“The Residential Area Character Assessments in Sevenoaks”, Alan Dyer, Planning Policy Manager, Sevenoaks District Council

The Society has been closely following the creation and evolution of this very extensive and valuable document which merits deeper exploration. Running to nearly 750 pages, so perhaps better viewed online than popped into your briefcase, it enables the reader to search for and peruse any of the 166 sub-areas of the town, defined according to their typologies, for example Inter-War Linear Development, Informal Lane, and so on, each area to be accessed via the Council website and the document’s index map.

Spearheaded by Hannah Gooden and formally adopted in March 2012, it constitutes a unique document, a snapshot in time, placing each area into its historical context, assessing its positive and negative features, backed up by maps and photographs, and offering guidelines for future development. Setting it in its policy context, Alan referred to Core Strategies SP1 (Design of New Development and Conservation) and LO2 (Development in Sevenoaks Urban Area) which emphasise that any new development should be designed to a high quality and should respond to distinctive local character. He made clear that this did not equate to stagnation and the suppression of innovation and that while the document would be extremely useful in informing and guiding planning decisions it could not be totally prescriptive, nor would it seek to be.

Several Society members had been involved in a series of local walkabouts during which they were able to add their views and comments about areas they lived in or knew well, some of which were very diverse in character and contained commercial buildings which formed only a peripheral part of the survey; Conservation Areas were also excluded from the assessments. Alan’s view was that over time the Council would be able to tell the extent of impact of the document on planning applications and new development; he also said that review of the document was projected but not specifically scheduled, with the possibility of updating it, and that there was an awareness that any area may change in designation and character, for better or for worse.

The attractiveness and value of the Character Assessment were readily applauded, as was Alan’s lively and knowledgeable presentation of its key features, accompanied by practical demonstration of exemplar layouts, descriptions and area evaluations.