing here." But he believes there are better-suited brownfield sites - Julian Simmonds

Seemingly determined to build in the parish of Capel, the borough council earmarked 2,100 new houses for Tudeley in its draft Local Plan to 2038, and then later added 900. A further 2,160 homes were proposed in East Capel between Five Oak Green and Paddock Wood.

In 2018, Hadlow Estate, which owns huge swathes of the land, submitted a “Masterplan for Tudeley Village”, described as a “new community” of 2,800 homes, plus a new primary and secondary school, health, sports and leisure facilities and “a mixture of formal and open space”.

Locals argue that it will not only result in the destruction of wildlife, biodiversity and agriculture but cause traffic chaos, flooding and put undue strain on existing amenities.

The borough is made up of 20 wards and yet all the housing has only been earmarked for just three wards on the border with Tonbridge, which is in a different local authority altogether.

Tom Tugendhat, the MP for Tonbridge and Malling, is understood to be strongly opposed to the plans while Greg Clark, the MP for Tunbridge Wells, is described as “sitting on the fence.”

The Liberal Democrat councillor Hugh Patterson, who unseated the incumbent Tory by winning 75 per cent of the vote in Capel at the local elections three months ago, said the development represents “an existential threat to the parish”.

Mr Patterson, who is also chairman of Capel parish council, added: “This is urban development pure and simple. The council is basically saying the Government wants us to build all these houses and this is where we are going to build them so suck it up.”

An independent planning inspector will have the final say following a public inquiry in the New Year. Those opposing the scheme have already spent an estimated £20,000 fighting the plans by submitting reams of paperwork as part of the ongoing public consultation.

The Save Capel group has proposed various brownfield sites in the parish for development instead - including former prison Blantyre House, which could accommodate nearly 1,000 new homes and another site where a commercial development has already been approved. This site near High Brooms station, which has direct rail links to London, could take another 1,500 homes.

Cllr Alan McDermott, the cabinet member for planning and transportation, said the “process of producing the Local Plan has been extensive”, insisting it made “maximum use of brownfield land”.

“What the Plan proposes will mean using some Green Belt land. However all the testing done indicates that the urban expansion of Paddock Wood and the new standalone Tudeley Village is considered to be the most sustainable approach overall and that there are exceptional circumstances to justify the release of Green Belt land.”

‘The proposed Plan will change the landscape and we are mindful of the local concerns this raises.”

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