Penshurst Village Housing Project
PENSHURST PARISH COUNCIL
Village Project – Residents’ Information
The original document is retained below for reference. It has been superceded by events and as latest issued information is supplemented here by the newsletter issued by Sevenoaks District Council in March 2011 that accompanied the questionnaire circulated in the Parish regarding affordable housing.
(Link to pdf document)
Background to the project
This document provides the residents of Penshurst with some background on a proposed development within the village. It outlines what is being considered, why these needs have arisen, who has been involved and what the next steps are. It also tells you where you can get further information as the project progresses and how you can let us know your views.
The current proposals arose as a result of a survey carried out last year by the independent rural housing enabler, Action with Communities in Rural Kent, working in conjunction with Sevenoaks District Council and Penshurst Parish Council. This survey showed11 local households needed affordable housing.
Alongside the need for affordable housing, a number of other needs have been identified for the village. These include a more modern surgery, parking for villagers, walkers and Penshurst Primary school, and finally, modern public toilets.
The Forge Field site has been identified as potentially meeting these needs.
What is being considered and why is it needed?
The development currently proposed comprises:
- 6 affordable homes for rent
- Medical centre
- Car park
- Public toilets.
There is currently a lack of affordable housing within Penshurst. Penshurst is within the Green Belt and the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so typically there is very little opportunity to deliver new housing or other new built facilities. The District Council’s planning policy recognizes this and Policy H9 sets out the exceptional circumstances which may permit affordable housing to be built in villages that would not normally be considered. This “Rural Exceptions Policy” (see the SDC web site, planning policy pages) sets out the 9 criteria which must be met and includes, first and foremost, a requirement for an identified local housing need. Given a housing need has been identified in Penshurst, a development becomes possible.
Under Policy H9, the affordable homes will be made available to local people with a connection to the Parish who are in housing need. The allocation of the homes is bound by a legal document (Section 106 Agreement). An outline draft of this part of the legal document has been made available for information (see how residents can get involved below)
The doctors’ surgery in Penshurst is operated by the Warders Practice from the Village Hall. The current surgery does not comply with the Disability Discrimination Act and is very small, meaning Warders Practice are unable to provide a full range of medical services. In other parts of the country, small surgeries have come under pressure to close when they have failed to comply with disability legislation and provide a full range of services. The current surgery has flourished in recent years and now caters for 2000 patients and runs at full capacity. If the current surgery was forced to close, the nearest surgeries with spare capacity would beWarders Tonbridge practice, Speldhurst or Hildenborough. However this would entail a bus journey and the bus service only runs infrequently. As a consequence, the Practice wants to move to new premises within the village to secure the future of the surgery in the village. The new surgery will also be able to provide more services than currently, such as minor ops, women’s health, and hopefully, midwifery and health visitor services.
The school and the village generally suffer greatly due to a lack of car parking, coupled with the speed of through traffic. The primary school has raised concerns regarding the safe drop-off and collection of children. Many cars use the stretch of road through the village, and often drive very fast, making the road dangerous for children crossing the road. Speed Watch checks are undertaken in the parish. For example, over the period 2008 – 2009, between 257 and 640 vehicle movements per hour were recorded between 8 and 9 am through the parish, including the area adjacent to the school. Speeds of up to 52 mph were registered.
The public toilets in the village are an important facility for visitors. The existing public toilets are leased by the District Council from the Penshurst Place Estate for a period of 99 years from 1962 (expiring 2061). Unfortunately, due to budgetary constraints, the District Council will no longer be able to fund the existing toilets and they are scheduled for closure. The Parish Council made a ‘one off’ contribution of £3,000 this year towards the running costs to enable them to remain open until March 2011. If the public toilets planned for inclusion in the current project are not provided, then the parish will lose this facility altogether as the councillors are unlikely to allocate funds from the precept to cover these costs again.
Who is involved in the project?
