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Tunbridge Wells Borough draft Local Plan 2020-2038: Regulation 19 consultation
Thank you for consulting Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) on the draft Tunbridge Wells Borough Local Plan (TWBLP). Maidstone Borough Council’s comments on the draft plan are detailed below.
Duty to cooperate
The Localism Act 2011 places a legal duty on planning authorities to engage constructively, actively, and on an ongoing basis, to ensure the effectiveness of Local Plan preparation in relation to strategic, cross-boundary issues. Effective and on-going joint working between strategic policy-making authorities is integral to the production of a positively prepared and justified strategy. MBC formally responded to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s (TWBC) previous Local Plan consultations in 2017 and 2019 and has continued to be informed of, and involved in, the preparation of the most recent draft Local Plan (the subject of this formal consultation) through regular officer-level meetings. This includes meetings to consider the proposed larger settlements/garden communities. Additionally, in March 2021 MBC and TWBC agreed a statement of common ground to accompany the TWBC Regulation 19 consultation.
MBC therefore considers that the duty to cooperate in plan-making between the two authorities has been satisfied and that cooperation is ongoing.
The following sections set out our comments on the Local Plan.
The standard methodology identifies a need for 12,204 new dwellings for the plan period from 2020 to 2038. MBC recognises that the draft TWLP proposes to fully meet this identified need over the plan period, and that TWBC are not expecting any other authorities, including MBC, to accommodate any unmet need. Additionally, we note that TWBC is seeking meet its gypsy pitch need. This approach is fully supported. Similarly, MBC acknowledges the indication in the draft TWBLP that there is limited ability for TWBC to meet any unmet housing needs from other councils. MBC is planning to meet its own need without the need to seek to accommodate any unmet need from TWBC.
The proposed spatial strategy is one of a dispersed growth approach, with site allocations in the majority of the settlements across the borough. In addition, proposals are included for a new garden settlement in Tudeley and the expansion of Capel and Paddock Wood. This expansion is directly to the south of MBC’s administrative boundary and therefore has the greatest potential effect on Maidstone Borough. The matter will be discussed further under the heading Policy STR/SS 1, below.
The strategy for employment growth and allocation of at least 14 hectares of land (approximately 120,000sqm) for employment use remains based on the Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells Economic Needs Study dated 2016. However, the strategy and quantum of land allocated to meet the borough’s employment needs predominantly through extensions of the defined Key Employment Areas (KEAs) remains a logical and sensible approach which is supported by MBC. The expansion of the KEA around Maidstone Road and Paddock Wood may indeed offer opportunities for residents and businesses particularly in the south of Maidstone to utilise the planned employment offering.
MBC raises no further comments or objections in relation to the overall approach to employment.
The uncertainty surrounding the retail sector both nationally and more locally is recognised in the pre-submission Plan. MBC fully supports the flexible approach to uses in the town and other centres, including greater focus on the leisure and culture offer.
MBC is pleased to note that the 2017 Retail and Leisure Study has been updated for 2021 (RCLTCU Study 2021), recognising the current state of change within the wider retail market. This ensures that, as far as possible, the most accurate amount of floorspace is allocated for retail and leisure uses based on up-to-date evidence at the point of submission. In this particular case, the evidence does not identify a need for any allocation of land for convenience or comparison floorspace – with a focus instead on reuse of vacant floorspace and bolstering of existing units. MBC supports this approach – particularly in the short term – but suggests that this is kept under regular review to ensure sufficient floorspace remains available to meet needs over the plan period.
MBC raises no further comments or objections in relation to the overall approach to retail.
Landscape and Green Belt.
We note that TWBC have undertaken a range of studies to consider the impact of the strategy on the AONB and the release of land in the Metropolitan Green Belt.
The SFRA identifies that areas to the north of Paddock Wood are particularly prone to flooding. As before, MBC raises no issue with the principle of the expansion of Paddock Wood on the provision that the expansion can be suitably accommodated without further risk of flooding to the surrounding areas of Maidstone Borough, and that betterment can and will be provided in these locations where appropriate.
MBC raises no further comments or objections in relation to the overall approach to flooding and flood risk mitigation.
Infrastructure and connectivity
As per the previous TWBC draft Plan consultation (Regulation 18), the growth strategy remains based on the premise of infrastructure-led development to ensure that essential infrastructure and connectivity is integral to all new development. MBC strongly supports this approach to delivering growth, particularly the emphasis on ensuring that sufficient infrastructure capacity is either available or can be provided in time to serve new development (criterion 5, policy STR5).
The strategy in relation to transport and parking intends to prioritise active and sustainable modes of transport, whilst recognising that private car ownership in the borough is currently very high and that sufficient levels of parking should be provided.
The draft Plan is supported by an Infrastructure Delivery Plan and a Transport Strategy. The following transport schemes are those which are considered necessary to support the growth identified in the plan which are relevant to Maidstone borough:
· Improved A228 Maidstone Road/Whetsted Road priority junction
· Improved A228/Whetsted Road/A228 Branbridges Road/B2160 Maidstone Road roundabout
· Improved B2160 Maidstone Road/Commercial Road priority junction
MBC recognises the need for and supports these highways improvements and will continue to engage with TWBC to assess their impacts as part of the duty to cooperate process.
In the interest of joined-up, cohesive planning, any opportunities to extend and/or join up active travel and public transport options beyond administrative boundaries, into Maidstone Borough – where sensible and feasible to do so – should be explored at all stages of the masterplanning process for the extension of Paddock Wood.
MBC raises no further comments or objections in relation to the overall approach to transport.
The strategy for Paddock Wood, including land at east Capel (policy STR/SS 1)
It is noted that the expansion of Paddock Wood (including land at east Capel) will seek to follow Garden Settlement principles and provide flood risk solutions. The Council-led approach to masterplanning the area, which is to take the form of SPD, is also noted. MBC will of course continue to engage in the regular Strategic Sites Working Group meetings as the masterplan SPD progresses.
Policy STR/SS1 details the strategy for development at Paddock Wood and east Capel, including approximately 3,490-3,590 dwellings; 3 neighbourhood centres providing approximately 2,000sqm total; and other associated infrastructure to serve the local needs. Proposals for piecemeal development will be resisted. The overall policy approach is considered to be suitably comprehensive and MBC raises no further comments or objections in this regard.
I hope these comments are helpful and look forward to continuing, constructive dialogue on strategic, cross boundary issues as part of the duty to cooperate as our respective Local Plans progress.
Head of Planning and Development
Maidstone Borough Council, King Street, Maidstone, Kent ME15 6JQ