Vicarage Field Housing Development
During 2016/17 Linton had to address two of the biggest planning applications in our recent history, the Wares Farm industrial development and the Vicarage Field housing development. In the event, both were approved by the Borough Council Planning Committee and will go ahead. The Wares Farm application has its own web page here on the Linton Website, but Vicarage Field does not and so this page has been written by the Webmaster and PC Chairman Jerry Whitmarsh. It will be expanded and updated in future, in response to events and to specific requests.
Vicarage Field was an apple orchard, which was eventually grubbed up and in more recent years it has been an arable field or left fallow. There have been several proposals to build on it. in 2007-8 the landowners, Alan Firmin Ltd, displayed several plans to an exhibition in Linton Village hall, for a development of 24, 28 36 or 42 houses. In response to this, the then Parish Council conducted a village-wide survey on the subject of housing development. The results of this survey are available here. They were not completely one-sided, but the majority message – from those who troubled to respond, about 40% of residents – was clear enough: no development in Linton, and certainly not up to 42 houses. In fairness, Firmins listened to the survey. No planning application was submitted at that time, and subsequent proposals have been for a greatly reduced number of houses.
2014 Planning Application
On 3 October 2014 Alan Firmin Ltd submitted a planning application for a development of 14 houses on Vicarage Field. Details of the application can be viewed here. The then Parish Council decided to object, and wrote several letters relating to the proposal, dated 1st December 2014, 20 February 2015, 23 June 2015 and 7 July 2015, all of which can be viewed via the link above. It is clear that the Council view was not unanimous – the letter of 20 Feb 2015 for example says: “There is a difference of opinion on the Parish Council, regarding the status and effect of development on the existing (and proposed) Conservation Area that is a key feature of Linton. Linton is a fine example of an “estate village”. To some the high quality of the proposal would improve the existing bare fallow field. For others any development is complete anathema to the status quo within the village.“
Also, some of the original objections – eg relating to sewerage – appear to have resolved themselves during the considerable length of time the application was under consideration. However overall the PC continued to object, and MBC Planning themselves were not enthusiastic. They appeared minded to decline the application without reference to the Planning Committee, and in the event the applicants withdrew it on 20th August 2015, with the stated aim of submitting a more acceptable application in due course following further discussion with the planners. The result was a second submission, in June 2016.
2016 Planning Application
This application can be viewed here. It has now been determined, but at the time of writing, 20 months after submission, a formal decision letter is still awaited. The application includes a lot of paperwork, but a reasonable view of the proposal can be obtained from the document entitled “Planning & Heritage Statement” of 24 June 2016. Parish Council elections took place in May 2016 and so the application was reviewed by a somewhat different Linton Parish Council, with three members who had reviewed the previous one, and three who had not; Cllr Ian Firmin, having declared an interest, took no part in the discussions.
The application was submitted without prior warning, and with a date for responses before the next PC meeting, so of necessity it was dealt with via a site meeting and subsequent email and phone discussions. The site meeting and subsequent discussions duly took place, and by a majority of 5:1 the Council voted not to object to the proposals. The three councillors who had reviewed the previous application all voted not to object, as did two of the three newcomers. A copy of their subsequent letter to MBC is publicly available on the planning link above, and the letter can also be viewed here.
After considerable further discussion and correspondence between the developers, MBC planners, and other interested parties the application was finally put forward for review by the MBC Planning Committee meeting of 30 November 2017, with a recommendation by the planning officers for refusal. A lengthy debate took place followed by a vote which was tied at 5:5. The Chairman thereupon exercised his casting vote in favour and the application was approved. The agenda, committee report, minutes and webcast of the relevant meeting can be viewed here. The minutes state:
“In making this decision, Members noted that none of the statutory consultees had objected to the proposed development. It was considered that the development would result in less than substantial harm, and this should be weighed against the public benefit resulting from the enhancement of the Conservation Area through the high quality design of the proposed buildings and landscaping, the potential to secure a crossing in the village centre and the gain of this windfall site.”