Following the local needs survey, (click to open pdf file) the Parish and District Councils agreed to work together with the rural housing enabler to try and find a suitable site. As the major local landowner, the Penshurst Place Estate was invited to participate. West Kent Housing Association was also approached as the main affordable housing provider in the area. During these initial discussions, the wider needs of providing a new doctors’ surgery, village car parking and public toilets were raised by the Parish Council and the Penshurst Place Estate.
As the project progressed, this early grouping has evolved into a larger Steering Group that has been formed to develop the project and ensure that the needs and concerns of stakeholders are taken into account. Minutes of all Steering Group meetings are available on the Penshurst Parish Council web site and paper copies are also held at the Forge Post Office, the doctors’ surgery and The Chafford Arms in Fordcombe.
The Steering Group first met in December 2009 and now comprises:
- Penshurst Parish Council (the project sponsor)
- The Penshurst Place Estate
- Cllr Paddy Cooke, District Councillor
- Sevenoaks District Council (Housing, Planning and Community Development)
- Warders’ Practice
- West Kent Housing Association (WKHA)*
- Kent Police
- South East England Development Agency – West Kent Leader
- Penshurst Primary School
- Smiths Gore**
* West Kent Housing Association are a preferred housing association partner of the District Council. The District Council expects all new affordable housing to be developed by one of its preferred partners. As the landowner of the potential site, the Penshurst Place Estate also carried out a selection process and WKHA were duly selected.
** Smiths Gore are rural land, planning and architecture consultants appointed by the Penshurst Place Estate and WKHA following a selection process. They are working up sketch plans and will, if appropriate, prepare a planning application.
What has happened so far?
As noted above, Policy H9 of the Sevenoaks District Local Plan provides the policy background to this development as it relates to the provision of affordable housing in rural settlements.
As well as producing the Local Plan, Sevenoaks District Council surveys and monitors housing need across its area. The local housing needs survey for Penshurst was completed in January 2009 following a survey sent to every household in Penshurst and Fordcombe in September 2008.
A total of 143 surveys were returned representing a 21% return rate. On the basis of this survey, the independent rural housing enabler, Action with Communities in Rural Kent, found 11 local households in need of affordable housing.
As well as helping to understand the number of affordable homes required in the Parish, this survey also helps the District Council to understand the size and type of housing that is needed, by analysing the make up of the households in housing need.
Following the publication of the housing needs survey, the District Council, Parish Council, the Penshurst Place Estate and WKHA, met to identify suitable sites within the Parish. During these initial discussions, the wider needs of providing a new doctors’ surgery, village car parking and public toilets were raised by the Parish Council and the Penshurst Place Estate.
A walkabout of the Parish took place on 23 September 2009 and 6 sites were considered. After the walkabout each party independently completed an analysis of the sites and ranked them in order of preference. The District Council amalgamated all the feedback and produced a master sites analysis. An A3 map showing the location of the sites and a summary of the analysis has also been produced and is available.
The Penshurst Place Estate and WKHA then appointed Smiths Gore to draw up a sketch scheme for this site and it was this scheme that was presented at the public exhibition on 22 April 2010.
This exhibition was very well attended with over 100 people completing the residents questionnaire, and many more coming to inspect the plans and speak to representatives of the Steering Group. A number of key issues were identified through the questionnaires, and the Steering Group is keen to take these on board.
It is however recognised that many people were unable to attend the exhibition and for this reason, the Steering Group have decided to carry out a postal consultation in order to help us gain a fuller picture of residents’ views. The results of this consultation will be amalgamated with the questionnaires already received and taken into account in the drawing up of proposals for this project.
This is our best estimate of how the project will develop:
Pre-application Submission, June/July 2010
Before the Smiths Gore team are ready to make a formal planning application, it will be important to identify the key issues for the planning authority (Sevenoaks District Council) and other statutory stakeholders, for example Kent County Council. This submission is similar to a ‘first draft’ planning application and will contain a similar level of information, in draft, to that set out below. Feedback to the pre-application submission will determine when and if a formal planning application is to be made.
