March 2024 Update

Sevenoaks Town is the only part of Kent to have an up-to-date development plan, following last year’s adoption of the STNP. The Society took an active part in its preparation, which was led by the Town Council. The STNP should therefore be a key document in the consideration and determination of planning applications within the town.

There is a Monitoring and Implementation Group, chaired by the Town Council, which meets bi-monthly and in which the Society is playing an active role to ensure that the STNP is being given its proper full status in the determination by SDC of planning applications; and that the town centre is gradually redeveloped in a sympathetic way, with a priority to ease of pedestrian movement and enjoyment of the shopping and leisure experience rather than the free flow of (often unnecessary) traffic.

There are slowly emerging proposals for new masterplans for the St John’s area and the town centre. It is to be hoped that the Society can play a part in ensuring coordination between the Town and District Councils in the preparation of these masterplans and that some of the ambitious ideas of the late Roger FitzGerald for the town centre will be incorporated, backed by an up-to-date transportation study

Response to Local Plan stage 2 consultation

January 2024 - The Society welcomes the opportunity to comment on the District Council’s stage 2 proposals for the Local Plan. We commented at some length in response to the stage 1 consultation and this response should be read as complementary to that.

Executive Summary and Conclusions

The Society is deeply concerned by the level of increase in development that will come about as a result of meeting the Government’s housing assessment in full which could approach a 30% increase in dwellings in the Sevenoaks urban area. We note the statements in the revised National Planning Policy Framework that the figures produced by the standard assessment method should be interpreted as a guide rather than a target. But we recognise that at the national level there is a housing crisis and locally a severe shortage of affordable homes. So reluctantly we feel that there is a case for trying to achieve the figures, but no case for exceeding them.

Such substantial change in the character of the area would require a dedicated Change Management Unit to be set up to ensure that supporting infrastructure is provided in a timely manner and that the views of local residents are fully taken into account.

The Society believes that Option 2, a new settlement at Pedham Place, is the preferred option on grounds of sustainability, as shown in the report commissioned from AECOM, and because it would ensure that development is planned and programmed with coordinated provision of infrastructure and delivery and clear expectations of the quality of the places to be created.

We regard it as thoroughly unsatisfactory that the Council is putting forward baseline sites in advance of any supporting evidence and assessments of traffic and air quality impacts, especially with regard to sites MX1 (Sevenoaks station and car park and Morewood Close) and MX2 (land east of Sevenoaks High Street).  Further work is needed and information provided before any decision is made on these sites.

The three Green Belt sites adjacent to the Sevenoaks urban area included in Options 1 and 3 are all unsuitable for development and should be retained within the Green Belt.

Site HO29 on Brittains Lane shares many of the characteristics of the site south of Brittains Farm on which the Council recently successfully defended at appeal its decision to refuse planning permission. It is found to be strongly performing the functions of the Green Belt, and is bounded on one side by Brittains Lane which has provided a hard boundary to the Green Belt since its inception. On the other side is Great Britains Wood, a registered ancient woodland. The site is an area of attractive countryside in agricultural production, a biodiversity opportunity area partly within the Kent Downs AONB and within its setting, and of such topography that housing on the site would dominate the local landscape. Access would be on to the narrow Brittains Lane which has difficult sight-lines and alignment. The lack of footways along much of its length, together with distances and walking times to local amenities such as schools, medical centres and shops will require a much greater reliance upon personal transport and mean that in no real sense could it be described as sustainable. In addition to road improvements, substantial investment would be required in drainage infrastructure which calls into question the prospect of developers meeting the Council’s aims on affordable housing.

Site HO28 (Back Lane) is another area of attractive countryside in agricultural production. It is wholly within the AONB, next to the Bessels Green Conservation Area and the Dryhill SSSI, and regarded as strongly or moderately performing the functions of the Green Belt.  Access onto the A25 would be extremely difficult and access through the conservation area unacceptable.

Site MX13 (Land off Homedean Road, Chipstead) is partly in use for grazing land and the remainder as a recreation ground, playing fields and allotments. It is strongly performing Green Belt, wholly within the Kent Downs AONB, two-thirds within the Chipstead Conservation Area and around one-third within Flood Zone 3. Access onto the A25 is through a junction which is an accident blackspot.

The Society welcomes policies H1 and H2 on affordable housing but remains concerned by the Council’s conspicuous lack of success in recent years in achieving affordable housing, particularly social rented. We believe a far more robust approach is needed to challenging and reviewing developers’ viability assessments.

We recognise the crucial importance of timely provision of suitable and appropriate infrastructure including schools, medical services, transport, traffic management and drainage systems and wish to see a plan in place which instead of being merely aspirational is hard-wired to delivery.

The Society welcomes policies on low carbon development but considers that more attention needs to be paid to the wording of those policies if they are to be effective.

Stage 2 final response 7 January 2024


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