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MP Candidate Meetings

Members of Save Capel met MP candidates representing the major parties for Tunbridge Wells recently. Here are brief notes from the meetings (in alphabetical order by surname):

Ben Chapelard (Liberal Democrat)

Ben stated that, “ideally, we would not build on Green Belt”, but suggested that Tunbridge Wells town could not take any more housing, and posed a question about where the necessary increase in housing would go. He understood Capel’s issues on the quantity of houses and our concerns about the Green Belt, infrastructure and flooding in particular. He said that he would support finding the best place for the houses that need to be built and was clear that, wherever development took place, it had to be sustainable.

Ben also mentioned that TWBC Planning Working Group meetings, Planning Committees, Cabinet meetings and other meetings, particularly on planning, are generally held during office hours so councillors who work full time, including himself, had not been able to attend them on a regular basis.

In a subsequent communication Ben said: “Thank you for inviting me to discuss the proposed Local Plan. We discussed Save Capel's concerns including the following 4 main areas:

1 building on the greenbelt

2 flood risks

3 poor road infrastructure towards Tonbridge

4 the railway line and lack of new train station

Our borough does need more housing. Our Liberal Democrat manifesto however makes it clear that new housing must be sustainable. There would therefore need to be significant improvements before I was personally able to support TWBC's proposed Local Plan in its current state. Please rest assured that my Liberal Democrat colleagues on TWBC will continue to vigorously scrutinise the plans. I would also like to thank you and your working groups for the work you have done to evidence your concerns."

Greg Clark (Conservative)

Greg was clear that garden village developments must be sustainable with good transport solutions to limit private car use. Flood risks and the impact of climate change were key, and infrastructure must come before expansion of Paddock Wood and any new development in Tudeley. He advised that the Local Plan process is semi-judicial towards the end (when the Planning Inspector gets involved) and community engagement is an important element of the assessment of the Plan, alongside guidelines regarding development on Green Belt. These were areas the campaign should focus on.

In a subsequent communication Greg said: “The Parish of Capel is one of the most unique communities in the country. A collection of a small village and hamlets, with a long history connected with the land, in some of the least well-known but most idyllic settings in Britain. The character and way of life of this special environment must be preserved, not erased.

I have worked closely with Save Capel and will continue to do so to ensure that no development can take place which is not sustainable environmentally and respects the unique quality of the parish. The proposals are a long way from that – the lack of transport connections, inadequate attention to flooding and drainage, let alone the pressures on GP surgeries and the school, make it impossible to be sustainable.

As a former Planning Minister I have the experience, the knowledge and the authority to be able to work closely with the Capel community to ensure that a parish that has developed organically for 1,000 years is not abruptly destroyed in a way that would never be forgiven.”

Antonio Weiss (Labour)

Antonio advised the campaign concentrate on cumulative impact assessments, of ensuring a pro-active brownfield strategy and of flood risk, about which we should try to engage with the Environment Agency. He was also keen to ensure there was a clear strategy for transport in the Local Plan. He understood that Save Capel was not against development, especially affordable housing, but that certain conditions must be met (such as flood mitigation and infrastructure).

In a subsequent communication Antonio said: “As MP I'd also be keen to look to place a covenant on the development, which safeguards for i) infrastructure investments actually happening before development, especially re flooding; and ii) that genuinely affordable housing targets are met (this would be using the Labour local incomes-linked measure rather than current Conservative 80% market rent figure). If these two things aren't happening, then I'd want to be able to pause any development. Such covenants are tricky, but can be put in place as a condition with developers.”

Thank you to Mr Chapelard, Mr Clark and Mr Weiss for meeting Save Capel.