Village Information Event, August/September 2010
Before any formal planning application is submitted to the planning authority, residents will be invited to a second exhibition to view and comment on the detailed plans.
Planning Application, September/October 2010
Following the finalisation of the plans, and the accompanying information, Smiths Gore will submit the planning application to the planning authority. This application will include detailed information and reports that address the various identified constraints on this site, including:
- Ecology Study, looking at the likely impact upon protected and other important species and habitats
- Flood Risk Assessment, identifying the patterns of flooding in the locality and the areas of the site affected.
- Transport Assessment, looking at access and traffic issues on and around the site and ways in which existing and potential issues can be dealt with.
Outcome of planning application, December 2010/January 2011
The planning authority has 13 weeks to determine (i.e. approve, refuse or defer) the planning application. During this time, there would be public consultation on the planning application and any comments received would be taken into consideration during the determination of the application.
Tender of contract, January/February 2011
Subject to planning approval, the project will be put out to tender to secure a best value building contract.
Start on site, March 2011.
Subject to funding from central government (via the Homes and Communities Agency) building work will start on the affordable homes. The start date for the medical centre will be dependent on Primary Care Trust approval.
Completion of development Summer 2012.
The affordable homes will be allocated to local people who are in housing need.
If the Forge Field site is not progressed, the above timetable would have to be put back and another site selected.
Additional Questions that have arisen
What are the 6 sites that were considered?
Please see the A3 map of the sites considered. Further details are available on the master sites analysis document (opens pdf file). These documents are available on the Parish Council web site and in hard copy in the three locations around the Parish.
Why has the Forge Field site been chosen?
The consensus of the Steering Group is that the Forge Field site offers the most suitable, available and deliverable site and should be the first site in the village to be taken forward. This is because:
- In accordance with Policy H9, the location of the site is well related to the village and close to local amenities.
- The land owner is prepared to release this site from agricultural use to enable the project to go ahead.
- The site can accommodate all the identified needs of the village
- Associated highways improvements should help to provide safer access to the school and village
Is the site not protected from development under the Green Belt and conservation rules?
Yes, in normal circumstances, no development of the site would be considered by the local planning authority. However under Policy H9, if very special circumstances can be proven, the local planning authority (Sevenoaks District Council) has the power to approve an application but it does not have to do so. Similarly, very special circumstances will need to be demonstrated for the medical centre and parking. The local planning authority has to carefully weigh up the information provided and consider the merits of the application against planning policies that seek to protect the Green Belt.
How will you ensure the development of the site will not worsen existing traffic problems?
Before any formal planning application can be considered, many specialist surveys have to be carried out. One of these will be a traffic survey. The local planning authority and Kent County Council Highways will have to be satisfied the development will not result in any unacceptable traffic flows and conditions in the village. The Steering Group feels the development will bring about better management and control of traffic, by introducing traffic calming measures and a pedestrian crossing point. In addition, a proposed 15 minute parking concession would assist parents doing the school run and customers wanting to use the Forge Post Office, and dedicated parking would be provided for the medical centre. Given the affordable housing is for local people, this should not create additional traffic.
How will the quality and design of the buildings be ensured?
The Steering Group is committed to a well designed, sympathetic development recognizing the very special nature of Penshurst village. The planning authority will also require satisfaction on this point, otherwise planning permission would be refused. See illustrations of 4 possible layouts from which the scheme might be delevoped: option Red ; option blue; option orange;option green (opens pdf documents)
All new WKHA homes are built to comply with the Code for Sustainable Homes level 3 or 4 . Code 3 means that the structures will be 25% better than current building regulations for energy efficiency. Code level 4 requires the buildings to better building regulations by 44% and would definitely require renewable energy technology to be incorporated. Both Code level 3 and 4 will also require water saving measures and all gardens will have water butts and composting bins and waste recycling facilities.
The design criteria for the Surgery have been established by the Department for Health and relate to room sizes and accessibility. There are, strictly speaking, no criteria that cover the appearance of the building but, clearly, in this case, the high quality design of the neighbouring buildings will necessitate that this building is of the utmost quality in terms of architectural design.