Since then, further discussions have taken place regarding the makeup and content of the s106 agreement that inevitably accompanies approval letters for housing developments these days, detailing what “contributions” the developers must make towards various local authority responsibilities such as highway improvements, education, medical, library and other such matters. The matter was referred back to the Planning Committee meeting of 11 January 2018 and authority was given to MBC Planning officers to issue a suitable approval letter and s106 agreement. The agenda, minutes and webcast can be viewed here. The approval documents are expected in due course but remember, this process began in mid-2016 so they may not happen quickly.
It is not my intention to argue for or against the development of Vicarage Field. So far as I am aware, all parties involved approached the issues openly and honestly and made the best decisions they could at the time. A wide range of views exist and that is to be expected. The only ones I have no time for, are those who wish to paint this as a black and white situation, and refuse to accept that there are arguments both in favour and against, that have had to be weighed and balanced.
So far as next steps are concerned, little can be done until MBC issues the relevant paperwork. It will then be necessary for the landowner (Alan Firmin Ltd) and the developers (expected to be Countryside Properties) to prepare and complete contractual arrangements for the transfer of the site to the developer. No work can be begun until that has been done.
We will press for establishment of a steering committee, to include Borough and local representatives, which can monitor progress and see that any local concerns are fed in, such as fencing, lighting, security and access issues, noise etc, and properly responded to by the developers.
A further update will be made to this website as events dictate, and certainly when we become aware that an approval letter and s106 agreement are available. In the meantime, some specific issues raised in relation to the Vicarage Field development are mentioned below. If a specific issue that you think requires addressing is not listed, feel free to provide us with constructive feedback.
Jerry Whitmarsh, Chairman, Linton PC February 2018
Q: I thought building in a conservation area was not allowed?
There is no bar to building in a conservation area. However, any new buildings must either add to, or at least not detract from, the look of and character of the area as defined in the management documentation. In the opinion of MBC and of the Parish Council, the housing designs proposed are of unusually high quality and will not materially detract from the character of the area. The site is bounded on one side by the A229 trunk route, on another side by Cornwallis Avenue, on a third side by orchards and on the fourth by the mixed housing of Wheeler’s lane.
Q: I thought building in the open countryside was not allowed?
First, rightly or wrongly the Parish Council took the view that this is not open countryside. As mentioned above, the site is bounded by buildings/A229 on three of its four sides. If you look at the picture at the top of this article you will see why they took that view. There are some 60 properties immediately surrounding the site, which will in due course add a further 13. The Parish Council’s letter said, in part: “Linton is a rural village, with extremely limited capacity for housing development or other expansion. We view this application as infill, given that it is surrounded by developed land on three sides. We wish to make it quite clear that we would not support any development whatsoever into the open agricultural land beyond, and do not wish this to be seen as any sort of a precedent for so doing.”
Second, we can clearly see that MBC is in any event prepared to make major exceptions to this rule, or the major industrial development at Wares Farm, Redwall Lane would never have been approved. It dwarfs Vicarage Field in every dimension, not just its size but traffic movements etc. as well
Q: Didn’t the village say it didn’t want any developments anywhere?
The Parish Council took the view that the 2008 survey was indicative but not decisive, given that the proposal at that time was for up to three times as many houses or more, of a lower standard of design. It also noted that no letters of objection to the present application were submitted to MBC from any village resident who was not in the immediate vicinity of the development. Compare this with Wares Farm, where more than 60 letters of objection were sent by a wide cross-section of the village.
Q: Isn’t this the thin end of the wedge?
Only time will tell. In recent years Linton has in any event come under unprecedented planning pressure, given the Wares Farm application, the Hill Farm medical centre application, the Hill Farm park & ride proposals, and not least the increasing urbanisation of the land south of Stile Bridge Lane by installation with or without planning permission of numerous mobile homes and brick-built “day rooms” and stables.
Q: Is sewerage still an issue?
