Clare Escombe, Chairman of Hawkhurst Parish Council stated “I am immensely frustrated that last night at the TWBC Planning Committee, the decision was made to approve the planning application for the construction of 43 retirement living apartments at The White House. The vote was six in favour, one abstention and three members voting against it. I would like to thank Cllr Godfrey Bland, Cllr Nancy Warne and Cllr Elizabeth Thomas for actually listening and taking seriously the impact of this development on Hawkhurst.
I am appalled that the majority of Committee Members were unconcerned that this application was being determined despite the omission of relevant traffic data. This is a material planning consideration. At the very least, there should have been an expectation that this information would be provided and the decision deferred until it was available.
Committee Members also failed to question why the draft Local Plan includes the statement “at this point in time the Highways Authority does not consider there is sufficient additional capacity at the Highgate crossroads,” yet the committee report made no mention of traffic congestion. Hawkhurst Parish Council requested the background papers to this statement. KCC Highways replied that there was no report as such but it was a comment “made repeatedly at numerous Local Plan site meetings” attended with TWBC and when discussing the possible allocations.
Therefore, it seems clear that both KCC Highways and TWBC are fully aware of the capacity issues at Highgate crossroads, Hawkhurst. Yet despite this, permission continues to be granted for applications even in the absence of vital material information.
The majority of Committee Members also seemed to fail to take seriously concerns about the lack of capacity for sewage treatment in Hawkhurst, despite being informed of the recent leaks, which the Environment Agency is investigating.
The Planning Officers were asked whether the sewage and traffic issues would be remedied by the planning conditions. I was not reassured by the response that no one from Southern Water or KCC Highways was at the meeting so the planners had no experts to whom to refer this question. Again, in my opinion, this should have meant the decision was deferred.
It seems to me that this development, which is contrary to Hawkhurst’s NDP, was agreed despite Members being fully aware that they were making the decision without all of the relevant facts. What I cannot understand is why this should have been the case? I leave that to others to speculate!
As Chairman of the Hawkhurst Parish Council, I have tried to retain my faith in the planning system despite the inevitable frustrations. However, I am at a loss to know what to think after last night. It seems that decision after decision is being made that ignores the impact on Hawkhurst residents. We need to find a way to prevent this before our village becomes unrecognisable.”