Why can’t the existing affordable housing be better used?
There have been 5 vacancies in the existing WKHA affordable housing stock in Penshurst and Fordcombe since January 2009 and all have been let. However unlike the proposed affordable housing under the Rural Exceptions Scheme, the existing affordable housing has to be offered to those on the Sevenoaks District Housing Register who are in highest need. This can mean a family with no local connection to the village may be re-housed there. The proposed affordable housing for rent will be for local people in housing need with a close connection to the Parish and there will be a legal agreement in place to ensure that it remains so. The housing will be held in perpetuity (125 years), so as vacancies occur, the homes will remain a key asset for Penshurst villagers for many generations to come. Click to see the local connection criteria that applies, (opens pdf file)
Will the Penshurst Place Estate have nomination rights to any of the homes?
Draft Government guidance allows for land owners to exercise nomination rights in return for releasing their land. This issue is still under discussion by the Steering Group, but the Penshurst Place Estate has indicated they would like to have nomination rights to two of the homes, in order that they may be used to house people with a strong local connection to the Estate and to the village. The terms of the legal agreement would continue to apply to all six affordable homes, i.e. they will be allocated to people with a local connection to the Parish and all applicants will have to demonstrate a housing need.
Why did I not know anything about the proposals or the consultation event?
The Steering Group agreed the very early discussions would not be made public and that it was best to wait until we had some draft ideas to show you. We were pleased that the event was very well attended with over a hundred people completing questionnaires and many more than that just coming to have a look. Nevertheless it became obvious at the consultation event that not all residents had seen the Parish Newsletter or posters advertising the event. We have set out below how you can get involved and remain fully informed from now on. If you have any further ideas please let the Parish Council know.
Isn’t it important to preserve open green spaces?
Forge Field is currently in agricultural use and used for the grazing of cattle. As such, it is not open to use by members of the public. In order that the visual “openness” be maintained, the draft sketch plans include a green open space across the frontage of the site.
How can residents get involved?
When a formal planning application is submitted, residents are formally invited to make comments to inform the application process. However, for the Penshurst village project, we are seeking your views at a much earlier stage.
The creation of the Steering Group was the first step in this process, with village representation coming from your elected representatives (the Parish Council and Councillor Paddy Cooke), the Penshurst Place Estate and subsequently the local school. The resident event on 22 April was the first stage in directly engaging with local residents.
At this event, many people said that they were unhappy with this process and felt left out.
Although over a hundred residents have already provided feedback, this means over 500 residents have still not shared their opinions with us and we are keen to ensure that all residents have the opportunity to let us know their views. An information leaflet and questionnaire is being sent to all households in the Parish and we would encourage everyone in the Parish to complete and return the questionnaire.
In order to keep everyone in the Village informed about the proposals in the lead up to the next public event, all previous and future Steering Group minutes will be displayed on the Parish Council web site and paper copies will also be held at the following places:
- Forge Post Office, Fordcombe Road, Penshurst
- The doctors’ surgery, Village Hall, Penshurst
- The Chafford Arms, Fordcombe
For ongoing dialogue, general and specific enquiries can be directed to the points of contact given below. An update on the project will be given at future meetings of the Parish Council – these are public meetings and residents are encouraged to attend.
A second public event will be held for residents in the summer of 2010 to view and comment on the detailed plans before a formal planning application is submitted.
How to contact us
As the project sponsor, the main point of contact is the Parish Council. Enquiries relating to the public toilets and the car park should also be directed to the Parish Council:
Mrs E Divall,
Penshurst Parish Council
Telephone: 01732 457541
However if your enquiry is specific, please contact one of the following:
Warders Medical Centre
47 East Street
Telephone: 01732 772817
Housing Initiatives Officer
Sevenoaks District Council
PO Box 183
Telephone – 01732 227482
All details relating to the project as well as given on the Penshurst Parish Council website paper copies are also held at the three locations in the Parish.