My understanding is that many of the problems outlined in the PC letters of objection to the previous application are now resolved. Their letter of 20 February 2015 said in part: “Whilst concern was previously been raised [sic] with regards to sewerage, we understand that this matter has been resolved, and as such that objection may no longer be valid.”
However we will nevertheless carefully review the proposals put forward by the developer and utility companies.
Q: Will Linton community derive any benefit as a result of the development?
The development will surely bring benefits in its train, such as a modest influx of new residents able to help with the village hall, the church, the parish council, Cherubs preschool, and so forth – in the same way that previous developments such as Rose Court and Cornwallis Avenue itself have.
There will be more specific contributions too. When the 2014 application was put forward, the applicants included a proposal to provide parking facilities at the rear of the Village Hall should the application be granted. A number of local residents reacted adversely to this and some hard words up to and including “bribery” were bandied about. But property developers are expected to benefit the surrounding area as well as themselves, and that is how the planning system operates. How often have we said roads, doctors, schools cannot cope with more houses, more people, more traffic? Those prepared to accept and embrace this fact – which definitely includes both MBC and KCC – benefit accordingly, and we now see that the planning approval for the current application will include around £1,000,000 as a financial contribution towards affordable housing elsewhere in the Borough, not to mention contribution to medical facilities, library facilities and educational facilities, all of them outside Linton. The s111 for the Wares Farm Industrial Development, one of the bigger commercial projects in the recent history of Maidstone, includes nothing of specific benefit to Linton at all except for some minor highway improvements.
Noting the reaction to the 2014 application, the Parish Council chose to address both this development and Wares Farm on their merits or otherwise and did not seek to bargain for specific compensation or recompense. Once these applications were approved however, I thought it fair that the applicants should be approached and wrote a letter to the Planning Consultants acting for both, which said:
“Agreements re Vicarage Field and Redwall Lane
I am writing as requested to clarify Linton’s wishes in relation to the s106 aspects of the above developments. I understand that these wishes may or may not be reflected in the Vicarage Field s106. But I hope and believe that the Firmin family will view them as commitments, regardless of their strict legal status.
We have three areas in the village where improvement is required, as follows:
- Crossing the A229 – as you know DHA has already done a fair amount of work on this scheme to improve safety when crossing the road between the church car park and pub/village hall, and we would like to see this scheme implemented. It has a direct relevance to both the above developments, if only because of the extra traffic they will generate. You will know more about the likely cost of the scheme than I do, but I believe you mentioned an approximate figure of £30,000 or thereabouts.
- Improvement/refurbishment of the Cornwallis Playground – which is situated directly adjoining the Vicarage Field site and thus very relevant to it. Some of the equipment is recent and in good condition. Some is much older and now needs some refurbishment. One or two bits like the safety surfacing may need specialist contractors. The cost of this scheme is hard to estimate as it depends on what is done and who does it, but I would expect it to be far less than the A229 work. I would be very happy to walk around the site with you or whoever is appropriate, and discuss what needs to be done. A pedestrian access directly between the new development and the playground could no doubt be created, subject to suitable permissions being granted, which would help to enhance the perceived attractiveness of the development.
- Improvement/replacement of the CCTV system in the Linton Church car park. The present system has proven itself woefully inadequate. Rough cost might be between £2-£3,000 at most, and detailed estimates will be obtained in due course. I accept that relevance to the above developments is less direct, although one would expect use of the car park by the inhabitants of both.
Linton Parish Council has taken a rather old-fashioned approach, in considering the above developments on their respective merits, and not using the above needs as selling points. I hope that we will not have cause to regret it. I do believe that if we are able to have these improvements implemented, it will go a long way towards restoring equity for the typical Linton resident and will improve residents’ views on the situation in Linton generally…”
DHA Planning have confirmed that the commitments made in respect of the village crossing, the CCTV and the playground will be delivered by the developers and/ or Alan Firmin Ltd once the development of Vicarage Field commences.